Glenapp Castle is an impressive 1800’s grand stately-home-turned-hotel, designed by famed architect David Bryce. This distinctive, Baronial style gives a fairytale-like quality, and the peaceful surroundings reminds you that you’re a world away from the city.
Tucked away in pristine private forest grounds, the Scottish Balmoral hideaway sits proudly atop of Ballantrae in Ayrshire. As you venture up the meandering and magical wooded driveway, you’re presented with the splendorous gothic castle.
One of the more noted previous occupiers of Glenapp was the First Lord Inchcape, once the Chairman of P&O. It is said that Sir James Mackay would stand atop the castle and gaze out to sea, keeping an eye on his ships as they sailed past. Now, under private ownership by Paul Szkiler, the castle has been transformed into a luxurious hotel getaway. It has been lovingly refurbished, and presents as a 5 star retreat.
Guests are welcomed by the highly professional and diligent concierge team, who take care of luggage and valet the car – a taste of things to come for an effortless and relaxing experience. With no arduous check in procedure, the staff already know who you are, along with every other detail of your stay.
We were graciously looked after by Deputy GM Nelio Pita, who’s exceptional customer service experience transcends throughout his team. And with over 70 staff, you can be assured that there’s always someone on hand to cater for your every need.
Our bags arrived in the room before we did, and we were presented with a magnificent suite. A welcome note, personalised menus and fresh flowers greeted us amongst the lavish decor.
21 rooms make this hotel a very intimate affair. Each one unique, and the grand suites are very special. Staying true to the period aesthetic of the castle, the rooms are adorned with antique furnishings, fabrics sympathetic to the era, and tastefully finished with modern features.
The contemporary bathrooms are large and luxurious, and dressed with fresh bath robes and Penhaligon toiletries. We recommend opting for one of the palatial sea facing rooms for some of the best morning views overlooking the isles of Arran and Ailsa. A selection of the rooms feature large, sumptuous four poster beds, and over-sized baths.
The most stand-out aspect of the hotel is The Endeavour. A spectacular penthouse apartment that takes up the entire top 2 floors of the castle. With 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, multiple living spaces and a period kitchen, the 4500sqft space is the biggest penthouse in Scotland. Available in any number of configurations, and perfect for families or business retreats.
The Endeavour is entirely self-contained, and accessed via its own secure elevator. A private chef is on hand to cater for up to 16 guests, along with a butler and 24 hour concierge. As well as a library and media room, the penthouse features a sauna and treatment room for ultimate self indulgence. There’s even access to a secret rooftop terrace.
One of the main attractions for guests is the fine dining experience. Owner Paul Szkiler tells us that he and Executive Head Chef Joe Gould are striving for a Michelin Star. With the imaginative 3 and 6 dish options available to diners – which adorn a unique menu each day – we’re confident that the accolade is inevitable.
Guests are invited to wait in the lounge area before dinner, where drinks are served along with canapés. A fine selection of wines have been specially curated for the hotel, and the cocktail menu features some house made alchemy of the highest quality. We especially enjoyed the signature “1870” – a refreshing and unique champagne based cocktail with a twist of gin and lemon. There’s an eclectic array of Scotch whiskies on display, but no bar. This furthers the personal service, and alleviates any chance of waiting around – it’s all about the service at Glenapp.
Moving into one of the two dining rooms at your own pace provides a relaxed experience. There’s no strict timings or back-to-back bookings. The setting is intimate yet atmospheric, with just the right balance of low lighting and subtle background music. The ambiance is further embodied by the impeccable service from the staff – friendly and attentive yet completely unintrusive.
To fully experience the quality of the gastronomy it would be shameful not to choose the 6 course menu. Catering for all types of intolerances and preferences, menus are placed in your room prior to your arrival. Traditional, rich gamely meats and veg are paired with experimental and unique accompaniments like compressed pear. Dishes are often imaginatively garnished with delicacies like white truffle powder and gherkin gel to create a unique flavour profile.
Much of the seasonal fruit, veg, and herbs are grown in the kitchen garden, and many of the key ingredients are locally sourced. There’s even a bee hive in the grounds that produces fresh honey.
Mornings present the a la carte breakfast menu, ranging from the mighty Castle Grill to the guest-favourite Haddock with Poached Egg. All freshly prepared and served with squeezed juices and homemade jams with toast.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of our stay was the level of service we received. Staff are attentive, and almost telepathic – anticipating your every need and remembering the smallest of details about your preferences, likes and dislikes. This attention makes the biggest impact on your personal experience.
Concierge will effortlessly accommodate any request. From preparing a drink that isn’t on the menu, to arranging a helicopter flight – nothing is out of the question.
With its lounges and private areas, Glenapp Castle feels more like a country home from home than a hotel. The main lobby houses 2 lounge areas with plush seating, roaring open fires and a grand piano. There’s also a library which is available for private hire, as well as 2 dining rooms. The decor is grand and stately, with design cues taken from the castle’s historic past.
After a very short walk from the castle we discover The Victorian Glass House. This orangery/greenhouse provides a more informal space for afternoon tea and casual dining. Seated amongst botanicals and water features, it would be easy to spend hours enjoying the natural elements and selection of teas and lunch options.
The grounds host magnificent gardens to explore, as well as a tennis court for the sporty types. Boots and waterproof coats are available so guests can comfortably stroll around the woodlands, catching glimpses of the castle behind the foliage.
Another aspect that really sets Glenapp Castle apart is the activities that are available for guests. In total there are 65+ activities listed on the hotel’s app.
For the ultimate experience, Glenapp offers a unique Hebridean Sea Safari. A completely customisable expedition by boat takes guests on a tour of the local islands. The Hebridean Sea Safari starts from £3750 per person based on 4 guests, and culminates in an unforgettable glamping fine dining experience.
We tried our hand at archery. Our instructor Will was both patient with our fumbling attempts, and showed a genuine passion for the sport. By the end of our lesson we were popping balloons from great distances (great in our heads at least) and felt like master bow-smiths. There’s also shooting, fishing, hiking and a whole host of physical pursuits for the more adventurous types.
Our stay was superbly relaxing, and created the perfect escape from a busy week in the city. Glenapp Castle provided us with a peaceful getaway, fabulous food and more of an appreciation for taking time out. The hotel is completely self-contained, allowing you to never have to leave the grounds during your stay – although a short drive to the coast is highly rewarding. Whilst the hotel oozes romance for couples, it’s also perfectly suited for families and business conferences or team building.
Future expansion will see additional rooms opening, as well as on-site cottages available for families. Plans are underway for the construction of a magnificent spa and pool facility in the old stables.
We highly recommend booking a long weekend and enjoying all of the magnificent facilities and activities on offer at the wonderful 5 star Glenapp Castle.