Cameron House on Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
Approaching Cameron House, the first thing I can see is the beautiful blue expanse of Loch Lomond. We're only 15 miles from Glasgow airport, but the surrounding green hills and fresh air signal the countryside at its best.
The doors to the hotel (though this is more than a hotel - the original building is pleasingly castle-like) open, and I'm welcomed in. First impressions? A modern hunting lodge: there's definitely traditional Scottish style here, but everything has been given a modern update. The dark wood-panelled walls are illuminated with glowing red lights - less vampish than it sounds - and the gorgeous drawing room, where guests take afternoon tea, has bonny tartan in pale hues.
The hotel's Leisure Club has swimming pools, a sauna, steam room, and a gym with long opening hours, but Cameron House also has its own separate spa, the Carrick, situated a few minutes' drive up the road. Don't let this put you off - the hotel runs shuttle bus services every 30 minutes, and the seclusion is total. The whole of the Carrick is off limits to kids, so although Cameron House welcomes under-18s, the spa is a tranquil adults-only space. In the two pools here - one roof top, one on the ground floor - you won't be disturbed by dive-bombing ten year olds.
The Carrick Spa won the Scotland category at the 2012 Good Spa Awards, and it's easy to see why. I'm shown round the extensive facilities, and the cherry on the cake is the stunning open-air roof top pool (don't worry - it's well heated). I kick back in the bubbling water, watch the steam waft from the water's surface, and admire the mountain views.
The Room: Contemporary suite 105. The sash windows open onto a stunning view of Loch Lomond, with the mountains in the background. I could get used to this. A lounge area has a coffee table and the walls are lined with beautiful paisley wallpaper. I'm told some of the rooms are decorated in a more traditional style, but the mix of more modish faux-crocodile and rich textile furnishings is perfect here. The wet-room style bathroom is rather incredible - there's a freestanding bath with a TV in the opposite wall. After dinner I fill the tub with bubbles and jump in. The bath products and accessories provided are excellent - Cameron House has its own range formulated by Scottish company Arran Aromatics, whose goods are of excellent quality.
The Spa: The Carrick Spa is a quiet haven a few minutes' drive from the main hotel. ESPA and Carita products, and Arran Aromatics candles, line the reception lounge. There are 17 treatment rooms and a rasul mud chamber with steam room among the facilities. Entering the spa itself, a wall of water plays off against the smooth walls. The "thermal experience" is definitely, well, an experience, and ties into Cameron House's whole philosophy of making the most of the loch side location. Wallowing in the incredible Jacuzzi - with 35 different water jets of varying pressures - you can gaze out onto the surrounding green scenery. The saunas have glass walls, so you really feel like you are outside in nature whilst pampering yourself. Then there's that incredible roof top infinity pool. The air was slightly chilly on my visit, and lying in the hot bubbling water, watching the mist circle round the mountains, was a wonderful experience.
The Treatment: A deep tissue Swedish massage. After walking in the Scottish hills, my muscles needed some serious therapy. My therapist Michelle asked me whether I wanted a relaxing or energising oil from the ESPA range (I went for the energising "Fitness" blend) and the treatment began with an inhalation of my chosen scent. The massage was very thorough, and areas often neglected, such as knees, fingers and toes, and the neck right up to the hairline, were well covered.
Other Treatments Include: The ESPA Advanced Enzyme facial uses rose quartz crystal during the massage stage; the Carita Silk Revelation massage uses a balm specifically developed for the treatment.
To Eat: Martin Wishart's Michelin starred restaurant for fine dining. The Cameron Grill for modern Scottish fare - think steaks cooked to perfection, not heavy neeps and tatties. I had a delicious blue cheese and pear starter, and delicate sea bream with ratatouille to follow, rounded off with white chocolate ice cream. The bread on offer changes daily - I had beetroot and sea salt. Sounds weird, tastes great. There is also a smoked salmon bar in the restaurant. Thirdly, there is the Hamptons-style Boat House down by the loch, overlooking the hotel's marina. It is a hook up with Loch Fyne restaurants, but the seafood menu is exclusive to Cameron House. Lastly, there is the The Claret for brasserie style dishes (scampi, cheese boards, sandwiches) at the Carrick.
