A sleepy Highland village is not the first place you’d expect to see the famous faces of Naomi Campbell, Sadie Frost and Kate Moss, but guests at the re-opening of the 19th-century Craigellachie Hotel did just that.
The models and celebrities may have left, but the style and charm have remained. With just 26 rooms, the mustard-colored building will become a familiar site for those touring the popular malt whiskey trail.
The hotel is owned by London-based businessman Piers Adams and this celeb-filled re-opening took place in 2015 after a reported £3 million revamp. As with any good hotel in this region, the bar’s almost become as much as a selling point as ‘staying in Kate Moss’s room.’ At Craigellachie you’ll find the Copper Dog bar (a namesake whiskey was developed by the hotel and sold to Diageo) and the fabled Quaich Bar, whose walls are lined with single malt whiskeys and, style-wise, wouldn’t look out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
Despite the famous clientele and boutique style, this four-star abode won’t break the bank with rooms starting at £155 a night.
The upstairs rooms and public areas have furnishings from nearby Johnstons of Elgin. The spacious sitting room has a pastel color palette with cashmere throws, and while there are still antlers on the walls and hints of tartan, there’s nothing twee here.
Artwork of simple line drawings of dogs by British artist Hugo Guinness can be found throughout the hotel, and are a nod to the hotel’s canine-friendly policy (four-legged friends are allowed everywhere apart from at breakfast).
My room was very spacious with views out across the hotel grounds where a glimpse of the famous Craigellachie bridge could be seen. A sage green painted modern four poster bed, complete with Johnstons of Elgin throw, took center stage but there was also a comfy sofa, chaise lounge, antique wardrobe, bookcase and desk area.The traditional style ensuite has a tub and rain shower, and plenty of storage for toiletries.
Will Halsall took up the position of executive chef and general manager of the Craigellachie Hotel last summer. Will’s past restaurants include Le Caprice London, The Ivy and 34 Mayfair, which are far-flung from Speyside but Will said “moving away from London’s restaurant scene was an easy decision. With world class produce on our door-step in Speyside, I have the opportunity to help put The Craigellachie Hotel and restaurant on the map and that’s a really exciting opportunity for a chef.”
Will showcases this local produce in a small but well-considered menu of Scottish Speyside tapas which includes dishes such as Grants of Speyside haggis bon bons and Speyside beef. I went for a starter of smoked haddock and leek croquettes served with tartare sauce and a small watercress salad. For main, it had to be the Craigellachie burger served with optional bacon jam and Strathdon blue cheese and a side of crunchy skinny fries. This is high class pub food and it’s as comforting as the cozy fires in the hotel. For drinks, the apple dog – Copper Dog whiskey served with fresh apple juice – has become my go-to drink.
Breakfast offers hearty Scottish fare such as a full Scottish breakfast or traditional porridge, or a light buffet of fruits, cereal and juices.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you love whiskey, this place is heaven as Speyside is home to more than 50 distilleries (look out for the pagoda-style chimneys that punctuate the skyline or follow the brown signs for the Malt Whiskey Trail). Nearby you’ll find big name distilleries such as Aberlour, Glenfiddich and the revamped Macallan. The blending experience at Strathisla is ideal for those looking to test their skills and is located in a beautiful new room in what’s thought of as one of Scotland’s prettiest distilleries.
The Speyside co-operation is also only about a 15-minute walk away, for those looking to find out more about this age-old craft and watch the coopers at work creating and repairing casks.
If you’d rather see sights that aren’t whiskey related, there’s fishing and plenty of historic sites – including Brodie Castle – or you could visit Knockando Woolmill and Johnstons of Elgin to bring home some of the hotel’s style.
The bathroom has White Company toiletries and the tea and coffee station (coffee comes courtesy of a Nespresso) also has Walkers shortbread, baked just over a mile away.
Ideally located for exploring the malt whiskey trail, the Craigellachie has a charm which suits its location.
As with all hospitality businesses, Craigellachie Hotel has been changed by the covid-19 pandemic, with many staff familiar to regulars no longer working there. The breakfast menu when we visited was minimal and served in the Copper Dog instead of the usual room opposite the Quaich bar (which was also closed for a refresh). But despite all this, it’d take a lot to diminish this hotel’s star appeal.
Rooms start from £175 a night. Craigellachie Hotel, Victoria St, Craigellachie, Speyside AB38 9SR (01340 881 204, www.craigellachiehotel.co.uk)
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.