Who hasn’t wanted, at least once, to stay in a castle? Particularly a Scottish Baronial castle bristling with turrets and towers, castellations and crenelations, with the promise of fragrant peat fires and sweeping staircases designed for grand entrances. Castles also tend to come with pleasing views and extensive gardens (and in Scotland often some craggy peaks or moor besides), with outdoor pursuits whether fishing, stalking or just a good walk (with picnic, of course). But forget ‘Monarch of the Glen’-style draughts and dodgy plumbing: think spas, fitness rooms and champagne afternoon teas; cracking cocktails, first class-chefs and good central heating. Whether by the sea, a loch, a mountain, or all three there will be few rooms that don’t promise a view. Delightful staff will treat your own little prince, princess or pooch like royalty as well, and of course, there’s always the possibility of pipes... These are the best castle hotels in Scotland.
Queen Victoria said she ‘never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot’ than Inverlochy Castle in 1873, and it remains as impressive as ever. There are no bows to passing fashions here. Moving with the times means waterfall showers, Bang & Olufsen stereos and televisions, while the unashamedly country house style – all swags, gilt, silk and brocade, sparkling crystal, polished wood and an all-pervading sense of time suspended – remains. Lying at the foot of Ben Nevis, girdled by a ring of highland peaks, this is a place of quiet beauty, with no indication that the hustling, bustling tourist town of Fort William is only a mile or two up the road. With Michel Roux Jr in charge of the kitchen the food is as good as the peerless service.
This is the real McCoy, Scotland’s oldest inhabited castle: it was a stronghold of the chieftans of Clan Ramsay; it withstood a siege by Henry IV in 1400; and it was captured by Cromwell two centuries later. In between Mary, Queen of Scots, spent the night while touring her realm. The moat has been filled in and the drawbridge has gone, but an imposing entrance hall with a vaulted faux-Gothic ceiling and mini-Imperial staircase creates a grand first impression. Old storage vaults have been converted into a small spa with a laconium and hydro pool, and guests can fly a Russian Steppe Eagle or a Turkmanian Eagle Owl from a falconry in the grounds. It’s on a small estate of woodland and lawns on the banks of the South Esk River with views of the Border hills, 10 miles from Edinburgh.
• The best hotels in Scotland
Glenapp is one of the best castle hotels in Scotland; a fine example of 19th-century Scottish Baronial grandeur, set in extensive gardens and woodlands. More of a country house than a fortress, it offers fine dining and country sporting pursuits. Winston Churchill was a guest of the lord of the manor in 1944, when they discussed the D-Day landings. There's an all-weather tennis court, a croquet lawn, plus wellies, umbrellas and rain jackets by the front door for exploring the grounds. Falconry displays are available on request, guns and rods are catered for with pheasant and partridge in the estate and salmon and trout in nearby rivers. Boat hire is also available for sea fishing. A spa by the sea is a short drive away, as are the golf courses of Turnberry and Royal Troon.
A grand, fortified mansion with a 16th-century tower and Georgian and Victorian extensions, Crossbasket Castle was rescued from near dereliction by a nine-million pound restoration by local businessman and art collector Steve Timoney and his wife Alison Reid-Timoney. Nine rooms ranging from cosy doubles to grand suites, some with fireplaces, generate a sense of comfort and well-being with classical décor, luxurious beds and large windows overlooking the grounds. Lunch and dinner menus, overseen by renowned French chef Michel Roux Jnr, are a feast for the eyes and palate with signature dishes of tartar of roe buck deer, Loch Awe sea trout with smoked kelp consommé and rack of Borders lamb.
The castle, a country house built in the 1860s, is thrillingly sited on high ground at the northernmost tip of Mull overlooking the Sound of Mull, Ardnamurchan Peninsula, outlying islands and – vivid at sunset in the far distance – the Outer Hebrides. Despite its grandiose looks and proportions, this is very much a private home, with an eclectic mix of furniture and pictures. The hall, with large open fire, is furnished as a sitting room, and the wood-panelled library, with complimentary selection of whiskies, is also at guests’ disposal. Dogs are welcome; the family spaniels may well come for a walk with you. The five bedrooms are all in the main part of the house. They are delightful, with pretty wallpapers, family furniture and charming, unusual bathrooms.
Stonefield Castle is a proper high-Victorian Baronial folly, as castellated, crenellated and pepper-potted as any romantic could wish for. Rescued from years of neglect, the drawing room, library and bar have had a gentle refresh, but retain their Victorian character with crackling log fires, stags’ heads, coffered ceilings and candlelight. It has an enviable location on the Kintyre peninsula near the fishing town of Tarbert, with heavenly views over Loch Fyne to the hills beyond. Come in the spring, when the notable collection of rhodedendrons and azaleas are at their staggeringly lovely best. Explore the private island that forms part of the grounds – it’s a great place for wildlife spotting: seals, otters and, recently, a humpbacked whale.