Autumn gold at Perthshire’s Fonab Castle

IT doesn’t take a genius to work out that a place with a nickname like ‘Big Tree Country’ is likely to be a great place to visit in the autumn. So, the opportunity to travel to Perthshire before winter’s icy fingers put paid to the fiery reds, glowing oranges and acidic yellows for another year was very welcome indeed.

And if colours fit for a Van Gogh weren’t enough to tempt me to Pitlochry, then a stay at Fonab Castle and a trip to their woodland spa had me hot-footing it up the A9 quicker than you could say ‘falling leaves’.

Fonab has had a relatively short life as Scottish Castles go. Built in 1892 over the years it served as a home for wealthy merchants, military men and families. During WW1 it was utilised as an auxiliary hospital and in 1946 became the property of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. Today, this five-star hotel right on the banks of Loch Faskally is undoubtedly still providing an essential service to anyone in need of a little R&R.

Arriving shortly before dusk I’m met by the lovely Davie, kilted and adorned with a Glengarry, he whisks away my luggage and then takes me on a whistle-stop tour of the hotel’s public areas. And on walking into the bar, I’m very grateful that he did. From here, and from the 1892 restaurant on the floor below there are views down the loch to Ben Vrackie, which even in the fading light are worth their weight in autumn gold.

My room is huge, which is fortuitous, because so is my bed. There’s a balcony with table and chairs from which to soak in those views and from here I can see the woodland spa, which features heavily in my plans for the next day.

I’ve chosen to have dinner in 1892 by the Loch, a spacious brasserie with a menu full of local produce. This is also the place to be for afternoon tea. Other dining options include the cute wee pods in the castle grounds, or if you’re feeling indulgent there’s the luxurious cocoon of a fine-dining restaurant that is Sandemans. With three AA rosettes, their seven-course tasting menu is a real treat.

I start off with an earthy butternut squash risotto crowned with plump and sweet west coast scallops and then bring it even more close to home with perfectly cooked and tender Perthshire red deer served with wild mushrooms, confit potatoes and a lovely blend of bitter kale and sweet raspberry vinegar emulsion. Looking longingly at the dessert menu I admit defeat and head back to my room for a restorative night’s sleep ahead of a visit to the spa in the morning.

Taking advantage of the hotel’s generous room service offering I order breakfast to be delivered to my room so that I can enjoy the aforementioned balcony. I enjoy every peaceful and perfect mouthful while gazing out over the flat-calm water.

Wandering over to the woodland spa I hear the gentle bubbling of the outdoor pools and take a sneak peek, making a note to check them out after my treatment. There’s a private decked area with a large hot tub and a resistance pool with more jets and bubbles that you can shake a stick at and I’m looking forward to sitting under the trees enjoying the soothing effects of the water.

I’m warmly welcomed into the spacious reception and given a tour before donning my robe and slippers. There’s a 15-metre pool with an indoor spa pool and a full thermal suite to enjoy, as well as the aforementioned outdoor pools.


My therapist is Lesley, and I’m delighted when she tells me she’ll be using Ishga products for my treatments today. I’m already a fan of this Hebridean skincare brand. There follows two hours of sheer bliss. Lesley takes such good care of me, from asking about any areas that I’d like her to concentrate on during my massage and listening to my skin concerns ahead of the facial to making sure I’m warm and comfy throughout. I leave the warmth of the treatment room unsure of what time, or even what day it might be. Which is exactly how it should be.

Another blissful few hours slip away in the gentle bubbling of the outdoor spa pool and the steam room before I reluctantly return to the real world. Thank goodness that world happens to be Perthshire, bathed in low sunshine, perfectly reflecting the resplendent shades of autumn in the mirrored surfaces of its glorious lochs.

Fonab Castle, Foss Road, Pitlochry Perthshire PH16 5ND

Tel: 01796 470140

Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s food and drink pages.

Plus, don’t miss the December issue of Scottish Field magazine.