Hotel review – Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel and Spa, Aberfoyle:
Overlooking Loch Ard in Kinlochard-by-Aberfoyle, this establishment has recently benefited from a £3.5 million upgrade and refurbishment and is an oasis of tranquillity.
Each of the 55 bedrooms has been made over to a high standard and in an area of stunning Scottish scenery. Most rooms feature beautiful views and, yes, the managers were thoughtful enough to provide large umbrellas for each guest next to our welcome tray of goodies.
My own room was a suite complete with balcony. The bed was exceptionally comfortable and the linens top quality. The en-suite facilities were of a standard most often featured in American hotels with their emphasis on high end plumbing.
The hotel, which boasts stunning views of the loch and Ben Lomond, feels as if it is far further from the city hubs of Glasgow and Stirling. No sooner are you west of Glasgow than the whole vista changes through the rearview mirror. It’s true you don’t have to go far in Scotland to “get away.”
It has the feel of being far from civilisation and is an ideal place to chill and to enjoy the beauty of the Scottish countryside.
This was a laissez-fare type location. You may do as little or as much as you like.
Canoeing on the loch is a popular pastime, supervised by a side rider on a speed boat, and many visitors also enjoy a wee dram at the nearby Glengoyne Distillery.
Feeling like the woman who stares at goats I watched from my balcony as a herd of 14 wild goats who live on the grounds happily grazed on the immaculate lawns.
‘One of the waiters told me he came to visit and never went home’
Other features include a lily pond and a natural waterfall. Two quirky touches popular with children and adults alike were the giant chess board and checkers boards.
The accommodation also includes 65 lodges available on a time share basis.
One of the waiters told me he came to visit his time-sharing parents in February and never went home. I can see why.
The on-site spa boasts Elemis treatments and the small 1.2 metres deep swimming pool, steam room, sauna and jacuzzi are all perfect for getting away from the strains of modern living. The pool was slightly on the cool side but easy to adapt to once in.
For those of an energetic disposition there is also a gym, tennis courts, squash courts and badminton. Macdonalds has made a commitment to roll out the next phase of refurbishment in the games areas which needs a little TLC. It is also planning a cinema.
The spa was inundated with appointments offering a vast array of head-to-toe treatments and the therapists coped well with demand. Midweek is cheaper.
A facial taster treatment was just the tonic and blew away a few cobwebs of city life. Next day I enjoyed an invigorating back neck and shoulder massage. I’ve had many treatments over the years and my therapist Flora from St Tropez in France was kind enough to enquire what sort of pressure I preferred. Medium please – just like my steak.
Forest Hills provides casual dining in the Rafters Brasserie adjacent to the spa and more formal fare in the Garden Restaurant in the main hotel, both with musical accompaniment – think Radio 1 versus Radio 3.
Next to the Garden Restaurant a piano room sets the scene for elegant evenings and indeed kept many entertained when an impromptu classical, blues, honky tonk concert from two guests almost took the roof off on my first evening there.
‘There is an emphasis on locally sourced Scottish ingredients’
People who were off to bed stopped in their tracks and the hotel manager Andrew Deighan stayed up to enjoy the performance and mingle with the guests. I bet he never had fun like that working in the Crowne Plaza in Washington DC.
Menus in Rafters feature traditional pub grub favourites like burgers, steak pie and pasta dishes and is favoured by families and casual diners.
Recently appointed executive chef James McCulloch Thomson has more than 30 years experience and spent seven of those cooking in high end establishments in Melbourne, Australia.
His menus have an emphasis on locally sourced Scottish ingredients and a commitment to provenance.
He said: “Basing the menus around Scotland’s larder is the key. It’s by far the best there is and I focus on seasonality and using the best suppliers and producers, from the fisherman and farmers to gamekeepers.”
Highlights on the menu during my stay included a variety of fish dishes in season, lamb, and all sorts of treats from the grill. I enjoyed a trout starter followed by duck in a beetroot broth. An elegant cheese board and delicious chutney finished my meal perfectly. This is proper grown-up food.
At a private function on my last night themed on the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, the canapes featuring black pudding, goats cheese and salmon were mouth-watering. We then dined on haggis pomme dauphin, followed by a triumphant treacle roast loin of venison cooked to perfection.
This was a true fusion of French and Scottish culinary excellence, with the piece de resistance being the tarte au citron which was astoundingly good. Guests were still enthusing about that while on the coffee and cheese course.
Opting for the truly relaxing experience I availed myself of room service breakfast and found my waiters to be efficient and friendly. On the final morning I lingered a little to take in a last view from my balcony. Simply stunning.
Pauline Taylor was a guest of Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa, Aberfoyle
Rooms start at £99
Spa treatments range from £10 to £149 for an ultimate spa day
Canoeing costs £45 for three hours
Value for money: 4/5
Quality of facilities: 4/5
Food and drink: 5/5