Nice Touch: Hair straighteners in the Carrick spa changing area, and full-length lockers
Don't Miss: A champagne cruise on Loch Lomond in Cameron House's boat, the Celtic Warrior.
We've all dreamt of owning twin town and country residences - one sprawling place in the hills for weekend retreats, and an urban townhouse for weekday duties. Twin houses are not the reality for most of us, though.
Happily, Blythswood Square hotel in Glasgow is here to provide a little fantasy. You would not perhaps think of this supposedly dour Scottish conurbation as a great place to spend a weekend, but this hotel helps to dispel any received ideas. Staying here, in this 19th century building on the beautiful Blythswood Square (funnily enough), feels like owning a smart city pad. This elegant townhouse perfectly compliments Glasgow's renaissance as a city of style.
It's just a few minutes' walk (along streets lined with honey-coloured stone buildings) to the incredible shopping precincts and fascinating array of museums and architectural sights the city has on offer.
The entrance hall is an immaculate marble affair, with a wide sweeping staircase to the upper floors. A professional but chatty team on the concierge desk welcomes me, and one member accompanies me in the lift to my room on the second floor. Later, I use the stairs instead, just to have a "noble woman preparing for the ball" moment as I sweep down them.
A buzzy restaurant sits to the left of the hotel entrance, and there is a lounge where well-dressed guests sit reading broadsheet newspapers, and sipping tea. It's traditional yet chic and modern - the bar is hip and happening, and there's not the slightest tinge of fustiness.
Looking for a sophisticated spot in a city you might not have approached before? You'll find it at Blythswood Square. A final dash of cool is present in the hotel's history: its location was one of the eight official starting points of the 1955 Monte Carlo Rally.
The Room: In room 216, purple and green interiors sit alongside a black marble bathroom, with an enormous sink and Ila products. I'm also provided with bath slippers, ample towels, soap, and other bath accessories. Traditional Scottish fabrics have been updated - the room's sofa is tweed, but you wouldn't notice on looking at the purple upholstery. All rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi, digital TV and free movies. A stylish room in a stylish hotel, in a stylish city.
The Spa: Blythswood Square's excellent 10,000 square foot spa is building a reputation in its own right. Situated on the hotel's lower ground floor, it opens with an elegant reception area where guests can have light meals, snacks, and drinks. Nine luxury treatment rooms sit down one corridor, and other facilities include an aromatherapy saunarium and a crystal steam room. A jacuzzi acts as a great centre piece and a warm 12-metre pool with water jets of varying pressures is perfect for a few leisurely lengths, or just floating.
The Treatment: A 55-minute Ishga hot stone massage. Ishga is a new range at Blythswood Square, adding to the Elemis and Ila products they already use. My lovely therapist Amanda explains that Ishga products, developed on the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, use mineral-rich seaweed to firm and hydrate. What's more is that they are suitable for all skin types. My hot stone massage begins with a foot scrub and bath (perfect after pounding Glasgow's shopping streets). Hot stones are placed under my back while Amanda performs a massage to the legs, arms and chest using a seaweed- based oil with lavender and juniper. I'm rolled over and hot stones are cupped in my feet, held in place with a warm towel. I definitely nod off.
Other Treatments Include: The 55-minute Elemis tri-enzyme facial is clinically proven to visibly increase skin smoothness by up to 32% after just one treatment; the detoxifying body wrap is recommended for those with sluggish circulation and is effective in easing joint pain,
To Eat: The Blythswood Square restaurant marries townhouse features - sash windows and wood panelling - with modern touches such as giant black Chinese lanterns and tweed club seating. It used to be a ballroom, but now serves à la carte and set menus to guests and visitors to Glasgow. The Market Menu uses ingredients from the city's markets, and is excellent value (two courses £18.50). Head to the bar for wine and cocktails - the hotel's signature mix is of Rye Whisky, Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters and sugar syrup.
Breakfast is an impressive spread - you can go Scottish, with porridge, or European, with baguettes and muesli. There was also vodka. Hair of the dog?
Nice Touch: The spa's "Drift Away" relaxation room has ample supplies of tea, fluffy blankets and magazines. Plus there are handily adjustable reading lights - great for settling down with whatever reading you have on the go.
Don't Miss: Picking the concierge's brains on everything Glasgow has to offer - there is loads going on and lots to see in the city.