Review by Fiona Duncan, published 9th November 2009.
"What a curious curate's egg of a far-flung Highland hotel". I wrote that sentence the last time I was hotel reviewing in these parts, about a place called Ardanaiseig. Now I find myself writing it again about Ardeonaig. Both – different in style but equally quirky – are, as so often, reflections of their owners. In the case of Ardeonaig, the owner is Pete Gottgens, a South African. Welcome to the Kruger Park.
I thought I was fed up with traditional Scottish hotels (tartan carpets, mounted antlers, Windsor chairs and serried ranks of whisky bottles in the bar) until I reached this former 16th-century inn on the south shore of Loch Tay, and rather began to see their point. The quaint, whitewashed façade of Ardeonaig could only be Scottish, but recent expansion and refurbishment has created something very different inside.
There are now three dining rooms (one a cosy brick-lined wine cellar, another, the breakfast room, a Cape Dutch style conservatory) plus a lovely, relaxing first floor wood-panelled library with breathtaking views. There's also a state-of-the-art kitchen, a warren of small reception rooms and bar, and – gracious – five thatched African rondawels, each a bedroom suite, in the grounds leading to the loch. Oh, and a warthog amongst the newly planted saplings. All this you are shown by a member of staff the moment you arrive. We kept bumping into people being taken on tours, like parents being shown round a school.
Everywhere, on white walls, are images of Africa. "Arresting," says my friend Jane, " but why, on Loch Tay, with Ben Lawers and three other Monroes rising up above me, would I want to look at a photograph of a man with a spear and a loin cloth?"
Most arresting of all is an iconic photograph of a handsome man trundling a huge just-caught sailfish in a wheelbarrow, while holding the hand of his little son, who is none other than our host, or "chef/owner" as he likes to be called.
Gottgens is quite a character, a self-confessed "temperamental chef" and "strict, hard core operator". This is no exaggeration, judging by the booming voice and Gordon Ramsay language flying from the kitchen for all to hear, not to mention the rictus smiles and nervous glances of the often-changing staff (60 per cent South Africans). "Back home, it looks good on a CV to have survived a spell with me," Gottgens tells me. He's honest about his management style and with reason: he's turned a failed hotel into a success, and one that delivers. Our dinner of grouse and raspberry soufflé was faultless, our room luxurious. But there's tension in the air.
Gottgens loves South Africa with a passion, but he also loves Scotland, land of his forefathers. He has recently leased the adjoining Ardtalnaig estate for walking, shooting, stalking (with guns or cameras) and for sleeping in its isolated, cosily converted shepherd's bothy. There's plenty to enjoy at his hotel, and standards are high, but I miss the tartan carpets and all they entail.
South Road, Loch Tay, Ardeonaig (01567 820400; www.ardeonaighotel.co.uk) Doubles from £200, including dinner and breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities. For trains: www.virgintrains.co.uk; for tourist information on Scotland: www.visitscotland.com