Glenapp Castle rises up grandly from the tall trees encircling, a vision of slate roofs, crenellated towers, and daunting walls of rosy stone, all straight out of a Walter Scott novel. Today, this fortress built on Scotland’s southern coast, is an entrancing hotel bursting with surprises.
Built in the characteristic Scottish Baronial style of medieval inspiration, somewhere between Gothic and Renaissance, Glenapp Castle is the architectural dream-made-reality of a self-made Scotsman. James Hunter became a millionaire in the steel industry and, in 1870, built a residence on a par with his success. This castle, long privately owned and a Relais & Châteaux member since 2002, has taken great care to preserve a family-home feel. The Szikler family, who purchased the property a few years ago, continues to improve the establishment to offer new levels of leisure to its guests. And making it one of the most exceptional places to visit in all of Scotland.
Surprise! When you cross the threshold of Glenapp Castle, you will find no front desk, no reception area. Rest assured: Someone will appear to greet you (more than 50 people work here), but the owners’ intention is to keep the ambiance of a family home. It is nevertheless a vast house, judging by the size of the lobby, fully paneled in astonishing tiger oak from Austrian forests.
The dimensions of Glenapp’s 17 guest rooms and suites leave no doubt as to the dwelling’s aristocratic origins. The smallest spans 22m², with the suites spreading across 55m². By 2019, there will be a new accommodations option: a 600 m² apartment covering the entire top floor, with four bedrooms, a sauna and terrace, and a private butler.
Beneath the molded ceilings, the décor is a blend of floral-print silk and chintz, soft duvets and antique furniture. There is refinement in every detail, right down to the complimentary toiletries from British perfume house Penhaligon’s. This London perfumer, the favorite of Queen Victoria in days gone by, is now the official supplier to the Prince of Wales.
Is it a bathroom or a ballroom? Considering the size of some, the question is justified.
The Glennap grounds, once the land of the Earls of Orkney, encompass 15 hectares (37 acres). A verdant wonderland of forests and flowerbeds, a lake and rivers, and even the castle’s own vegetable garden. Most of the flowers gracing the guest rooms are grown here. The staff of five gardeners is overseen by a woman named Ann-Mary, and a floral specialist, Janice, comes thrice a week to compose the decorative bouquets.
On the ground floor is the library, boasting Chesterfield furniture and a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, who was a guest of the owners in the Forties. The British Prime Minister came here to hunt and indulge in his favorite hobby: painting. At day’s end, the cocktail hour is the perfect opportunity to sample one of the 50 whiskies on the menu. Mostly Scottish, of course!
In the spacious living room, the fire in the fireplace is kept crackling merrily and the table is set in one of the castle’s two dining rooms. Come evening, Chef David Alexander skillfully serves a five-course dinner of astonishing lightness.
His secret is locally grown and produced ingredients. In addition to the fruits, vegetables, and herbs from Glenapp’s vegetable garden, the chef sources his fish, shellfish, lamb, beef, and fine cheeses – like Barwheys Cheddar – from Ayrshire County. His menu features such delights as beetroot risotto with parmesan crisp, salmon filet and roast cauliflower puree, and scallops with Granny Smith apple broth.
Naturally, the other enchanting dimension of these lunches and dinners is the view of the surrounding countryside. In the foreground, the Italian gardens designed by celebrated landscape artist Gertrude Jeykill, then the multicolored foliage of the grounds stretching to the mist over the Irish Sea and, silhouetted in the distance, the volcanic island of Ailsa Craig.
Be sure to take a stroll through the lovely walled garden, a stone’s throw from the castle and sheltered from the wind. There, fruits, flowers, and vegetables thrive alongside unexpected exotic plants. A Garden of Eden where visiting birds are not the least bit frightened by human presence.
From April through October, this is the perfect place to take the traditional five o’clock tea. Enjoy homemade pastries and cookies with your piping-hot Lapsang Souchong while gazing out at the large Victorian greenhouse built in 1840, well before the castle. The Szikler family is currently renovating this structure, as nothing is too good for Glenapp.
Since purchasing the castle, they have been intent on making it a place to enjoy recreational activities of every kind: tennis, archery, croquet, and, naturally – in season and with the help of a qualified guide –, fishing for wild salmon or trout in the nearby River Stinchar.
Since 2016, Glennap has even offered guests use of its own boat, skippered by Roddy. It carries up to eight passengers for cruises along the coast to explore the beaches or for a visit to neighboring islands. You can even try fishing with a trained eagle, a new activity overseen by Roxanne, the master falconer working in partnership with Glenapp.
Last but not least, the coast here is peppered with golf courses (one even belongs to Donald Trump, where he spent a few days last summer). The nearest is Girvan, where your swings on the green will be against the backdrop of Ailsa Craig, a volcanic island resembling a bowler hat. Fun fact: The island’s blue granite rock is of such high quality that all curling stones used at the Olympics must be made from this substance. Scottish through and through !