There has been a fairly common lexicon used to describe Gleneagles Hotel over the years which has included the terms luxury, faultless service, discretion and style.
There were also two common schools of thought with regards to the Perthshire resort. First that it was perceived, not unreasonably, as the benchmark in service and luxury to which the rest of the Scottish industry aspired. Second, you messed with it at your peril.
Well, Ennismore, the young London hotel company, has been messing with Gleneagles.
It has been working for the last two years since buying the hotel to refurbish many of the food and beverage areas, communal spaces and a number of bedrooms and suites, spending several million pounds in the process.
Clearly Sharan Pasricha, the Ennismore Chief Executive, missed the memo about not changing Gleneagles and it’s as well he did.
For three days in June the new Gleneagles hosted a Season Opener event to let the world see what the new owners had done to Scotland’s most famous hotel.
And for those three days the rain tipped down in good old Scottish bone-soaking style.
You might think it would not be the ideal weather for showing off the best you have to offer but the Scottish summer showers didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the few dozen eager souls who were keen to find out what has been happening at the resort.
And their verdict? Well, to put it bluntly, the grand old lady has straightened her tiara, shined up her dancing shoes and is ready to party again. Gleneagles is going back to the future.
Ennismore has wasted no time in putting its stamp on the hotel, grounds and facilities. There are new bars and restaurants and refurbished bedrooms and suites. The leisure offering is being expanded and the focus expanded from golf to a wider range of activities.
It has to be stressed that there was little wrong with Gleneagles before Ennismore took over. It set the standard by which all other Scottish, even British, hotels were judged and it was hard to find fault with what was on offer for what was, let’s face it, a pretty handsome room price.
So why spend money trying to improve it when a similar investment in a failing hotel might have reaped a greater dividend? Well, all you have to do is spend some time “playing” at Gleneagles and Sharan Pasricha’s vision becomes clear.
He wants to bring back the glory inter-war days when those who could, raced the train in their cars to get to Gleneagles for the start of the shooting season, the festive parties or the spring opening of the golf courses. While there, they would indulge in a life of outdoor pursuits, the best Scottish produce and, as Sharan puts it, be naughty.
Part of the grand plan seems to be to refocus the resort beyond golf. The three world-class courses will still be at the heart of Gleneagles offering, particularly after they received the massive marketing boost from hosting the 2014 Ryder Cup, but the plan now seems to be to focus on other ways to enjoy the estate.
Country sports and tennis have been given the Ennismore treatment with the shooting facilities upgraded and an indoor tennis arena opened. There are also plans to offer more authentic stalking and shooting experiences on neighbouring estates.
But perhaps the boldest change at Gleneagles is in the food and drink offering. At one time to eat and drink at Gleneagles meant fine dining and even finer bills. Now there are new bars, cafes and restaurants to give residents and visitors a wider choice.
At the heart of this transformation has been the American Bar. Lit like a 1920s speakeasy, this takes the visitor back to the heyday of the opulence and indulgence. The surroundings, bartenders and cocktails themselves are reminiscent of grander times but brought right up to date with modern twists on the expansive drinks menu. A visit to the American Bar is a treat but one worth having.
There is still Andrew Fairlie’s Michelin-starred restaurant at the top of the tree at Gleneagles, now complete with almost all of its fruit and vegetables supplied by its own secret garden. However, there is the new Birnam Brasserie, Garden Café and revamped Glendevon lounge to choose.
The new owners are also keen to expand links with the local market and are actively looking to attract more food-only visitors from the local area. It is also spending more with local food suppliers and many of the fixtures and fittings used in the refurbishment are from local manufacturers.
Ennismore has tried to blend revolution with evolution at Gleneagles. Enthusiasm has been tempered with respect. But it is still Gleneagles? Have these young upstarts from London damaged the essence of one of Scotland’s premier brands? The answer is not yet.
If you wanted to you could find fault with the new interior design or the menu choices. You might not care for country pursuits or even see the point of investing in late night cocktails. But you would be indulging in subjective nit-picking.
The very best has been made a bit better and Gleneagles is still very much Gleneagles. It is hard to see what the point would have been in doing anything else.
Something that has remained very much the same though is the price-list. Gleneagles is not cheap in any way. However, for not much more than the price of a mainstream central London hotel, you can find out for yourself if it is worth it. Go on, be naughty, indulge yourself.
Rooms at Gleneagles start at £265 per night based on two people sharing a classic room (double or twin). This includes breakfast, VAT and use of the health club facilities. www.gleneagles.com