There will be no golf carts September 26-28, 2014, when the Ryder Cup is played at The Gleneagles Hotel – the gear is hand-carried. During the Cup, the resort is sold-out. Any other time, however, visit this Leading beauty on 850 rolling acres equidistant to both Glasgow, to its south-west, and Edinburgh, to its south-east. The gal wanted to get back to this gorgeous luxury hotel to see how it is faring in the run up to the mammoth golf extravaganza – but then the hotel, all 258 rooms and all 650 team members of it, is used to special events. G8 summit here? No problem. A 150-person two-night wedding, as now? No problem, with kilted highland dancer brought in for the ceilidh (pronounce this ‘kaley’, by the way).
Looking out from the main door of the original 1924 building and you see a landscape that could be your own (wishful thinking) private estate. Lawns and bushes are manicured to such a degree that one expanse of grass, immediately to your right in the photograph, is mown in a criss-cross that looks like green checked fabric – a very expensive silk, of course. Everything oozes quality here. Room 190, in the old house, has just been redone with wood cupboards that are just as beautiful as the chef’s table I saw yesterday. The room is soft heather and mist coloured, with a thistle-patterned floor rug.
But you may not spend much time inside, here, unless you are meeting or convening, or revelling in the amazing two-pool wellness centre or enjoying ESPA Life (a spa and more, with lots of anti-ageing personally advertised by my good friend Sue Harmsworth, all of 67 but who would guess?). You could be working the arcade of retail, with cashmere and antiques and (Scotch) whisky, and a nail bar. Most, if they are active, head outdoors, for the golf, or archery, shooting, horses, off-road driving or even mountain biking. They have bikes for all sizes, as there are lots of children staying here. Kids love the activities.
This was a first: how often do you meet two members of a family helping make such a lovely hotel work? Patrick Elsmie is the esteemed CEO of the entire Gleneagles project. One of his two sons, Simon, is working the front desk, making sure the initial reception is great. I had no idea who he was, and asked him where he was from. Here, he said shyly (I might have guessed as he looks like both his parents). The teamwork here is amazing and everyone stays. Bernard Murphy, the GM, has been here for yonks, as has Alan Hill, who runs the food.
Ah, Gleneagles food… you can try the best of Scotland. I was challenged to make a photo of porridge look exciting. This is the result, although technically it should be in a wood porringer bowl rather than china. Traditionally, pinhead oatmeal was slowly cooked with water and salt and made into a thick paste, stored in a wooden drawer, from which slices were taken out to be fried and eaten. While cooking, stir with a thick wooden spurtle stick, in a clockwise direction to ward off evil spirits. At Gleneagles, porridge – fresh cooked rather than drawer-stored – comes with Drambuie-soaked raspberries, and I have added milk and brown Demerara sugar. Drambuie is owned by Diageo, which also owns Gleneagles. Diageo also has Johnnie Walker, and I loved seeing the Blue Bar at the Dormy Clubhouse. Heated blue sofas on a heated stone floor, in a glass-canopied outdoor courtyard, welcome cigar smokers: one wall has a cabinet with 96 personal bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue, plus private bottles of Johnnie Walker’s King George V and the John Walker.
This luxury hotel has so many dining venues, says steaks or seafood at the Clubhouse, or two-star Michelin at Andrew Fairlie or traditional Scottish at Strathearn. My favourite dinner, however, is at DESEO, a magnificent open-market, or restaurant-as-theatre, with 170 seats ranging from velvet-curtained boudoirs to sit-around-the-chef to outside dining. Open kitchens invite you to design your pizza, choose your aged beef, seafood and dessert. I was waited on by Rebecca Dibben, an extraordinary and charismatic youngster who is first-ever service winner of the UK’s Academy of Food & Wine Service. Her prize, over the next year, includes two spells working at Buckingham Palace and one each at Le Gavroche, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai.