The Scottish Highlands feel a world away from the rest of the UK. Yet just a short flight away, you can be submerged in their undeniable natural beauty. The mountains with cascading forests, endless lochs and calm, serene waters, and breathtakingly awesome views are just some of the few reasons to head out to this part of the world as Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura did.
I may have been born in the city, but my heart has always belonged in the mountains and the lakes. I guess not too dissimilar to how the well-known Robert Burns poem ‘My heart is in the highlands’ goes. Feeling the itch to escape the humdrum of city life, I took myself off to the Scottish Highlands as a guest of Black Sheep Hotels for a few days.
I was introduced to the Black Sheep Hotels in the summer when I interviewed someone for a story. They were described to me as a trio of Highland country hotels strategically located to showcase the true spirit and beauty of the Scottish Highlands. My ears pricked up even more when I was told they provided the perfect opportunity to get some serious hiking in the bag.
This collection of Scottish Highland hotels was acquired by entrepreneurial siblings Sanjay and Rachna Narang starting in 2019. Already having established Mars Enterprises and Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. in India in 1991, they saw the potential to expand their hospitality portfolio during a visit to the highlands. Rachna said they arrived for a bite to eat at the somewhat tired building (which is now the Whispering Pine Lodge) late one evening during a trip to the highlands.
Unable to fully appreciate the magnificent Loh Lochy views at that time of night, they returned the following morning to see them in their full glory. And that is when the seeds for a hotel vision were born. Two other sites were acquired around the same time, and the brother and sister duo worked tirelessly to bring them up to the modern day while retaining their Scottish charm.
My first stop was the Cluanie Inn, a whitewashed historic inn which sits proudly beneath a mountainous backdrop of soaring peaks and plunging glens just off the NC500. The drive here was nothing short of jaw-dropping, with winding highland roads weaving in and out of valleys and making for a perfect pit stop for the hundreds of hikers and bikers who need to refuel for food or recharge their batteries with an overnight stay.
Booked into one of their two suites, I was not only fortunate to have a four-poster bed, but my very own jacuzzi – the only room in the hotel to have one. There is a myriad of room types, from family-sized rooms to single rooms, and one suite boasts its sauna. But almost every window opens up to all that grandeur of the great outdoors, not to mention red deer who are happily meandering outside. I even had one who was happily watching me perform yoga poses one evening.
Sanjay and Rachana have done a magnificent job of refurbishing the rooms, bar and restaurant to add comfort and class at every corner you turn. Everywhere you look, there is vintage furniture, ornate ornaments, elaborate paintings, tasteful tartan and plentiful wall plaques with thought-provoking sayings. Reading those just added to the magical feeling of being amidst the mountains, where I oftentimes find myself reflecting on life. And there is plenty of humour in some of them. ‘Complaints department 100 miles away’ had me chuckle every time I looked at it.
The eclectic food menu is a mix of mountain-inspired food, such as classics like burgers, ribs and steaks, as well as Indian favourites, including butter chicken and crunchy lentil bites. And there are Scottish specials on the menu, too, with Haggis firmly on the menu. Being a Friday, I just had to go for the Cluanie fish ‘n’ chips – the restaurant’s twist on the classic with four different types of fish. Just what I needed after a long drive.
The Claunie Inn’s latest addition is the Landour Bakehouse. The stand-alone bakery across the road is a nod to Landour, the hill station in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas in India, where all the products are made from recipes that are a century old from the Landour community cookbook. Many of the recipes are adapted from the Scots who were once stationed there.
Since opening its doors in 2021, Landour Bakehouse at Cluanie sees around 300 customers through its doors daily. Hardly a surprise when you see some seriously tasty treats behind the glass counter screaming to be devoured.
My second stop was Rokeby Manor, just half an hour’s drive from Cluanie. Being spoilt by the first hotel, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the second. But any reservations I had were immediately put to rest as I turned into the driveway of the Rokey Manor. This charming old-fashioned manor house, with its rustic elegance and backdrop of towering pine trees, provided a very warm welcome.
Rokeby Manor is an early Victorian House (1840) situated on the edge of the Highland Estate Village of Invergarry. This late Georgian-early Victorian Manor has retained its character as a country home that was built with local materials and handmade techniques.
