It’s almost unsurprising to see a line of shiny Morgan cars in various pristine hues rocking up at Cromlix House, near Dunblane. They look like they belong on the gravel. I mean, how else is one going to get to Gleneagles for a spot of clay pigeon shooting?
Cromlix House isn’t a razzle-dazzle kind of place. But there’s something about its unassuming Farrow & Ball-hued window frames and neat croquet lawns that lend it to a bit of vintage play-acting. It was built by a Royal Navy captain in 1874 and became a hotel in 1981 but, thanks to some local sporty guy called Andy Murray, it’s now a major five-star player, recently scooping the Scottish Hotel of the Year Award.
As it’s managed by ICMI, who have peppered Scotland with luxury hotels like the Greywalls Hotel near Edinburgh and Inverlochy Castle in Fort William, other big names have joined the fray. The Roux brothers, who know a bit of class when they smell it, are also in on the act. And the Balvenie, too, which has pitched up and created not just an exclusive little whisky bar, but also a geodesic dome made from barrels where guests can go and have a crafty smoke with their dram in the grounds.
To celebrate the launch of their exclusive 50-year-old malts, Balvenie have called on the services of Morgan, makers of lithe, stripped-back cars since 1909, in a nice branding symbiosis that’s related to quality and craftsmanship and all that jazz. There might only be 15 bedrooms at Cromlix, but it’s a place with influential friends in high places, and not a doily or a candlewick bedspread in sight.
Luxurious hunting, shooting and fishing come as standard. A lake filled with trout and the 32 acre mature grounds are rather bewitchingly unspoilt. There are also tennis courts, naturally, and it’s a mere 20 minutes away from Gleneagles. Well, OK – 15 in a Morgan, with the wind not just whipping through your hair, but threatening to blow it right off.
Once back at the ranch, there are those 50-year-old malts to try. Encased in hand-engraved, hand-blown bottles and ringed wooden display canisters, they’re soon to be on sale for £26,500 a pop. These oak burnished beauties have resided in their rare Hogshead casks since the 1960s – and only 10 of them are destined for UK consumption. The two editions sat side by side in their distillery in Dufftown, near Banff, occasionally tasted by their master distiller, David Stewart. Although both are pretty remarkable and complicated, if you’re going to dig deep to buy it, the darker of the two went down best. Fifty years in a barrel has made it taste like raisins, warm spice, and the inside of an old piano. In a good way.
And while Mr Murray himself might be a bit on the, let’s say, taciturn, side, his hotel earns its five stars. Chez Roux delivers reliable versions of their Le Gavroche specials – crab bisque, fillet steak with potato fondant and red wine jus, Paris-Brest – in a rustic dining room with hunting scenes on the wall. Once replete, you can retire to the billiards room, complete with stag’s head and humidor and, of course, more whisky. It’s as old school as they come.
However, it’s not all swanky name-dropping and exclusive single malts. Murray has said he wants to create more jobs in the area where he grew up. Thus, the staff are made up of lovely, cheerful young people who aim to please and endlessly refill your teapot. There’s a local feel to it, too – in case you forget you’re in the heart of Scotland, the suites are named after Scottish luminaries, from Carnegie to Connery. And other letters other than C. In a lesson for other Scottish country house hotels, they’ve managed to restrain themselves with the tartan.
They could do to lose the awkward sticker on the bog roll (unless it’s part of some kind of guerrilla advertising strategy to send people home with ‘Cromlix House’ stuck to their derrieres). A drawer handle was missing, and the ironing board propped up against the bathroom wall looks like it came from Andy’s gran’s hoose.
But tiny glitches aside, everything runs as smoothly as the follow through on Murray’s serve. Downstairs, there’s a chapel, should you wish to get married, or confess your sins after a night on the sauce. In the suites, you have your own steam room – a nice touch. Of course, through the sash window, there’s always that ridiculously lush Perthshire countryside, where grouse roam and trout swim and pigeons watch their backs and stags keep their heads down. So will the hotel, like the Balvenie, still be there in 50 years? With the right kind of traditionally minded, forward-thinking connections, there’s no reason why Murray won’t be able to serve the area as well as he’s served Great Britain.
Words, Lucy Sweet. www.cromlix.com, +44(0)1786 822 125.
Presented in handmade wooden case by Scottish craftsman Sam Chinnery, only 131 bottles of Cask no.4567 and 128 of Cask no.4570 are in existence. RRP £26,500 each, available from whiskyshop.com.