Glenapp Castle always has a special fairytale castle air about it. Tucked away on the hillside and hidden from view to the south of Ballantrae it is the perfect romantic, Scottish castle sitting resplendent at the end of a mile long avenue of trees. Once you are through the high metal gates that slowly unlock before you after you whisper the magic password, the avenue of foliage guides you towards the inner sanctum of this utterly enchanting and unique hotel.
Recently I was invited to join owners Graham and Fay Cowan and a few other guests at Glennapp for a very special lunch to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Relais & Chateaux, the French hospitality group that endorses only the most outstanding hotels and restaurants around the world.
To give you an idea of the standards that Relaix & Chateaux set there are only 30 approved in the United Kingdom, including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons; Le Gavroche, owned by Michael Roux Jr and the legendary Cliveden House.
High standards indeed.
On the day of the lunch, I set off from the office in Newton Stewart in good time but instead of sailing serenely into the grounds of the castle with plenty time to spare to powder my nose and quaff a glass of champers, I found myself racing against the clock having taken the wrong road and ended up at Girvan roundabout. Having battered down the 77, I got to the gates with less that a minute to spare to find my way blocked by a sports car driven by a cashmere pullover clad Nigel Havers looky-likey, who was having a long conversation with the intercom. Puce of face, with beads of sweat on my brow I waited....and waited. Then he got out of the car and strolled to my car window to announced that “we can’t get in. there’s a private party or something on.”
“Yes, I babbled, “and I’m invited to it amd I’m very late!”
Profuse apologies as cars were jammed into reverse all over the place.
Having booted it up the drive and parked, the first touch of class was someone from the hotel appearing with a brolly to walk you from your vehicle to the castle door to save you from the changeable west of Scotland weather. A serene calm thankfully came over me as the staff guided my up the mahogany staircase to the reception. Inside the castle all is baronial grandeur but with a cosy feel that recreates the exact atmosphere of the aristocratic home it was built as in 1870.
After champagne and canapes and chit-chat, we moved through to the elegant dining room to enjoy a six-course lunch created for the occasion by headchef at Glenapp, 28-year-old Tyron Ellul.
The menu was cleverly arranged to reflect the six decades of Relais & Chateaux. The starter, 1954-1964, of pressed ham hough with parsley emulsion and sauce gribiche was full of flavour and beautifully presented. This was followed by a butter poached Ballantrae lobster with squid ink aioil that was blindingly fresh and succulent, washed down with a smooth as silk Chablis. A tasty chunk of Roast fillet of aged Scotch beef with Mull cheddar daphinoise and withered spinach was the next culinary treat, cooked to perfection, as befits a hotel with a three AA rosette rating, accompanied by a full bodied red. We the moved on to a delightful selection of Scottish cheeses to savour on walnut bread, crackers and oatcakes. The sweet course was a melt in the mouth baked vanilla bean cheesecake with garden strawberry salad, thoroughly enjoyed with a glass of dessert wine.
The last of the six courses, bringing us up to 2014, was the real aroma punch of freshly ground Sumatra Gayo coffee with petit fours, including the exquisite taste of homemade Turkish delights.
As was sat round the table chatting long after the meal had finished, it struck me that the uniqueness of Glenapp is not just down to fantastic food and service, luxury furnishings and spectacular scenery but the genuine warmth of the owners Graham and Fay Cowan, who have turned this sleeping beauty of a castle into a warm and welcoming home from home for many guests from all parts of the world, both near and far.