I love the term the folks across the pond use for vacations: holidays, or “hols” for short. It’s perfectly descriptive, suggesting a sense of celebration and release. Another evocative term they use is “break,” as in the kids are on school break. It suggests a break from life, a relief from the humdrum, a chance to stop the clock, take a pass from the relentless pace of time.
Getting away, far away, is a Scottish tradition, one carried down from clan chiefs, kings and lords who hunted and sported at their summer castles. Skip a few centuries, and the tradition was revived by the Scottish Railway, which capitalized on the ownership of vast amounts of land by establishing destination retreats for city folks eager to get away from it all. Today these grand, lordly lodges still stand, celebrating every aspect of the country gentry from venerable golf courses and miles of hiking trails over the downs to elegant tea rooms and sunny terraces.
Recently I had a chance to visit a few of these storied country retreats, and came home convinced that they’re the perfect cure for the “stop the world I want to get off” blues.
1. Turnberry Resort. World famous golf courses may be the lure for the majority of Turnberry’s guests, but there’s much more to keep you from searching for a wifi signal. Go horseback riding on the beach or try your hand at the ancient sport of falconry, then salute the sunset to the eerie tones of a lone bagpiper. And yes, there’s a spa, with lovely crisp white treatment rooms and a glassed-in pool with a view of the lighthouse and the sea.
2. GlenEagles Resort. Even more luxurious than Turnberry, GlenEagles sprawls across 850 acres of Perthshire woodland with miles of hiking and riding trails criss-crossing the downs. There are three championship courses to choose from, but cycling, equestrian training, shooting and gundog training were the bigger hits while I was there. The GlenEagles spa, located in a new wing of the resort, is otherwordly, with a warren of tiled steam rooms, saunas, hammams and soaking pools to keep you in a state of melted grace.
3. Cameron House. As brooding as you’d expect a baronial manor on the storied shores of Loch Lomond to be, Cameron House is an even bigger step backwards in time. Flames flicker in oversized fireplaces, library shelves sag with ancient leather volumes, and single malt Scotch (more than 200 kinds!) gleams golden against the polished wood and stone of the Great Scots bar. But stern formality isn’t the style of Cameron House, now part of the DeVere brand. Yes, there’s the new signature restaurant of Michelin-starred chef Martin Wishart, but there’s also the popular boathouse, which serves smoked mackerel, tiger prawns, and oysters in a Cape Cod-style setting next to berths of yachts. Families test their golf skills on the trickster “wee demon” course. And at the Carrick spa, across the famed golf course of the same name, a rooftop infinity pool draws laughing crowds to soak away sore muscles while calling out encouragement to those playing the last rounds of the day.