This boutique retreat in the West Scottish Highlands is full of passion – not because it's a typical honeymoon escape, but because the wine, the food and the decor at Pool House have become a vocation for a family who have scoured the earth to furnish their hotel. Bindi motifs, huge hand-carved doors and marble-inlay tables are almost enough to distract you from that vast vista over the waters, and the Harrisons make you feel as though you've been invited into their home.
Get this when you book through us:
A 'flirty' package of bath products from Scottish Fine Soaps, including shampoo, soaps and bath melts.
11am, although this is a little flexible; check-in, 3pm. If arriving later than 10.30pm, let the hotel know as far in advance as possible; Pool House is a family home, so they have no night porter, but one of the owners will be there to welcome you.
Double rooms from £225.00, including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include full Scottish breakfast, tea and sherry.
A car is crucial for exploring: you can rent one from SVR at Inverness airport – they’ll meet you at Arrivals if you pre-book (+44 (0)1463 236694).
The hotel is closed annually from early January until early February.
At the hotel
Library, in-room massages with prior notice, fishing rod for the jetty. In rooms, flatscreen TV, DVD player, WiFi free of charge; some have iPod docks and underfloor heating.
Our favourite rooms
Every quirkily decorated suite is enormous, with heart-melting views. Campania, in the main house, is as big as some city flats, with a fireplace-enhanced lounge, decking area, and Victorian canopied bath. The green, gold and terracotta-hued SMS Scharnhorst suite has a furnished balcony overlooking the river and mountains, perfect for the summer months; and a working coal fireplace for when the Highlands' chill sets in.
Guests can book treatments with Natasha at Loch Ewe Holistics, a private massage practice that shares the same building as the hotel. The treatment menu includes a natural facelift as well as Swedish, warm bamboo and Thai foot massages.
Walking boots and binoculars are essential.
Ask for a guided walk or a marine cruise from Gairloch to see Minke whales, dolphins, porpoise and seals. Visit a working perfume studio at Loch Ewe or haul creeds on a fishing boat and have a go at catching some lobster and langoustines.
Over-14s welcomed, but really this is a place for grown-up couples.
As close to the windows as you can get so you can watch the seals, sea birds and astonishing sunsets.
Smart in a special-occasion-visit-to-relatives way; rugged enough for rambling.
A set four-course dinner is available Tuesday to Saturday, when the house is closed. Guests are gathered in the library at 7pm for pre-dinner drinks, and are seated at 7.30pm for John Moir’s Modern Scottish supper. Mains may include Loch Ewe lobster, or saddle of local venison with roast vegetables and buttery mash. Advance booking is essential, and if you have any allergies or dietary requirements the hotel needs seven days' notice to tailor dishes accordingly.
None, but there is a cosy open fire in the sitting room.
Order the night before and have a ‘picnic breakfast’ delivered between 8am and 10am.
The main plane hub into the Highlands is in Inverness. The airport has daily flights from London Luton, Gatwick and Manchester.
There are direct trains from London Euston to Inverness but prepare for a hefty journey, minimum time – eight hours. There are some overnight services.
From Edinburgh or Glasgow, the drive will take a good five hours. It’s less from Inverness – you’re looking at an hour and a half along the A835 towards Ullapool, heading west after Garve on the A832 towards Gairloch. If you’re willing to trade extended journey time for top-scoring scenery, drive from Glasgow via Fort William to Kyle of Lochalsh, taking the road to Lochcarron and Torridon.
Worth getting out of bed for
Give the hotel two days' notice and they can arrange whisky tasting at Glen Ord Distillery. Take a fast boat to the Summer Isles for a picnic, or sail across to the Isle Maree, the second seat of Christianity, to see Viking graves. Go on a glass-bottom boat trip around Loch Gairloch and admire the sea life from the individual viewing stations, or go angling for skate in the Minch.
The licensed Aroma Café at the sensational Perfume Studio in Mellon Charles serves tasty soups, door-stop sandwiches, home-baked cakes and aromatic coffees and teas to counter any chills; in fine weather, head to a picnic table for some otter-spotting. Around the corner from Pool House is the Bridge Cottage & Café Galleryon Poolewe’s Main Street, a great stop-off for home-made soups and cakes. For afternoon tea, pause in the Inverewe Garden Restaurant, across the water from Pool House in the National Trust tropical gardens.
Local pubs include water’s-edge Badachro Inn in Badachro (+44 (0)1445 741255), which serves deliciously fresh prawns and salmon, and The Old Innon Gairloch’s fishing harbour, where you can catch live, local music on weekend evenings.
