Review by Fiona Duncan, published 20th October 2010.
"Do you know what I like about this Scottish house?" asked Geraldine as we strolled up the drive. "It doesn't look Scottish."
Oh, heresy! She said it, not me. But I know what she means. Far from overbearing Scottish Baronial in style, Greywalls is a charmingly curved villa constructed in honey-coloured local stone, one of only two built by Edward Lutyens north of the border, with a Gertrude Jekyll garden, lovingly maintained and updated by its third-generation owners, Ros and Giles Weaver. Both house and garden were created in 1901 as a holiday retreat for the Hon Alfred Lyttelton, a keen golfer who wanted to be within a shot of the 18th green at Muirfield.
If there's a problem with Greywalls for non-golfers such as Geraldine and me, it manifested itself most markedly at dinner. Our window table offered a sublime vista: in the foreground, the links and the Firth of Forth; in the distance, lit by a golden sunset worthy of Turner, twin volcanic peaks rising dramatically from the landscape. We knew it was Fife over there, but what were those distinctive hills?
No one could tell us. The American golfers dining next to us certainly didn't know and nor did the glacially professional European waiters. A small thing, perhaps, but indicative of the new regime at Greywalls. In the same family since 1924, with portraits of relatives on the walls, antiques in the homely bedrooms and even a collection of school caps hanging from the antlers over the staircase, this is an intimate country house hotel where surely, in the past, the staff would have known the name of those hills.
But times change. Edinburgh businessman Giles Weaver used to rely on long-serving managers to run the place, but has now, after a two-year closure, brought in a professional hotel management company, ICMI, which also operates Inverlochy Castle, Inver Lodge and Rocpool in Inverness. Changes have been surprisingly timid so far – a carpet here, a sofa cover there, but one senses that if ICMI have their way, Greywalls will be thoroughly boutiquified, and the personality that Giles's father, Colonel John Weaver, brought to the house when he opened it as a hotel in 1948, will be entirely lost.
For now though, the bedrooms are still Weaveresque: traditional, understated and gracious. The housekeeping is superb: second to none. The general manager, Belgian Bernhard Raeymaekers, has thrown himself into the job of host with great dedication, and Albert Roux has made Greywalls one of his eclectic group of Chez Roux outposts, with protégés Robert Bates and Derek Johnstone, winner of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2008, at the helm. Which means heavy-handed Roux branding on everything from plates to photographs on the dining room walls, but also superb food. As we gazed at that sunset, we ate easily the best dinner of our Scottish trip, including Roux's signature Soufflé Suissesse, costing a third of its price at Le Gavroche. Oh, and they are the Lomond Hills, by the way, commonly known as the Paps of Fife.
- Muirfield, Gullane (01620 842144; www.greywalls.co.uk) Doubles from £215, including breakfast. Access difficult for guests with disabilities. Trains to Edinburgh operated by East Coast (08457 225225;www.eastcoast.co.uk); for car hire, try Europcar (08713 849 847;www.europcar.co.uk
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Central Edinburgh is a 45-minute drive away. Closer to home, visit Bass Rock (gannetry and puffins) by boat from North Berwick; the ruined Tantallon Castle on the clifftop two miles east of North Berwick; and for a good pubs, try the Castle Inn (Dirleton), The Golf Inn (Gullane) and The Garvald Inn (Garvald).
BEST FOR LUNCH
The Old Clubhouse Pub, in the centre of Gullane (01620 842008; www.oldclubhouse.com), has been serving hungry golfers hearty Scottish and international food since 1890. Alternatively, you could try Ducks (01875 870682; www.ducks.co.uk) in Aberlady for more sophisticated cuisine in a smart, modern setting.
There are a number of good walks in Lammermuirs; the one from Deuchrie to Beltondod is particularly stunning. Closer to hand, you could start at Yellowcraig Beach and walk west along the coast to Gullane (three miles). You could also continue along the coast and take in Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve (www.aberlady.org), but you would need to consider taking a bus back. You could also go east and take the scenic route up to north Berwick (three miles), where there are a number of pubs and restaurants.