Ballintaggart Farm: hungering for the Highlands


Ballintaggart Farm: hungering for the Highlands

Anonymous reviewer Chloe Frost-Smith finds out what's cooking in Perthshire's Big Tree Country

Chloe Frost-Smith

BY Chloe Frost-Smith25 January 2024

It was our own silly fault – my sister and I arrived at Perthshire hideaway Ballintaggart Farm absolutely ravenous. The 90-minute drive from Edinburgh to the heather-clad hills of the Highlands had been spent poring over the hotel’s seasonal feasting menus, and scrolling through the Ballintaggart farm shop’s Instagram feed, making a mental list of all the Scottish produce we were about to devour over the coming days. Cosy knitwear and comfy lounge sets (with loose waistbands) had been packed in preparation for the eat, sleep, ramble, repeat itinerary we’d been so looking forward to on our pre-Christmas countryside escape (really, this is where The Holiday would be set if it took place in Scotland, especially in the snow-sprinkled depths of winter).

Fortunately, our rumbling tummies didn’t have to wait long – as we were staying in the two-bedroom Steading (one of three standalone buildings that make up the farmstead) we had exclusive access to Ballintaggart’s cookery-school kitchen to prepare (essentially, heat up) the ready-made suppers provided, in a MasterChef-worthy setting. The ingredients are all homegrown or locally sourced, and appear as if by magic each day in your retreat’s industrial-size fridge. For our first night, we’d opted for the farm’s three-course supper for two, which started with home-baked sourdough slathered in whipped butter, with the holy grail of olives (we are Perelló princesses) and Great Glen venison salami to nibble on as you enjoy a couple of ready-mixed negronis (there’s an ice bar and fresh oranges to hand for zesty garnishing). Chicken-liver pâté and crab-apple jelly on rye bread followed, before the star of our own private cooking show – Perthshire game venison on a bed of smoked celeriac, roasted beetroot, and buttery kale. We were slowly being lulled into the most delightful food coma, so much so that we almost forgot to take the apple cake out of the oven; but the scent of warm butterscotch sauce – which melted scoops of accompanying malt ice-cream into a velvety, caramelised sauce good enough to drink – soon got us on our feet again.

Our first feast complete, we raided the living room’s board-games cabinet and sunk into the sheepskin-strewn sofas for an evening of fireside food-centric Scrabble. My sister sensationally managed to spell out ‘sourdough’ before we called it a night. Ballintaggart is perched on a hillside above the River Tay, so there’s little to disturb your sleep, save the clucking chickens from which your breakfast eggs are gathered each morning. We’d already become acquainted thanks to our generous welcome hamper, delivered on arrival, filled to the brim with homemade granola, bread and brownies, and blackberry-and-cinnamon jam, plus seasonal fruit. Bacon from the local butcher, butter from a nearby dairy farm, and juices from the hotel’s orchards completed the hyper-local, farm-fresh ensemble. The rolling valley views were enough to tempt us to eat breakfast outside, even in late November (the bedrooms’ French doors open directly onto a panoramic terrace), and we mused over what century you might imagine you were in while looking out across the sheep-grazed fields sloping down towards the river, hemmed only by stone walls and hay bales. In the distance, smoke rises from a couple of cottage chimneys, and except for the occasional tractor trundling in and out of a barn, there are very few traces of the modern world here (Outlander fantasies unlocked).

In an attempt to walk off the several banquets now under our belts (and make the most of the precious hours of daylight), we ventured into Faskally Forest, ambling along tree-lined trails around the shores of Loch Dunmore. Known as ‘Big Tree Country’, Perthshire’s woodlands are a pine-scented tangle of towering Douglas firs, wild cherry trees, and centuries-old oaks, landing outdoorsy visitors in some seriously scenic walking territory. If you’re feeling particularly spritely (or have a set of wheels), the Queen’s View near Allean Forest is well worth the climb for its dramatic outlook over Loch Tummel and the blue-tinged Glencoe Mountains. If it was good enough for Queen Victoria in 1866 (and Robert the Bruce’s wife, Isabella), it would more than do for us in our less-than-regal, waterproof-wearing ensemble. But, it was time to trek back, as we were both now in a hike-induced state of hangry-ness and in desperate need of our next meal.

Yet again, Ballintaggart delivered (quite literally) the goods to our door, and we eagerly began prepping the butternut-squash pithivier with smoked celeriac, salsa verde, roasted veggies, and dauphinoise potatoes tossed in rosemary. Having worked in one of Edinburgh’s Michelin-starred restaurants, my sister felt more at home in Ballintaggart’s cookery-school set-up than I did – the burnt-orange Everhot range cooker (forged in a carbon-negative factory in the Cotswolds) in the neighbouring six-bedroom Farmhouse might be more up your street if you’re less hands-on in the kitchen.

With on-site tennis courts and the Rob Roy Way on your doorstep, there are endless ways to continue the eating-exercising cycle around Ballintaggart, but – in all honesty – we ended up doing more of the former with pit stops at Aran Bakery in Dunkeld and the hotel’s adorable farm shop in Aberfeldy. Loading up a large Ballintaggart tote bag for our journey back to Edinburgh, filled with hand-rolled oatcakes and various jars of homemade jams and chutneys, we were road-trip ready, yet reluctant to leave the help-yourself Scottish larder we’d fully indulged in. But, with the hotel’s ever-rotating events calendar of field-to-fork feasts, foraging outings, fermenting and pickling sessions, mini masterclasses, and cookery courses – like us discovering each day’s dinner – it’d be hard to have your fill of Ballintaggart.

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Thanks to her nomadic childhood in the Far East, Chloe Frost-Smith‘s first travel memories are filled with tuk-tuks, water buffalo, and paddy fields. Happiest when barefoot or on horseback, Chloe is a country girl at heart and often daydreams about ranch life in the American West. She’s currently based in Edinburgh as a travel writer and editor, road-tripping around the Highlands with her faithful hound Humphrey.