Scotland may not be the first place you think of when imagining your dream summer vacation, however, with boundless history, awe-inspiring landscapes and entertainment aplenty, the British destination is creeping to the top of bucket lists. We headed to the stunning Fonab Castle Hotel and Spa to experience a luxury Scottish staycation for ourselves.
When the Covid-19 pandemic plunged the hospitality industry into darkness, the Fonab Castle Hotel and Spa team got busy behind the scenes. Making use of the best part of a year without a single guest, the hotel invested in a £2.5m ($3.4m) renovation that spread from the bar and the restaurant all the way through to the penthouse suite and most recently, the spa.
The hotel itself is tucked away on the banks of the Loch Faskally, with its pink-hued façade in stark contrast against the lush green forests of the highlands. Fonab’s location makes protecting the natural world imperative, and as a result, the recent renovation also focused on limiting the hotel’s environmental impact.
Part of this included investing in eco washing machines. While this might sound less flashy than Fonab’s other initiatives, which include free-roaming chickens, championing seasonal ingredients and protecting local walking paths, behind the scenes initiatives like this have a huge impact, with the hotel now preventing the carbon emissions of daily truckloads of linen being transported to Scotland’s central belt.
Fonab Castle Hotel and Spa has both retained the standout features of the traditional castle and maximized its more modern areas to offer accommodations to suit all guests. Those with a taste for history should opt for a Signature Castle Room which, as you might expect, are housed within the original castle and offer views across the loch and the surrounding highlands.
Alternatively, the Superior Lodge Rooms found within Fonab’s contemporary wing all have floor-to-ceiling windows and either a private balcony or patio, as well as a sitting area.
For the ultimate Fonab experience, book the Castle Penthouse, which was reimagined by Scottish design studio Corrine Muir Interiors as part of the renovation. Fonab’s seamless blend between historic charm and modern luxury is best epitomized in the Penthouse. The high vaulted ceiling and stone fireplace evoke memories of a bygone era, while the plush furnishings, stand-alone tub and separate dressing room elevate this suite to firmly deliver on 21st-century expectations – and beyond.
Adjacent to the main hotel is The Woodland Spa at Fonab, offering a full suite of facilities, including a 49-foot swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, aromatherapy room and steam room, as well as a comprehensive treatment menu. While Scotland isn’t famed for its sunshine, the Woodland Spa also has outdoor hot tubs and loungers when the weather allows.
Treatments range from Matis facials and body wraps to hot stone massages and full-body exfoliations. For the full experience, opt for one of the Woodland Spa’s packages which offer a selection of tailored treatments and, with certain packages, an afternoon tea in the Fonab Brasserie.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the spa can currently only accommodate eight guests at a time. Thankfully the team has opted not to take bookings and instead ask guests to call ahead to check there is space. The upside of this is that the facilities feel private, with few other guests to be seen on our spa trip.
The spa is currently undergoing the next stage of the hotel’s refurbishment project, with a new reception area, changing facilities, treatment rooms all in the works. While the completion date is not yet set, the update has the potential to establish Fonab as a wellness destination in its own right.
Dining is where Fonab Castle really flexes its muscles. The hotel offers two restaurants, both of which celebrate the finest and freshest Scottish produce. Where possible, ingredients are sourced in house – the team smokes its own salmon, produces honey from the on-site beehives and rears hens to provide fresh eggs.
The loch-front Fonab Brasserie invites guests to dine in a relaxed setting, with highlights including Lindisfarne oysters and a selection of Scottish cheeses. Fonab’s indulgent afternoon tea and breakfast offering, which includes a personal tiered continental stand and an extensive a la carte menu, is also served in the brasserie. Opt for the kippers for a traditional Scottish start to the day.
It is the three AA Rosette-winning and Michelin plate-awarded Sandemans restaurant that is Fonab’s real highlight, however. The space was another inclusion in the castle’s refurb, benefitting from a new mustard yellow and teal theme, with the hotel owners adding their own creative eye to the process.
Sandemans serves an eight-course tasting menu with several extra surprises along the way. Each course is perfectly formed, immaculately presented and decidedly delicate – as should always be the case with such an extensive menu. Although every dish is stand-out excellent, the West Coast scallops with wild garlic, pea puree and bellota ham, and the reimagined strawberry yogurt dessert just took the edge.
The menu is accompanied by an expertly matched wine pairing courtesy of the restaurant’s sommelier; otherwise, the main wine list is remarkably extensive, particularly when it comes to French labels and Sandeman ports and sherries.
Despite the formal setting and high-class food, the service is friendly and relaxed. The expert team is on hand to guide you through each dish in an easy-to-follow manner, but absent enough for the experience to feel private. Sandemans ticks all the boxes; a reservation is a must for the full Fonab experience.
Afterward, head to the Lounge Bar which boasts some of the hotel’s best views, a wide array of signature cocktails and, of course, page after page of the finest whiskies Scotland has to offer.
Fonab Castle seemingly has all of Scotland at its fingertips: the dramatic mountains of the Cairngorms National Park are on its doorstep, the famous western isles are just a scenic drive away and the historic city of Edinburgh is a mere 90 minutes to the south.
However, if you fancy staying local, the area surrounding the hotel has plenty to offer. Enjoy a walk through the dense woodland (the hotel team works closely with local walking charities to preserve the paths, so will happily recommend some scenic trails), or hire a rowing boat or paddleboard to head out onto the water. In fact, the best view of the hotel is from the middle of Loch Faskally.
Whisky fans will also find plenty to keep themselves occupied: Fonab is just a short distance away from the Edradour distillery, which is on record as being Scotland’s smallest distillery. Alternatively, enjoy a tasting in Fonab’s own dedicated whisky room. Perthshire also has some of Scotland’s finest golf courses, with the picturesque Pitlochry Golf Course less than 10 minutes from the hotel.
The amount on offer in the highlands can be intimidating with plenty to miss out on. Fortunately, the Fonab concierge team is available to help curate the ultimate itinerary showcasing the best of Scotland, including Land Rover experiences, highland safaris and historical tours.
Rooms at Fonab Castle Hotel and Spa from $405 per night. To book, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +44 179 647 0140.