REVIEW: The Craigellachie Hotel and what to do in Speyside
By Helen Wright
- Victoria St, Speyside AB38 9SR
- 01340 881204
- @quaichbarhotel thecraigellachie
- Rates Standard rooms start from £170 per night
- Location Speyside, Scottish Highlands
- Bed comfiness 6/10
- Pool No
- WIFI Free for guests
- Parking Free for overnight guests
- Best thing? Iconic status (and whisky bar)
- Worst thing? Restaurant
- The all-important plug by the bed? Yes!
I’ve made a little pact with myself to make sure I start exploring beautiful Scotland as, despite living next door in England, my only time across the border thus far was spent in a conference room at Glasgow Airport – and that doesn’t count. When another work commitment took me to Inverness, I couldn’t resist a couple of extra nights exploring the beautiful Scottish Highlands. The Craigellachie, a quaint and historic hotel in Speyside, has achieved iconic status over the years for being the remote party pad of choice of the 90s Brit pack (Kate Moss, The Gallaghers, Jude Law etc). Tales of debauchery within the hotel’s 100-year-old walls often circulate on the celebrity rumour mill but staff at The Craigellachie remain discreetly tight-lipped about such gossip – and yes, I did ask! I checked in to the historic boutique hotel (it has only 26 rooms) for a few nights and the well-maintained halls and rooms leave no trace of their rock and roll secrets.
Review of The Craigellachie Hotel
The hotel, which is more of a traditional country house to look at, is sat on a hill top corner, overlooking the Craigellachie valley, around 50-minutes from Inverness Airport. The drive took us through the Highlands and panoramic views of the mountains, meaning there was plenty to look at. Spey side offers up some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery and landscapes that have a definite ‘Harry Potter’ vibe about them.
I was staying in a Comfy Luxe room, which had valley views and a dramatic four-poster bed. The other options are the Snug or Comfy rooms. I had a peak and these are just as lovely but slightly smaller, with regular beds and less impressive vistas. The decor was muted with a high-end finish. I really loved the touches of tartan on the bedding to remind you of your Scottish surroundings. For my personal preference I found the mattress and pillows a little hard but overall the bed was cosy and comfortable.
There were other cute features in the room, such as a Roberts digital radio and stylish coffee table books on fashion and travel. The hotel offers a turn down service so when you return to the room, the lights are dimmed and the radio is set to play soft jazz, which is so lovely and relaxing.
The bathroom was really lovely, with a powerful shower and deep bath – perfect for relaxing after an energetic hike in the Highlands. The fixtures and fittings felt high quality. It’s funny, but I always notice things like this and it just makes the whole stay feel more luxurious. The products are from a premium cosmetics company based in the UK called Noble Isle. A 250ml shower gel from the range retails at £20 and the hotel were generous with their miniunture-sized offerings, fully restocking at turndown and the next morning. By the way, the moisturiser smells wonderful!
Other amenities in the room included a coffee machine, fully-stocked mini bar and water free of charge (one bottle per night). Despite being an old house, I found it much quieter than I was expecting too. Views from our room to the landscape outside were a nice bonus.
The bar and social areas
The Craigellachie has two bars; The Pub which is a casual corner area hosting guests of the hotel and a good mix of locals who obviously pop in regularly. From the gorgeous copper bar is a choice of local craft beer and ale, cool cocktails and a full whisky cocktail menu. In the winter, curl up next to the real log fire or if the weather is nice there is also an outside terrace.
Upstairs you will find the renowned The Quaich, the world’s leading whisky bar. The Quaich was founded in 1893 and serves over 900 single-malt whiskies from around the world. As far as I could tell it only opens in the evening but felt pretty special. It’s easy to see why this place became a favourite of supermodels and rock stars. The bartender (who only looked about 18!) had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the whisky on offer and was able to make suggestions for us relative whisky novices. Each of the bottles is labelled with a single paper tag and some options were over £400 for a glass – so be careful what you order!
Whilst The Quaich had a definite rock ‘n’ roll vibe, the rest of the hotel was unfussy, traditional and everything you would expect from a B&B in the Scottish countryside. There was a lounge area with fabulous views across the Highlands, a bookcase of literature and cosy armchairs on which to curl up with a hot chocolate.
My favourite thing about The Pub was that it was dog friendly too – there were even little treats on the bar to keep man’s best friend happy.
The Copper Dog Pub
The ‘pub’ mentioned above is actually the much celebrated Copper Dog restaurant. I had heard really good things about the food but was surprised to find the dining area was very casual and plain. To look at, it wasn’t much to write home about. Our experience here was also let down a bit by our waiter who was disinterested and distracted. Service was slow (I had to ask three times for a simple glass of water). After ordering I called him back to ask if I could change my order and he wasn’t very nice about it. He disappeared saying he would ask the kitchen but never returned to let me know and when my food was presented it was the original dish that I’d ordered. I realise this isn’t the end of the world but some communication would have been appreciated.
