Between Edinburgh’s boutique bedrooms and the Highlands’ heritage properties, Scotland’s growing hotel scene shows no signs of slowing down. Earlier this year, Richard Branson announced two new Virgin properties, one in the capital and one in Glasgow, which will open in summer 2022. North of Inverness, Newhall Mains is opening up a handful of cosy cottages on the iconic North Coast 500 roadtrippers’ route, and this autumn country pad Gleneagles will flirt with city life and enjoy a Highland fling in Edinburgh at the brand new Gleneagles Townhouse. In the Hebrides, the Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa has hit reset during lockdown, undergoing a long-anticipated £3 million renovation that will be revealed this spring. Can’t wait? Here are the smartest stays in Scotland to book now.
Saorsa 1875, Perthshire
As the UK’s first vegan hotel, Saorsa 1875 is not only proving that there’s an alternative of running things – for both the industry and guests – but doing so with such style that it attracts curious traditionalists as well as ethical travellers. Chef Deborah Fleck, formerly of Noma in Copenhagen, plates up inventive plant-based flavours such as mango and coconut foam soup with a pumpkin seed crisp or watermelon sashimi, but the vegan credentials don’t end with the menu.
Everything from the cleaning products to the wine (and, of course, the whisky) is cruelty-free; for every dinner served, a tree is planted; the rooms are powered by Ecotricity and named after Scotland’s endangered wildlife species such as Lynx and Golden Eagle, and the McLaren Stewart family, who own and run the hotel, sourced many of the interiors second hand. We like the refillable toiletries by The Highland Soap Company, the savasana yoga in a yurt and Roxy and Lizzie – the two rescue pups that man the front desk.
Doubles from £140/night
Where the Fife Arms is a full-on immersive experience, Gleneagles offers discreet, dip-your-toe-in design. Tall, light-filled rooms and suites are kitted out with elegant armoires and mid-century four-poster beds with the spacious interiors echoing the big-sky Highland scenery outside.
Get a feel for the area with the hotel’s variety of country pursuits – horse riding, fishing, shooting, off-road driving, cycling and golf – or settle into Andrew Fairlie, Scotland’s only restaurant with two Michelin stars. Ingredients, including purple carrots, flower sprouts and buttonhole kale are sourced from head grower Jo Campbell’s kitchen garden while there’s a Scottish lobster smoked for five hours over whisky barrel chips on the menu that shouldn’t be missed.
Doubles from £485/night
Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye
If Kinloch Lodge feels more like a home than a hotel, that’s because it is. The Macdonald clan opened the doors to their family abode and have turned it into one of Skye’s most coveted, comfortable places to book. At the foot of Kinloch Hill and overlooking sea loch Na Dal, it offers front row seats to Skye’s best bits, whether you plan on sinking into a chair by the roaring fire or fly-fishing for wild brown trout with the hotel’s resident ghillie.
Even the roll-top baths have views out over the island’s ancient lowlands and glassy bodies of water, and the walls have their own stories to tell, dating back decades and presenting portraits of Macdonald clan members. From Mallaig sea bass and Sconser scallops to Loch Brittle lobster and Loch Eishort mussels, seafood takes centre stage in the island’s only Michelin-starred restaurant.
Doubles from £160/night
The Balmoral, Edinburgh
The Balmoral allows guests a taste of country living in the capital, where the formality of the palatial landmark is offset by friendly, flawless service. As one of Edinburgh’s biggest names in hospitality (it’s a Rocco Forte flagship), it recently recruited a role-call of equally big names to refresh the property: Martin Brudnizki handled interiors, Gary Robinson oversees the cuisine and sommelier Damien Trinckquel curates the wine collection.
Forte owner Olga Polizzi managed to honour the hotel’s legacy with the renovation – kilted doormen greet you on arrival, beds are made by Glencraft (suppliers to the Queen), turn down is attentive and exacting – making it a favourite among those who return to the city often.
Doubles from £180/night
The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh
One of the most unique hotels in the UK, The Witchery is as magical as its name suggests. Every room is different in the 16th Century building, but all are decorated with the decadence of the Gothic, Baroque, Victorian and Medieval eras (we like the view from The Old Rectory over the Royal Mile and the Fife coast). A mischievous middle finger to millennial minimalism, the theatrically draped mahogany four-posters and dressing-up-box attire (knight’s bascinets; Scottish guard’s uniform) at every corner make this adults-only hotel feel like an invitation to let loose your inner child, and the team is working on adding a tenth suite with 360° views.
Breakfast is served by candlelight, and the dinner menu lists locally-sourced game from Perthshire, haggis from Findlay’s of Portobello and hand-dived scallops from Ethical Shellfish on the Isle of Mull. The entire experience at The Witchery is a novelty. The only downside? It makes returning to your Marie-Kondoe’d condo a jarring anticlimax.
Doubles from £450/night
The Dunstane Houses, Edinburgh
Arguably Edinburgh’s best boutique hotel, and with excellent access to the city centre, the Dunstane Houses are split between two buildings in the West End. In 2017, owners Shirley and Derek recruited Hannah Lohan, whose portfolio includes The Fish in the Cotswolds and The Ampersand in London, to refresh the 19th Century townhouse and balance contemporary features you might find in a big-name brand with careful Scottish design. Bright cotton linens and bold orange chesterfields contrast with blackened wood furniture and navy Morris & Co wallpaper; freestanding copper tubs sit side by side with Persian rugs; tweed upholstery is offset with plump velvet cushions.
It’s far from predictable, though, and the Mowats have managed to inject plenty of personality through motoring memorabilia (Derek has a classic car collection) and touches of their homeland in Orkney, naming the Ba’ Bar after a traditional Kirkwall game and collecting photography of the island’s dramatic landscapes. Comfortable, cool and brilliant value for money.
Doubles from £159/night