The duty manager also tells me it’s a favourite of those working in the motor trade – and it’s easy to see why. You certainly need a car to stay here.
Recently refurbished, it’s a nice hotel, in a nice countryside spot, but whose location can be detrimental since it’s relatively off the beaten track.
It’s a great choice if you’re looking for somewhere quite, secluded and contained to stay – but perhaps not quite so fitting if you’d like to check out what’s in the city vicinity on foot.
Say ‘hello’ to rejuvenating countryside sanctuary and bid farewell to the fug of the granite city, local bars and city centre restaurants.
Its four-star luxury and retreat-type feel are definitely for the more discerning traveller and its onsite pool and spa are testament to that.
If there’s one thing you can be sure of it’s a warm welcome – in every sense of the word. Expect to check in after being met by a roaring open fire in reception against a backdrop of Baronial grandeur. I was also met, in person, by duty manager John, who is one of several duty managers at the hotel under general manager Peter Sangster.
Although travelling on business, I had the family on tow this time and the hotel gave us interconnecting rooms in the 90s-built extension, which houses 100 of its 120 rooms. Once inside, I was met with a hand-written welcome on a postcard and a slate with a bag of artisan chocolates and some Scottish fudge – just a couple of nice, little touches which made for a friendly welcome after my two-and-a-half hours on the road.
Rooms 232 and 234 both had excellent views of the hotel’s landscaped grounds and well-established trees – excellent viewing platforms for watching the local wildlife, I’m sure. They were spotlessly clean (apart from the travel cot) and well finished thanks to Trevellion Interiors, which completed the refurb late last year.
Dinner is generally served in Blair’s Restaurant (or the Bar, if you prefer), whose set price menu (with the exception of various supplements for the likes of steak, sauces and sides) offers a fine dining experience with the added allure of locally sourced produce, whose origins are listed, in line with the hotel’s farm to fork ethos.
I can certainly recommend the Ham Hock Terrine with Piccalilli Puree, Cornichons and Crisp Bread; Slow Braised Shin of Beef with Alsace Cabbage and Bourginion Sauce, and Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries – most of which originated in Grampian.
Hats off to the chef, Richard Yearnshire, who has been described as an extremely innovative culinary master and has worked for a string of hotel groups, including Hilton Worldwide, Principal Hotels and, of course, Accor, which owns the Mercure brand.
There’s also a dedicated Whisky Bar for those who enjoy their Scotch and numerous function rooms and suites to cater for every size of event, from meetings and conferences to weddings, balls and gala dinners.
Around and about
Despite the hotel’s rural location, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do in and around its grounds if your stay will afford you enough time to check them out.
There are a few scenic walks, for example, and if you don’t see any stags first-hand, there are certainly plenty adorning the walls of the main, castle-like building.
The spa, of course, is a major draw and operates separately – as Spa Naturel Fitness – to the hotel. Naturally, it’s emphasis is on wellbeing and, from £35 per person, you can enjoy a spa day to remember – making it extremely popular for hen parties, team building and pre-wedding preparations.
Treatments start from £8 and there are a whole host to choose from, such as its Red Island Exfoliating Ritual, Cellulite Expert Detox Therapy, and Aroma Wraps, as well as the usual massages, facials and nail treatments.
The hotel is within easy driving distance to Aberdeen Airport and Hilldowntree Business Centre – home to a number of SMEs – is just down the road.
Would I recommend this hotel? Yes, I would. We were a little harassed by the cleaning staff, who knocked on our door at least half a dozen times in the morning eager to clean the room, despite check out not being till 12pm.
But my only regret is that I couldn’t stay for longer to combine business with pleasure, check out the surrounding flora and fauna and, of course, indulge in the spa.
One word of warning, however: choose your wine carefully and ask to sample it first. While the £29 bottle of Flagstone Dragon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz – Pinotage went down a treat, the Ayam Tempranillo (my partner’s choice) at £23 is best avoided.
It was, in our opinion, undrinkable but that’s perhaps a matter of taste. It’s not the hotel’s fault – and in fact this wine is served in a number of luxury hotels including, I believe, the Hyatt Regency in Sharm El Sheikh. We just wish we had chosen more wisely.