From the outside, the Victorian grey stone hotel in the village square is nothing special, which makes the inside even more surprising. Fashionable grey walls, modern lighting, wooden floors, abstract art and a strong whiff of perfumed air, which can be traced to the large dispenser above the original doors, greet us. A friendly Hungarian receptionist perched behind a tall, large chunk of local larch wood, gives us our keys and offers to help with the bags. The only nod to the Highlands is a chandelier made out of a dozen antlers.
There are no mixed messages about the location. The Scottish Highlands are one of the most scenic places in the world and Dunalastair Hotel is tucked between the eastern bank of Loch Rannoch and the craggy slopes of Craig Varr. The snow-topped summit of nearby Schiehallion, is one of the most popular mountains for walkers in the area. It is a two-hour drive and another world from the city of Edinburgh. Rannoch Station, a 20-minute drive away, enjoys fame as being the prettiest, most isolated railway station in the United Kingdom. This is where the road literally runs out and there is no better way of arriving than on the overnight sleeper train from London.
This is prime hillwalking country and most visitors come to do exactly that. The hotel is also a perfect base for the two main local sports, shooting and fishing. The area not only feels like a film set, but often is. So every now and again the hotel plays host to film crews. The Outlander series, Harry Potter and Trainspotting are a few of the many films shot here. Between the restaurant and the lounge hangs a framed kilt worn by Liam Neeson when he played Rob Roy.
The 32 rooms are all different shapes although the interiors are similar. Each one has a view and the bedheads change colour according to the outlook. My room overlooks the waterfall and so it is blue. On the other side the view is of the hills and the bedheads are beige or brown. Most rooms are large with wide, cushion-covered beds, sofas and little kitchenettes with a fridge, microwave and sink. Bathrooms are marble and modern. Mine has a large shower but no bath. There are a couple of family rooms with interconnecting bedrooms and one bedroom has a pretty, small, circular dining area with a perfect view of Craig Varr. The honeymoon suite is a fabulous, quirky, turreted room, great on character but best avoided by tall people because of the low ceilings.
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The hotel opened last year after a long and expensive refurb. Disappointingly, hardly any of the staff are Scottish but there is a fresh enthusiasm. Nothing is too much trouble and service is speedy and friendly. General manager Richard Deak lives next door and never seems to go home. He loves his job and it shows.
The dining area, Edina’s Kitchen, is in a long narrow room that doubles as the corridor to the lounge. The food is tasty though, particularly the smoked salmon, which came in sandwiches, as a starter, and in the risotto. The menu, which changes daily, feels Scottish enough with haggis sometimes making an appearance. A 31-day aged Scottish steak is £29.95 (Dh147) and a sharing plate of Rannoch smoked meats is £12.95 (Dh63). Breakfast is a mix of self-service breads, fruit, cereal and juices with waiters serving freshly cooked eggs to order. The hotel also has a large patio where diners can eat. Full afternoon tea, (scones with jam and cream, cakes, sandwiches) is a delight.
The sunset over Rannoch Loch. The backdrop of the Munros above the glassy surface of the loch is breathtakingly beautiful.
There is only one drawback to the Highlands – the midges.
A lovely, well-run, good value hotel in beautiful surrounds.
The bottom line
Stays at Dunalastair Hotel Suites (www.dunalastairhotel.com) cost from £130 (Dh635) per night, including breakfast and taxes.