Dalhousie Castle hotel review

A compelling history, gastronomic genius and the prestige of staying in a historic Scottish castle: Dalhousie has it all.

Located just 8 miles south of Edinburgh, Dalhousie Castle is easily accessed using public transport, making it the ideal spot for those who want to explore the city while staying in the serene seclusion of the Scottish Lowlands. Surrounded by fir trees, luscious grassy pastures and perched on a hilltop above the River Esk, the views from the castle are peaceful and relaxing, particularly after a treatment or sojourn at the castle’s own Aqueous Spa.

Sit back and relax

Complete with Roman-style Laconium dry sauna, Hydro Pool and Foot Baths, this 13th-century castle has been brought up-to-date with a new, tastefully designed extension incorporating a tranquil, window-wrapped breakfast room, The Orangery, and the spa. Using products from the holistic, vegan spa brand Ytsara and a mixture of Thai and Western massage techniques, the technicians can tailor every treatment to your taste.

Live like a chieftain

Yet, unlike most modern spa hotels, Dalhousie Castle is the historic seat of the Ramsay clan, and has many historical claims to fame, modern pastimes aside. It was in fact the last castle that an English King ever personally attacked and the longest ever castle to have stayed in the hands of one family in the whole of Scotland’s history. Obviously easily defended – its 11-foot walls might have something to do with it – you can’t fail to feel safe and cosy here.

It helps that the staff are all personable and professional; their pride for the hotel is contagious and adds to the castle-hotel’s unique atmosphere.

Dine in a dungeon

The Library Bar, where your food experience begins. Credit: David Griffen

This peaks in the depths of the castle, in the Dungeon Restaurant, which is actually in the old stables. The high-vaulted roofs are enough to fool those not in the know, but it’s worth asking a member of staff to show you the real deal while you’re there. Also impressive is the Library Bar, where the culinary stakes are set high. Aperitif in hand, this is where you can spend some time perusing head chef Francois Giraud’s exquisitely crafted menu. With a list of local food providers at the beginning, you know you’re in store for food made with passion. Giving a French twist to locally-sourced Scottish ingredients, expect creations such as grilled red mullet and macerated grapes to start and pavé of beef and ox tail tortellini for your main. Surprise touches such as a mid-meal complimentary dessert keep you on your toes and are the cherry on top of an extremely special dining experience.

A suite to remember

And that’s before you even make it to bed. Themed suites are worth the price tag (From £240). With grand four-posters, separate living spaces (with multiple rooms) and a couple of window seats from which to survey ‘your’ estate, space and opulence is not wanting. There are just enough modern comforts to ensure all your needs are catered for without spoiling the authentic medieval allusion.

Lose yourself in history

Spend some time exploring the state rooms, snugs and disorientating corridors. You might find yourself lost a few times but the discoveries you’ll make are worth it. Suits of shining armour, thrones, tapestries and ornate portraits fit right in. Don’t forget to look up to the ceilings and visit the quaint chapel inside the castle where many a couple has tied the knot. Dalhousie is, as you might expect from its stunning interior and exterior, an exceedingly popular wedding venue, so if you’re in the market for it, keep it in mind.

Bond with birds of prey

Though it is near Edinburgh, Dalhousie is a holiday destination in its own right. With enough on-site to occupy a few days. You can try your hand at archery and wander the grounds on numerous mapped routes. Better still, a falconry home to 42 differents birds – raptors, corvids and owls – are on hand to get you in the medieval spirit. A sport originally confined to the upper classes, who commissioned falconers to train birds to catch rabbit or squirrel for their dinner, today the activity is a little different. No animals are actually hunted, yet it provides an astonishing opportunity to see an impressive array of birds of prey up close and personal in their natural and historical environment.

A rare experience indeed, and one that only adds to the powerful memories that Dalhousie will no doubt deliver during your stay.