Luxury Perthshire hotel on track to capitalise on staycation demand

An independent five-star boutique Highland Perthshire hotel is on track to offer the perfect staycation location following a significant investment to double its occupancy with a collection of contemporary stable accommodation and a renovated railway cottage within its 10-acre grounds.  

Situated in a picturesque location in Blair Atholl in the Cairngorms National Park, The Old Manse of Blair is geared to capitalise on the exponential demand for staycations amid the continued uncertainly around foreign travel.  

Plans have also been secured for a further eight suites with another two now in planning to the tune of a £400,000 investment. These will be built around an orchard within a walled garden as part of the next phase with work commencing late 2020, opening in April 2021.

In addition to the Railway Cottage conversion with two rooms, a former stable block has been converted into five plush rooms with en-suite facilities, including one fully accessible suite designed for the less mobile.  Estate owner Anne Macdonald has collaborated with renowned artist and designer Iona Crawford of Glasgow-based Iona Crawford Atelier to create stylish interiors for these seven new Estate rooms taking inspiration for the bespoke designs from the history and heritage of the estate buildings and their equestrian and railway connections. An eclectic art collection is showcased across the property, featuring some of the finest Scottish Contemporary Artists from Gerard Burns to Georgina McMaster. 

The MacDonald Family purchased the estate in 2016 and took on the challenge of converting the listed building Old Manse, which was unoccupied and falling into disrepair.   Since then they have lovingly restored the stone-built residential manse, which was built in 1828 having relocated from the lawn of Blair Castle by order of the then Duke of Atholl in the mid 1700’s. The result is the first 5* luxury property within the National Park in Blair Atholl, to offer luxurious accommodation with a blend of traditional and contemporary style. The Old Manse of Blair Estate opened as a Boutique Hotel in April 2018.

The latest expansion project commenced in January and was due for completion in late March. Despite COVID-imposed closure, the build project finally completed in early July ready to welcome guests on reopening on 15 July.

Anne continued:

“There’s clear nervousness around travelling abroad so more people are wanting to holiday closer to home, quarantines are also a constant reminder of the uncertainly facing foreign travel. The accommodation expansion was committed to prior to the pandemic so we had to navigate a perfect storm. Our business was forced to close reopening in July. During that time, we were resilient, we slowly and carefully project managed completion of the renovation works, doubled our capacity and came back fighting. 

“We’ve had a great start and whilst we adjust to the new normal our team have been incredible in adapting.  The new rooms have exceeded our expectations and are a welcome addition to the estate. 

“It wasn’t easy, this has been a real challenge but the Estate is looking fantastic. In addition to the accommodation offering, we also diversified during lockdown with initiatives such as ‘Good Food To Go’ targeting the local community primarily and reaching the most vulnerable. Borne out of this has also been the development of our pop-up, The Little Farm Shop and take away, with socially-distanced picnic area.  The project is bringing together local producers and collaborating with other SMEs to develop supply chain opportunities, which in turn has brought benefits to the local economy. This is an area of the business we hope to develop in the future.

“This has helped our business to continue operating. The investment in creating more rooms for guests wanting a luxury break in Scotland has been sensible, albeit often challenging during times of uncertainty. However, we are in a positive position to meet the demand for staycations by investing for growth and adapting our business model.”

In terms of the accommodation, The Railway Cottage has been converted into The Ticket Office and Signal Box  - two en-suite bedrooms with their own entrances and wet rooms with views across the countryside.  The interiors are beautifully-themed around the nearby Black Island Platform, which was a station stop for forestry workers.   

Anne concluded:

“Black Island featured as a private platform for forestry workers just a short distance from The Old Manse of Blair. The Canadian Forestry Corps were based here during WWII. 

“I uncovered the story whilst researching the development and as it is so close-by, I thought it would be a lovely story to share with guests. Iona has created bespoke furnishings depicting the axels of the steam trains and the lanterns used to light up their camp.” 

Designer Iona has shown her fashion and interiors collections in Paris, Tokyo, London, Beijing and New York and her paintings and prints are favoured by collectors across the world.  She was excited to get involved in creating the interiors for the redevelopment. She explained:

“The designs for The Railway Cottage are inspired by the heavy steel wheel bearings and motion of the steam locomotives which travelled through there and the lanterns strung along the platform and throughout the forestry camp.

The Stables conversion include a large open plan suite named after Schehallion, a local Munro because, at times, it felt like we had a mountain to climb!  The new snugs are dog-friendly, have direct access outside to a patio and the suite opens out onto a deck – just minutes away from the main hotel and restaurant.  

The Stables Suite ‘Schehallion’ is an expansive fully-accessible family room converted from the mare and foal box of the original stables. It has a separate seating area with sofa bed.   A dedicated parking space with ramped access to the large deck for a seamless check in experience.

The Stable Snugs comprise the Struan Snug, Rannoch Snug, Atholl Snug and Blair Snug; these four snugs are named after local places in the Stables conversion.  Super cosy but with large comfortable beds, they all also benefit from gorgeous en-suite wet rooms and their own main door entrances.  They feature vibrant equestrian-themed designs for the curtains, blinds and soft furnishings all bespoke to the property.  

Iona’s designs took inspiration from blacksmiths and horse-riding.  She added:

“Our brief was ‘contemporary equestrian with a nod to the heritage of the estate… textile designs like none which exist in Scotland’.  

“I was inspired by the tack rooms filled with ornate equestrian equipment - saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses and martingales to help create colourful bespoke artwork, which I hope guests will love and also find intriguing.” 

Custom-designed upholstery headboards have been created for each of the new suites by Iona’s studio using Scottish mills and makers featuring riding tack-inspired leather straps.  There’s berry-toned tweed from the Isle of Bute used for upholstered back-rests. These are suspended from locally-made hand-carved hardwood beams by local craftsman Kenny Brodie.  The equine saddlery leather straps – with brass buckle detailing like riding tack.   The hotel, which also boasts a destination restaurant called The Orangery now offers 18 rooms and is also available for exclusive use.  

In the current climate, reservations are fully exchangeable to new dates if postponed due to Covid-19 when booked direct with the hotel.