Incidentally, the choice I’d made (cottage pie) wasn’t great – I found it very salty and bland. The food served in the restaurant is all local farm to table and so I am sure the meat quality was good, I just couldn’t really tell under all the salt. However, my starter, the pork and black pudding sausage roll was absolutely delicious and hands down the best sausage roll I have ever had. If you plan to eat here, it’s a must! The other good thing about the restaurant is that it wasn’t overly expensive, which was a surprise. Mains were between £12-£16 and the epic sausage roll was £7.95. It was huge too – add a side salad and you could make it a main course.
What to do in Spey
From the hotel, it’s a short walk or drive to the Craigellachie Bridge. This cast iron 150ft bridge was built by Thomas Telford over 200 years ago and was restored in the 1960s before being closed to road traffic in 1972. A modern alternative runs alongside for today’s vehicles but you can cross the River Spey over the bridge on foot, or just view it from afar.
The area around the hotel is also perfect for a light amble or an energetic hike through the Highlands. Local trails are marked and you can also join part of the famous ‘Speyside Way’, a popular 80-mile walking trail that links Buckie (in Moray) to Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. If you like your tea and biscuits, the original home of Walkers Shortbread is also nearby in Aberlour town centre, near Victoria Bridge. There is an ‘outlet store’ but some locals told me it was cheaper to actually buy the biscuits in the supermarket, so don’t be lured in by the official shop!
Drink like the Scots
Around half of all Scottish whisky distilleries are in this region and distilleries are usually situated in the beautiful glens surrounding this River Spay water source. The renowned Malt Whisky Trail starts here and this will link you to eight or nine key sites including the Glenfiddich and Glen Moray distilleries.
But, wait! Gin is the thing
You might not be so keen to do the Malt Whisky Trail if you don’t like whisky but, as an alternative, I was surprised to learn that Scotland is also responsible for producing some delicious gin. Topping the list for Scottish gin is local Speyside brand, Caorunn. This small batch, handcrafted premium gin is distilled with pure water and infused with five locally foraged wild Scottish botanicals; dandelion, heather, coul bush apple, bog myrtle and rowan berries.
Tours of the Balmenach Distillery (they also make whisky) are available and the Caorunn Gin Tour is only £10 – which I thought was a bargain! On our tour (which lasted just over an hour), Master Distiller, Simon Buley talked us through the distilling process and explained the unique blend of local ingredients with some secret and exclusive distilling methods.
Simon forages local Celtic botanicals himself from the hills around the Balmenach Distillery and the infusion of Caorunn gin takes place in the world’s only working Copper Berry Chamber. The slow infusion of this chamber is said to give Caorunn it’s unique taste and I have to admit it was delicious. The fabled rowan berry, which has inspired Celtic medicines and recipes for generations, is key to the flavour of the gin. I must confess – the tour has turned me into a bit of a gin snob now, preferring my boutique gins rather than any old shop-bought offering. I was amazed at how much I can tell the difference after one short masterclass.
The tour is relaxed and casual and there was a real mix of people on ours. Young couples, older clientele, locals and some non-English speaking visitors that seemingly thought they were here to taste whisky but seemed to be having a good time anyway… Simon, unusually, was both charismatic and phlegmatic at the same time. He is clearly extremely talented and passionate about the gin and the distiller and spoke about it in a very matter-of-fact way. I actually really liked his style. Clearly proud of Caorunn, his enthusiasm was evident but modest. To be fair, he was probably biting his tongue to avoid mocking our dumb layman questions.
We were given a lighthearted test during the tour to see if we could make out the correct botanicals and I was rubbish. Let’s just say that no one will be drinking my homemade gin any time soon…
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Caorunn Gin are clearly proud of their Scottish heritage and locally-developed craft. During the time of our visit they had joined forces with Highlands fashion designer Siobhan Mackenzie, an award-winning traditional kilt maker. Siobhan has collaborated with the Balmenach Distillery to design an exclusive kilt from the official Caorunn tartan. This was on display at the distillery as well as some of Siobhan’s other designs – some of which are custom made and started at £1,000. Apparently Justin Beiber and Judy Murray are both fans of her innovative take on traditional kilt designs.
We finished the tour with a cold glass of Caorunn gin, served ‘house style’ with apple before I headed back to the hotel to collect my bags. My favourite touch of The Craigellachie Hotel was the selection of Hunter wellington boots available for guests during the stay so if the weather changes you aren’t stuck indoors and missing out on all the beauty of Speyside. So cute!
It was a last minute decision to stay on in Scotland and I am so glad I did. There was plenty to do in Speyside in 36 hours. I got to experience a bit of the A-list life at The Craigellachie, explore the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands and refresh with both local whisky and gin – can’t ask for more than that!
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Find out more about Helen Wright