A heady mix of food, drink, spa treatments and a seaplane flight make for a memorable stay for Peter Ranscombe at Cameron House on the shores of Loch Lomond.
As the seaplane banked gracefully over the waves, the full splendour of Loch Lomond opened up for all the aircraft’s passengers to see. From the green hills surrounding the loch to the passenger boats edging their way along its shores, there can be few better ways to experience the sight of the largest surface area of freshwater in Scotland.
With its big windows and clear visibility, flying in the nine-passenger aircraft was a whole world away from being enclosed in a tin can-like jet heading off on holiday. The views from the seaplane as it headed towards the west coast were spectacular and, even on a dreich early summer day, being able to see Argyll, Arran, Islay and Jura all from a new angle was a fantastic treat.
Bringing the plane down for a graceful landing on the surface, the pilot then turned the small aircraft to dock at the pontoons outside Cameron House, the five-star resort nestled at the south-western corner of the loch. The hotel offers impressive views of the bonnie, bonnie banks, both from the benches in the gardens and from the new terrace that opened this summer at its Great Scots bar.
Equally impressive are some of the views from the hotel’s spa, located just a short distance further up the loch side at The Carrick, the championship golf course that’s hosted the Scottish Ladies’ Open. The picture windows from several of the “hydro and thermal experiences” rooms offer views across the golf course, but the star of the show is the roof-top terrace.
To say it has an infinity “pool” is perhaps going a step-too-far, but the “infinity Jacuzzi” with its bubbles was a really enjoyable experience. It’s been a long time since I did any wildlife watching from a hot tub – the last time was in Highland Perthshire for The Scotsman Magazine – but at the Carrick I enjoyed spying on a family of coots as they waddled their way across the golf course and down to one of the ponds, all the time with the bubbles massaging my back.
I’m not normally a huge fan of spas, but Cameron House may well have tipped the scales for me. The contoured tile-lined thermal beds in the “tepidarium” were superb, providing a gentle heat that was nearly enough to lull me off to sleep, while the jets of water in the hydrotherapy pool provided the opposite invigorating experience.
The hotel’s concierges ferry guests between the hotel and the spa and golf course at the Carrick. If golfers don’t want to venture that far then there’s also the nine-hole “Wee Demon” course within the hotel’s grounds, sitting alongside the main building and the holiday lodges further along the site.
While golf and the award-winning spa may grab many of the headlines when it comes to Cameron House, the dining options are also one of the hotel’s major selling points. At the heart of the food offering is Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond, which won a Michelin star in 2011, a decade after Wishart won his first star for his eponymous restaurant at Leith in Edinburgh.
Yet food doesn’t begin and end with Wishart’s eatery at Cameron House. The hotel also has its own major Cameron Grill restaurant, the décor in which offers an interesting mix of exposed pipes and ducts alongside thick-stuff leather seats and another cracking view across the loch.
Haggis bon-bons arrived as an amuse-bouche, with moist haggis that wasn’t over-peppered, a delightfully thin and crispy batter and a whisky mayonnaise. The dish set the tone for the tasty meal ahead.
A starter of Iberico pig’s cheek with chorizo, watercress and an apple sauce continued the meaty theme, leading into a princely porterhouse steak, served with triple-cooked chips, a mushroom, a tomato and a choice of sauces, from which I selected the classic Diane.
Even among all those carnivore’s treats, the highlight of the meal was the dessert, with a crepe Suzette served at the table in its own wee copper pan. A fine way to round off a fine meal.
Though it felt like infanticide to be drinking a Gevry Chambertin from just 2014 with the meal, the bottle of red Burgundian wine from G Lignier & Fils was a meat-lover’s dream. Aromas of wood smoke, vanilla, red plum and red cherry on the nose led into fresher flavours of redcurrant and red cherry on the palate, with well-integrated sweet-vanilla and spicier white pepper notes. It was the wine’s fresh and youthful acidity that worked best with the meat dishes, yet its fine tannins meant it didn’t overpower my dining companion’s fishy selections either.
Talking of fish, a short stroll through the hotel’s grounds will lead diners to The Boat House, the recently-refurbished restaurant sitting on the water’s edge, which offers fish, oysters, crabs and a variety of other seafood in a more relaxed atmosphere. Fish-haters needn’t despair though, as there’s a range of pub classics, along with some cracking pizzas – the calzone stuffed with meatballs, Parma ham and chicken was my top pick.
My only slight gripe about Cameron House is a minor point, but comes down to housekeeping. A couple of frayed carpets in the hallways leading to the bedrooms and paint peeling from the woodwork in the bathroom are little things, but not what’s expected from a five-star hotel.
Yet those tiny niggles didn’t detract from the delicious food or the luxurious spa. Cameron House offers an impressive package – especially when you remember it’s only a 40-minute drive north from Glasgow city centre.
Bed and breakfast at Cameron House starts from £129 per person per night.