There can be few times when it is more frustrating not to have a camera than when you’re driving through a sun-soaked West Scottish Highlands while the rest of the country experiences record-breaking torrential rain. As the warm light illuminates each heart-warming scene – characterised by mountain, glen and loch – the only occasions I could imagine wanting my digital SLR more would be at my own wedding, bumping into Michael Jackson in the corner shop, or spying a UFO coming to a standstill in the back garden. It is the perfect rural setting you’ve seen on many a biscuit tin – but nothing even comes close to seeing these landscapes for yourself in the fresh air, bathed in the summer evening’s undying light.
Following signs westwards to Ullapool, our target is Poolewe, a small fishing village that takes its name from the body of water where the River Ewe joins Loch Maree and the sea. This is, allegedly, four-seasons-in-one-day terrain, but as we race across the geographical equivalent of Great Britain’s forehead, from Inverness Airport to Pool House in time for sunset – and supper – the sky is as blue as the rolling countryside is green. Admittedly, we bump into a few fleece-wearers on the road, but they’re only dressed like that because they were born with them on.
Hugging the shorelines of one crystal-clear loch after another, the drive to our destination takes two hours. Pool House looks more like an inviting family home than a luxury hotel, which is appropriate. As we fall in through the front door, we meet sisters Elizabeth and Mhairi at reception. Guests are already heading to the lounge for canapés, but we have just enough time to ditch our bags in the bedroom and make ourselves presentable for the feast to come.
‘Room’ doesn’t do our bunk-up at this waterside lodge any justice: city-dwellers live in less space. The suite's lavish decor – with antique furnishings and exotic gewgaws – is almost enough to distract you from that vast vista over the water. After swooning over the artwork and attention to detail, we head down for an aperitif and amuses-bouches. From the comfort of a sea-view sofa, resident patriarch Peter fills us in on the history of Pool House.
Almost two decades ago, the Harrison family began their transformation of a lacklustre 17-room property into a clutch of individually – and exotically – decorated suites. More recently, they’ve been hard at work adding more glamorous, global-themed room-retreats. Everything about this remote Wester Ross hideaway has become a vocation for a family that has travelled to the earth’s corners, garnering artefacts and gleaning experience in order to deliver hospitality unlike anywhere else – it’s a world away from impersonal pomp or five-star frippery. The Harrisons make guests feel like old friends who’ve been exclusively invited to their unique abode.
Beneath a seven-foot, hand-gilded compass, chef (and son-in-law) John Moir quells our hunger with four courses of local delicacies trimmed with home-grown treats. Each dish is delivered by Peter and accompanied by lashings of in-the-know patter. Over Loch Ewe scallops and lobster, we hear the tale of Osgood MacKenzie, who lived in the property 150 years ago. As our mains of pan-fried saddle of venison and well-aged Aberdeen Angus fillet arrive, so does the next instalment. Osgood wasn’t the most loving hubby; when his wife refused to divorce him, he moved across the water and built himself a grand property on the leafy peninsula we can see from this very spot – the glorious Inverewe Gardens. But where is his manor now? The bombshell that it burned to the ground is served up with fresh raspberries, home-made shortbread and vanilla-pod-enhanced cream.
The grand finale comes with coffee: two frolicking baby otters, right on our doorstep. While we soak up the mesmerising next-to-nature view, I observe the two couples on the table next to us. They’ve squandered much of the evening looking through digital snaps or taking new photos of each other, deleting half. And to think I was lamenting not having my camera; I might have fallen into the second-hand-experience trap rather than savouring each moment.
Pool House has amassed a cellar of more than 300 malt whiskies; Mr Smith has plans to sample some of the 100 served by the glass over a game of billiards. Meanwhile, this pregnant Mrs Smith retires to a bed so grand it deserves to be tended by ladies-in-waiting. Not only have the sheets been turned down invitingly, but even the little bows on my shoes have been tied perfectly – no doubt by the one Harrison we have yet to encounter. Peter’s wife Margaret is usually somewhere behind the scenes, keeping an eye out for ways to ensure guests are always as comfortable as can be.
In our peaceful hibernaculum, even urban insomniacs like us can sleep like Rip Van Winkels on Temazepam. Only the tiniest chink in the curtains allows in a sliver of sunshine to tempt us to explore this greatest of outdoors. A hearty full Scottish breakfast, complete with rich, rib-sticking white pudding, sets us up for a walk through the flora-filled Inverewe Gardens, complete with a point-and-shoot camera kindly lent to us by the Harrisons. On their suggestion, we walk through ruby-red azaleas and cerise rhododendrons down to the jetty looking out towards the sea, and capture a keepsake of these two Smiths and their baby-Smith-to-be bump for the family album.
Over Earl Grey and home-made biscuits back in our suite, we confess that we are glad not to be leaving this magical wilderness without some mementos. But, snuggled up in our private lounge, gazing over the hotel’s little garden at that world-class view, we realise it will be the mental snapshots and memories that we’ll savour most. No wonder it is said that the Scottish Highlands aren’t a place as such, but a state of mind.