Once again, Sanjay and Rachna have kept the Scottish charm alive in this place with its traditional Scottish tasteful décor and luxury sitting harmoniously side by side. The Victorian period style rooms are quaint and bright with a mix of soft-toned floral wallpaper, tartan rugs and the original wooden floorboards and stone fireplaces.
One of 13 rooms (there’s no room number 13 ), I had views of a field full of grazing sheep. The views here are a contrast to the mountains I became accustomed to at the Cluanie but were nonetheless pleasant in their own right. My room was just as tranquil as the views outside, with a cosy oversized bed, a bureau from which to work and a separate bathroom with heated floors.
Dining in the rustic farmhouse restaurant Emily’s Byre is a cosy place to relax and enjoy good food. While there are some dishes that feature on the Cluanie menu, this eatery has a more expansive Indian one. Dishes like Dahi Chaat, Bombay cheese toasty, lamb koftas and samosas not only appear on the menu, but wafts of them can be appreciated from the moment you enter the restaurant. They seem to be by far the most popular of choices than the non-Indian dishes, and almost everyone dining on the night I went ordered an Indian meal.
The portion sizes are hearty, but if you have room left, I would recommend the kulfi – an Indian ice cream that is a personal favourite from when I visited India as a child.
Whispering Pine Lodge
The whispering Pine Lodge, my third and final stop, was originally a hunting lodge built in the 1800s before it became a hotel in the mid-1900s. From the minute I drove up to the car park, I knew instantly what had attracted Sanjay and Rachna to it – the magnificent location at the foot of Loch Locky, soaring mountains lining the loch across it and a private pebbled beach.
There is something just so tranquil about this place that will leave your jaw agape and eyes bulging as you take in the sights.
And to be able to appreciate these beautiful views, I was lucky to have been booked into one of the luxury Loch View Rooms. The scenic views of the pine forests and glistening lochs are no match for anything you can watch on a TV screen while the spacious rooms with their cosy Scottish charm, tartan accents, dark wood panelling, heated floors and a balcony are the perfect place to take them all in.
With 25 rooms, there’s an option for every budget, and if you’re looking for a family or group getaway, then one of the eight cabins situated near the private beach is ideal for spending valuable time together. The Mary Queen of Scot’s suite (above) within the main building is perfect for a couple and resembles a decent-sized apartment.
The waterfront restaurant on the loch has a menu with an even bigger array of traditional Indian dishes than the previous two hotels, sitting side by side with seasonal seafood and a few Scottish classics like ‘haggis, neeps’ n’ tatties’. I was particularly happy to see Dal Makhani based on ‘urad ki dal’, which you don’t often get in Indian restaurants but is a favourite I grew up eating.
Hands down, all the food I ate throughout my stay at all three of the hotels was nothing short of amazing. The food served in generous portions always came out piping hot, presented beautifully, and flavoursome. I did, however, notice that the chicken tikka at the Rokeby Manor and the one here were slightly different in taste. The waiter told me that depending on which chef was preparing the food; they would add their little twist to it.
I made thorough use of the great outdoors nature while I was in the Highlands, and with the help and advice of the staff at all three of the hotels, I went on daily hikes close to the locations I was staying at. Having clocked up an impressive number of miles across the five days, a much-needed pamper at The Little Salon and Spa Shed in the basement of the hotel was just what I needed.
Opting for a deep tissue massage, I lay face down on the bed while my therapist Maslie worked her magic in ironing out all the tension from my body. And ironing them out she did for Maslie was very hands-on with her approach, using her own body through the use of her legs and elbows where necessary.
She later informed me that the techniques she used were a very eastern approach to massaging, which in India is seen as a necessity as opposed to a luxury. I felt well stretched by the end of it, although a tad sore which is to be expected when you have been tense for weeks.
If you’re looking for a trip with a mix of luxury and activity, then the Black Sheep Hotels should be at the top of your list. During the five days spent across the three hotels, I felt very much at home.
The food was great, my surroundings were incredibly cosy, and the staff were genuine and friendly. Nothing was too much trouble, and they took a real interest in what I had been up to during my outdoor adventures. Not only were the mountains calling when I awoke in the mornings but so were the hotels when it was time to return and rest at my temporary abodes.
Black Sheep Hotels – Where and How?
For more information on Black Sheep Hotels, visit www.blacksheephotels.com.
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