While Scotland is magical all year round, it holds a particular majesty in the winter months, when it’s a veritable cornucopia of ethereal beauty, with deep green forests, snowcapped mountains and eerie, serene landscapes. It is my preferred time to visit — so book ahead for your winter getaway. Well-known the world over for its many, many lochs (there are some 30,000 in the country), the magical waters hold a captivating allure (and apparently some monsters…).
Loch Lomond is a vast freshwater loch—24 miles long—that crosses the Highland Boundary Fault (the boundary between the Lowlands of Central Scotland and the Highlands) and is often referred to as a gateway to the Highlands. Loch Lomond is surrounded by hills, including Ben Lomond on the eastern shore, which is 3,196 ft in height and the most southerly of the Scottish Munro peaks.
Sitting prettily on the banks of the loch is Cameron House, a 17th-century baronial mansion-turned-hotel. The Category B listed building is a gorgeously Gothic castle with peaked gables and soaring turrets. It was owned by the Smollett family for three centuries, during which time a number of prominent guests visited — Samuel Johnson, Empress Eugenie of France and Winston Churchill.
Following a devastating and fatal fire in 2017, a long and careful restoration project was undertaken before it reopened its doors in the fall of 2021.
There are 140 guest rooms to choose from, but be sure to book one of the 14 suites in the historic Auld House. Each suite is named after one of Loch Lomond’s islands — except for the namesake Cameron Suite. This penthouse, split over two floors, is the hotel’s largest; the bedroom (with an utterly enormous bed and marble-clad bathroom with freestanding tub) is on the lower floor.
A grand staircase leads upstairs to the spacious living and dining area — an excellent spot to entertain guests. But the suite’s biggest draw is the two terraces: Each has such tremendous, soul-stirring views of the loch that you might find yourself transfixed and forget all about your dinner plans. Luckily, guests of the suite receive complimentary pre-dinner canapes to snap you out of that trance.
The decor is welcoming and stylish, and considered touches provide a sense of place: thistle throw pillows, tweed blankets, welcome bottles of whisky and Scottish shortbread, of course. If you are seeking more seclusion, book one of the lodges. These charming Chalet-style accommodations are set away from the main hotel with views over The Carrick Golf Course. Choose from one-bedroom bungalows to spacious four-bedroom lodges.
Tamburrini & Wishart (read our extensive review here) offers fine dining in a chic 1920s-style restaurant with shimmering chandeliers, velvet sofas and deep-red tartan carpeting. The five-course tasting menu changes every two weeks, but you can expect inventive dishes that are ‘inspired by Scotland’s natural larder.’ A delightful journey of textures and flavors, personal highlights from the tasting menu include the rich yet delicately frothy parmesan soup. The Grill is more laid-back but still smart, with views of the loch. Order the Orkney hand-dived scallops and the succulent dry-aged rib eye on the bone.
The spa at Cameron House is a short drive away at the Cameron Club (guests have access to a shuttle service). Carve out a good few hours to spend here — there’s a heated rooftop infinity pool with views over Ben Lomond, a generous hydrotherapy pool, a 66-ft indoor pool with hot tub, ice fountain, multisensory ‘experience’ showers, sauna, infrared sauna, tepidarium and caldarium.
If you’re visiting with your significant other, book a couples treatment—enter your private steam chamber for a rasul treatment, where you apply an exfoliating mud treatment to your body and relax in the steam. The spa menu has a wide variety of treatments from deep full-body massages to scalp and facial treatments, reflexology and pre/post-natal massages.
Naturally, water-based activities are a must. There is a 234-berth marina as well as a chic-and-cozy boathouse (order the truffle mac and cheese with lobster tail). Board the hotel’s own yacht, Celtic Warrior, for a champagne cruise around the loch, where you’ll get a closer look at the islands, including one that is home to a nudist colony—a seriously brave endeavor in the chilly Scottish climate! For a faster pace, head out on a speedboat or Jet Ski or, for something more gentle, try paddleboarding and freshwater fishing.
As Cameron House is surrounded by some 400 acres of sublime Scottish countryside, pack your hiking boots or wellies (or, if you’ve forgotten them, a pair of Hunter wellies can be loaned for the duration of your stay) and explore at your own pace, or jump in a 4×4 and tackle some challenging terrain into the hills— your reward is the sublime views across the loch and the islands.
This article appears in the 04 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Spring 2022