Review by Fiona Duncan, published 25th March 2007.
What a curious curate's egg of a far-flung Highland hotel. "Come along, mother," I said. "We are going back to the land of our fathers, to the most romantic hotel in Scotland - apparently." Talk about romantic: the night we stayed happened to be February 14.
You know how it is in Scotland, or at least how it can be. You drive for ever on roads that swoop over mountains and dive down to shining lochs, you negotiate a final three miles of single-lane track and you arrive at some dour, grey baronial edifice that stands alone, dripping in rain. You want to run away, but you go round to the other side, where there's a lawn running down to water and a view that catches your breath. That's Ardanaiseig.
Inside, one look at the hall (eclectic is the word) and I remembered that the owner of this private-house-turned-hotel also owns Grey's Antique Market in London. The former is, I suspect, a repository of the latter, filled with antiques-market curiosities of varying attractiveness, such as the huge 19th-century canvas in the dining room. When a London restaurateur acquired it in the 1960s, he had the Victorian faces overpainted with celebrities of the day such as Mick Jagger and Henry Kissinger. An oddity, typical of this place.
Struggling upstairs with our bags, we passed flesh-coloured woodchip walls adorned with an unboxed electricity meter, an odd assortment of pictures and, on the main staircase, a Victorian theatrical costume displayed on a dummy.
Our room, one of the best and overlooking the loch, was painted sunshine yellow, with a huge dressing table, armchairs in the elegantly draped window that were too low to see the view and beds, under a matching coronet, that were dressed in unromantic brown blankets. The bathroom was charming, with a deep modern tub in the middle of the room: a fine receptacle for the peaty yellow water that makes your skin feel as smooth as a baby's.
Bathed and smartly dressed, we descended the stairs to observe, like a pair of old dowagers, Cupid at work among our fellow guests. Roses had been left on their pillows, and the kindly, hands-on manager, Peter, had made them feel at home over drinks in the rather drab bar where they were presented with the menu, portentously mounted on heavy wooden boards.
The elaborate, six-course, no-choice "tasting menu" (you can ask for alternatives) was pretty good, if too expensive at £45 a head, especially as it culminated in a plate of supermarket cheese.
Although several wide-eyed couples were doing their best, it was hard to kindle love in here, we concluded, or indeed in the huge drawing room, an elegant space decorated in a way that contrived to look glamorous by day yet under-furnished and uninviting by night.
Ardanaiseig overlooks one of Scotland's strangest lochs, with its many ancient crannogs (lake dwellings) overlooked by the slopes of Ben Cruachan. Surrounding the house are 1,000 acres of wild woodland garden, filled with specimen trees and shrubs and regarded, when in their prime, as one of the natural splendours of Argyll. I can see their romantic appeal, yet, to me at least, Ardanaiseig felt less poetic than peculiar.