Great Places to Stay
- Castle Venlaw, Peebles, Scottish Borders
Castle Venlaw hotel in the Scottish Borders is a charming and seriously romantic place to stay with a real sense of history. Less than an hour's drive from Edinburgh you enter the picturesque, painterly landscape of rolling forested hills, ancient abbeys and castles, lush gardens and the famous River Tweed. The Borders countryside is the perfect environment for an active sporting holiday - golf, fishing, mountain biking, walking - or a relaxing break away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Located on the outskirts of the pretty town of Peebles (pictured here), with its High Street of traditional clothing and gift shops, Castle Venlaw stands proudly at the top of a steep hill for prime views of the surrounding countryside. The original house was built in 1782 for Alexander Stevenson, the Sheriff Deputy of Peeblesshire. Later owners, Mr and Mrs Erskine extended the property in 1892 by adding a turreted south wing and further storey to create a fashionable Victorian Scottish baronial mansion. Venlaw Castle (as it was then called) became a hotel as far back as 1949 under the ownership of Alexander Cumming, later taken over by his son and family who remained here until 1997. The hotel name changed to Castle Venlaw under the ownership of Mr and Mrs John Sloggie who then took over the hotel for the next ten years. In September 2007, Castle Venlaw Hotel was purchased by Pierre-Alban Guy who is the founder of PAG Hotels Ltd.
The entrance to the front hall is up a short flight of stairs where at a neat reception desk you will be greeted by one of a small friendly team of staff. The General Manager, Chris Marsh, has been at Castle Venlaw for several years. To the immediate left along the corridor is the cosy Library bar (see illustration), where a log fire will be burning daytime and evening in the colder months of the year. Next door is the elegant dining room, featuring a decorated ceiling, handsome fireplace and neat placing of tables around the room. The Adam Room featuring original architectural features of the Georgian house is used for wedding ceremonies, private dinners and receptions. Upstairs over three floors are twelve very individually designed bedrooms and suites.
A good deal of refurbishment has taken place in recent years to create contemporary classic design with a romantic theme. All the rooms are named after Scottish distilleries and you can sample "your" personal whisky in the bar. There are four Four-poster bedrooms and one super luxurious Glenturret suite (see graphic), which has two bathrooms. This suite is extremely popular! Glengoyne (as tested by this reviewer) is absolutely delightful: the spacious L shaped room has a king size Four-poster bed, covered in cushions and wrapped in lavish curtains, two reclining armchairs near the window and opposite a flat screen TV (Freeview TV) and DVD player. Lighting is well planned with standard lamp for reading and good bedside lights. The spectacular aspect of these bedrooms are the bathrooms, with twinkling fibre optic lights in the ceiling above the huge bathtub, a row of tea lights, a separate shower cubicle and underfloor heating so that walking bare foot (in a soft towelling bathrobe) around the bathroom is a sensual pleasure.
The Deluxe and Standard rooms have a traditional country house décor (refurbishment plan is upgrading TVs, fabrics and fittings) and come in all shapes and sizes including a family suite located in the attic, featuring an original roll top bath and where the children have their own den with bunk beds, TV and video in the turret. Sleeping in a castle tower sounds very much like Harry Potter territory! All bedrooms have quality Gilchrist and Soames toiletries, hospitality tray for tea, coffee and shortbread, colour TV, armchairs, selection of books and glossy magazines. There's a real sense of homeliness to offer a genuine warm welcome.
The Dining Room
Head Chef David Harrison has been at Castle Venlaw for a few years and very much established here for his distinctive contemporary Scottish cuisine. Local produce from around the Borders is evident on the menu so that you are in for an inspiring culinary treat. The romantic theme is carried through from bedroom to bar: sit in the cosy Library (surrounded by a fine collection of old novels, classic tales and travel books), log fire blazing, candles burning, while sipping a G&T or sample the whisky named after your room. The bar staff are whisky ambassadors and know their malts. The delicious music soundtrack (personal choice of the owner) is an attractive mix of contemporary songs, blues, and soft jazz and popular classic tunes.
In the dining room, a tall red rose stands on each table beside an oil burning candle. There's a seasonal à la carte menu and also a daily changing set price menu and you can choose between the two. Harrison has an innovative and artistic style, creating colourful dishes on the plate to tempt the eye and palate. First of all, a surprise amuse bouche - delicate smoked trout mousse on a tiny toasted brioche. A tasty morsel. Starters included Warm crayfish tails on a white bean, chick pea and vegetable stew - an inventive play on a cassoulet and quite a hearty portion for an appetiser. Pumpkin soup was creamy and well flavoured with basil pesto. Alternatively Pan Fried Chicken Liver and black olive salad and a Smoked Cheddar and Leek tartlet with rocket leaves. For the main event, a tender fillet of Sea Trout was accompanied by salt cod potatoes with a dash of pea puree - a sophisticated version of fish, chips and mushy peas. An outstanding creation, where each ingredient added taste and texture and complemented each other. Kelso Roe Deer and Roast Rack of Borders Lamb emphasised the use of local Borders produce. Vegetarians are not forgotten with the option of Butternut squash risotto with beetroot. For dessert, classic puddings with a twist: Apple and blackberry crumble with mascarpone ice-cream, chocolate tart with raspberry ripple ice cream. Scottish cheeses such as Mull of Kintyre and Dunsyre blue with oatcakes and home made chutney. Service throughout is professional and attentive and the waiters know who has ordered which dish - a classic failing in many a fine restaurant!
One quibble - last orders for breakfast at the weekend is 9.45am. With the luxury comfort of those bedrooms, who wants to stagger downstairs quite so early on holiday? Especially after a divine feast the night before. A buffet table offers the usual cereals, prunes, apricots, fruit juices, yoghurt. A bowl of good thick porridge is served with cream (a dash of whisky would be in keeping with the hotel theme). Hot dishes being consumed with relish around the dining room included bacon, sausage and egg, boiled eggs, scrambled egg with smoked salmon artistically created in a round tower, Bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon but minus traditional capers and onion. Finish off with toast and marmalade and a fresh pot of tea or coffee.
Leisure and Sports
The Scottish Borders offers the outdoor life and the River Tweed is famous for its prime fishing. Glentress Forest near Peebles has a world renowned mountain bike track and there are miles of signposted walks such as the Southern Upland Way. For historic attractions, visit Traquair House with its wonderful art, antiques and maze garden, and Neidpath Castle. With golf at Cardona, horse riding nearby and Dawyck Gardens, the Tweedale region is the place for activity and adventure for all ages, as well as culture and restful countryside.
Weddings and Private Events
Castle Venlaw is the perfect intimate and historic Castle venue for a wedding and with just 12 bedrooms, a private 2 day exclusive stay can be arranged, from the civil or religious ceremony to reception and a ceilidh in the evening. A Wedding breakfast for 35 guests may take place in the Dining room or 24 guests can dine around the long table in the magnificent Adam Room. The Adam room and the Library bar can also be used for a private party, dinner or business meeting.
For more information or to make a reservation, see the Castle Venlaw Web site or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having visited Peebles dozens of times over the years to stay at Peebles Hydro, Macdonald Cardona or Stobo Health Spa, it was a welcome change to take the steep curving drive up the hill to Castle Venlaw. Under the new ownership of Pierre Alban Guy (who lives nearby and is a hands-on proprietor), this traditional country house is now being transformed into a chic boutique chateau oozing romantic charm. The friendly staff offer a warm welcome where you immediately feel at home. This is an idyllic hideaway for a get-away-from-it-all break in the Scottish Borders to enjoy fresh air, inspiring good food and perhaps learn about a few whiskies along the way.
Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
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