For most, life can be very hectic. You’re stuck in a robotic rut of waking up, going to work, coming home and then doing it all again the next day. It gets stressful, especially with everything else in between.
Have you ever just wanted to escape?
I have and last weekend, I did just that.
Nestled within the surroundings of Loch Ard, the MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa is set within 25 acres of landscaped gardens overlooking Ben Lomond. The hotel boasts 53 luxurious bedrooms, 2 suites, 65 self-catering lodges, two restaurants, spa, swimming pool and fitness suite. After an £3.5 million renovation investment over two years, the hotel has seen its bedrooms, cocktail bar, piano lounge and Garden Restaurant transformed.
Yearning for some serenity, I made my way up north.
Making sure to pack some road trip snack essentials and a new playlist to boot, I hopped in my car and drove up north via the Erskine Bridge for around 45 minutes. In Scotland, I think we forget just how close places like Loch Ard and the MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa are from cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. No sooner are you out of the city before you are transported to the most idyllic location for a weekend getaway. Don’t drive? MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa is 14 miles away from Balloch Railway Station and you will need a taxi to take you the remainder of the way. Alternatively, you can get a bus to Aberfoyle and once again complete your journey in a taxi.
As soon as my car swooped around the winding roads and I was met with Loch Ard for the first time, I was instantly blown away by how beautiful the surroundings were. I couldn’t believe it was so close to my house and I had never been in this area before.
Entering the reception, I couldn’t help but notice a flock of ducks on the lawn outside and I was reliably informed by staff that there is also a herd of wild goats causing havoc, which I later came to see for myself.
Now you really know you’re in the countryside!
Opening the door to my room, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer scale of it. Spacious and well designed, my room had views of the hills at one end and french doors leading to my very own private balcony with loch views. With a seating area all of its own, it was a perfect way to soak up the atmosphere with a drink in the evening and room service breakfast in the morning.
Decorated in a warm red, mahogany and tartan colour scheme, everything in my room was well thought out, ensuring that all available space was put to good use. A large seating area consisting of a sofa and two armchairs was a focal point with Stag deer cushions that I really wanted to take home with me (I didn’t, don’t worry). Lets not forget the rather comfortable double bed which resulted in me getting some much-needed r&r.
Along with a large bedroom came an equally large en-suite bathroom with bespoke Arran Aromatic toiletries, a favourite of mine. A feature that I have to commend MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa for is the separate bath tub and shower. Not a lot of hotels feature both and the addition of a large walk-in shower was a welcome addition.
Serenity in the Elemis Spa & Fitness Suite
The aroma of essentials oils hit you from the moment you walk into the spa. I was shown to the candle lit relaxation area to wind down before my treatment. I was here first to get a much-needed deep tissue back massage targeting neck, shoulder and back. Speaking with my French therapist prior to treatment, she wanted to know any areas I felt needed additional work (lower back, the downfall of bad posture while working on computers) and the pressure level I wanted (medium please). Five minutes into my treatment, I felt myself dozing off. I never wanted it to end.
Rejuvenated, it was time to check out the rest that they had to offer. I made a beeline for the 18 metre swimming pool and luckily, it wasn’t jammed pack so I could swim at my own pace. 10 laps later with views of the hills, the jacuzzi was screaming my name. Aaah jacuzzi jets.
Before I knew it, it was almost time to get ready for dinner. No steam room or sauna for me on this trip. I’ll save that for the next.
The Garden Restaurant & Piano Bar
After a relaxing afternoon, I headed to the bar to meet my dining companions for an apéritif in the bar prior to dinner. After a mix up with our reservation (we were accidentally booked into Rafters Bar & Bistro instead of The Garden Restaurant), we had an hour to wait before dinner. Not an issue as we were enjoying each others company over many glasses of Rioja.
Headed up by newly appointed chef James McCulloch Thomson and a new kitchen staff, the AA Rosette restaurant serves the finest Scottish local produce including game and wild fish. For James, his focus is on seasonality and using the best suppliers and producers, from the fisherman and farmers to gamekeepers.
Perusing the a la carte menu, I cannot remember the last time it took me until the very last second to make the ultimate decision on what to order for my main course. Would it be Barbary duck, spatchcock of quail, Perthshire lamb or the braised Scotch beef? Decisions decisions.
I ordered the warm Stornoway black pudding with soft poached hens egg, sweet potato and corn velouté to start. A simple dish which was bursting with flavour. My companions opted for the John Ross Jr smoked salmon tasting plate and the olive oil confit of sea-trout with pea & coriander crush. Both dishes looked divine, albeit from an anti-smoked salmon person like myself.
Ultimately, for my main course I ordered the braised Scotch beef with pomme purée, pancetta, onions and mushrooms. By far, this was a stand out dish for me. It may not have had any complex elements to it, but the combination of flavours were mouth-watering. I would definitely recommend this dish. Also ordered on the table was pan posted breast of Barbary duck with beetroot broth, velvet swede and beetroot compote along with Scotch beef fillet medallions, hand cut chips and béarnaise sauce.
Debating whether or not to have dessert, peer pressure won in the end when Tarte Tatin found its way in front of me. Perfectly crisp pastry, sweet caramelised apples and vanilla ice cream. This is my go-to dessert anytime I see it on a menu. Scrumptious. My companions? Small Cheeseboards consisting of cheddar, brie and blue with the usual accompaniments.
After dinner, digestifs were served in the Piano Bar where an impromptu concert took place with Californian based musicians (and hotel guests) David Glass and Francis Martineau at the helm. Their speciality is improvised piano with two pianist playing side by side on a single piano. Carried on into the small hours, they attracted a large crowd in the bar much to the delight of General Manager Andrew Deighan. Although, I doubt the barmen have ever had so many simultaneous orders.
Up bright and early the next morning, a group walk of the grounds was scheduled so we could explore the wider area. From giant chess and checkers hidden behind trees, a pond, garden terrace, walking trail and waterfall, the hotel grounds have been expertly manicured.
As part of the renovations, £2000 of plants and flowers are planted throughout the gardens much to the delight of the local herd of wild goats who decided to have them for dinner. The goats are a hit with the guests who cannot stop photographing them when they appear sporadically. The management, not too much.
The MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa is truly a great place for you to unwind and within the grounds, there is something for everyone. Developments will continue to improve their activities, especially for children to make the hotel a go-to resort with plans for a soft play centre and cinema on the horizon.
It’s definitely worth travelling to.
A one night stay at MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa starts at £99 per room with spa treatments ranging from £10 to £149 for an ultimate spa day.
What do you think of MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa? Are you in need of a getaway from city life?
MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa