Somerset Maugham once said ‘There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort.’ We recently put his theory to the test on a ‘Picnic with Mercure’ package at the Mercure Ardoe House Hotel in beautiful Aberdeenshire. At selected hotels for stays booked by 31st August 2016 and taken by the end of September, those lovely people at Mercure Hotels UK are throwing in a free, locally sourced picnic for you to enjoy during your stay.
The Wee White Dug was excited about the prospect of a picnic and decided it would be fitting that he wear his best mustard coloured, Harris Tweed bow tie. Not only does Ardoe House Hotel welcome humans, they also welcome wee dugs (and big ones) too.
Aberdeenshire is famed for its rugged coastline, quaint coastal villages, fabulous castles and stunning countryside. What it’s not so famed for is its weather for picnics. To say we weren’t optimistic as we drove north through broody cloud was an understatement. We needn’t have worried, as it turned out to be one of the best days of what has been a mediocre summer to date.
Time for a picnic with Mercure
We arrived at Ardoe House just before lunchtime to collect our picnic. The hotel exterior was stunning and made an immediate impression – WOW. A typical Scottish baronial home set in sprawling grounds – it was very grand. Inside the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and the decor traditional Scottish with a quirky modern twist.
Our picnic was waiting, but even better so was a mini hamper for The Wee White Dug. My heart melted. He was over the moon and clearly knew he’d just received VIP treatment from his new friends at Mercure.
Crathes Castle – a perfect spot for a picnic
After much humming and hawing about where to eat our picnic (we were spoiled for choice), we finally decided to make use of our National Trust for Scotland memberships and head to Crathes Castle nearby to eat it in their beautiful grounds. Crathes looks like a castle from a book of fairytales. It’s a 16th century tower house surrounded by 240 hectares of stunning garden and woodland.
When we arrived a teddy bears’ picnic was in full swing on the lawn. We found a nice shady spot and opened our hamper. It was packed full of delicious treats. We felt like royalty sipping Scottish raspberry lemonade from champagne flutes. We enjoyed sandwiches, summer fruits, Mackies sea salt and cracked black pepper crisps, fresh scones with clotted cream and jam, homemade pies, scotch eggs, handmade chocolates and Scottish shortbread. It was a veritable feast.
The wee dug stood guard and fired off a menacing growl to any dug that passed and got too close to the picnic. He tucked into his hamper treats and sampled our human ones too.
A post picnic daunder round the garden
For the adventurous, Crathes Castle has a Go Ape centre located in its grounds. After my recent knee trembling trauma at Go Ape (Peebles) I decided to give the zip lines a wide berth and enjoy a stroll in the castle’s walled garden instead. It was in full bloom and a riot of colour. A little corner of paradise on Earth.
A Picnic, sunshine and a castle what could be better? I’ll tell you what – two castles. After lunch we headed to another NTS property nearby.
Drum Castle and a Deeside drive
Drum Castle was an Irvine Family stronghold from the 14th century and for the 650 years that followed. Like Crathes Castle it’s set in beautiful sprawling grounds – another excellent option for a picnic. Maybe next time.
Castle exploring done, we decided to go for a drive through Royal Deeside to Ballater. The heather was in bloom and the hills had a lovely purple hue.
Earlier this year Royal Deeside suffered terrible flooding when Storm Frank arrived with a vengeance. I watched the news each evening with baited breath as Abergeldie Castle threatened to slip from its eroding riverside setting and into the River Dee. Thankfully, the flood abaited and the castle was saved.
The devastating damage a flood can do was all too apparent when we stopped to snap the historic Cambus o’May Suspension Bridge which was built in 1905 to replace a ferry which once crossed the River Dee. The bridge was buckled, bent and badly damaged, but luckily not destroyed.
Check-in at Ardoe House Hotel
After a lovely day spent exploring in the sunshine we headed back to the hotel to check in. The wee dug immediately recognised it as the place that doled out free picnics, so he raced inside like a bat out of hell.
Our room was beautiful. Contemporary and modern – high end toiletries and a lambswool bed throw gave it a real feel of luxury. We’d stayed in 5 star hotels far inferior to this 4 star gem.
Blairs at Ardoe House Hotel
Having picnicked with Mercure we thought it was only fitting that we dined with them too. Food is served in the bar, brasserie and restaurant. We ate in the restaurant, Blairs.
The waiting staff were friendly, relaxed and attentive. My favourite – nothing makes for an uncomfortable dining experience more than stiff, overly formal waiters.
The menu like the hotel stayed true to its Scottish roots. The produce was locally sourced and the menu Scottish themed.
We both started with the Vine tomato & red pepper soup – delicious was the consensus. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know we’re a wee bit obsessed with soup. You could say we’re soup connoisseurs. Our starters arrived looking as pretty as a picture, with an artistic flourish that never quite works when you try to replicate it home.
For main I chose Lanarkshire potato gnocci in a tomato sauce with crispy basil & rocket salad. Mr G opted for Ayrshire pork tenderloin in a ras el hanout jus. Both dishes were really good.
For dessert we both had chocolate & burnt orange tart. It was rich and flavoursome.
Fit to burst, we collected the boy from our room where he’d been sleeping off his picnic while we ate. We headed outside for some fresh air and to walk off dinner.
The night was warm and still. A perfect summer evening to end a perfect summer day. If the hotel looked grand by day it looked even better lit up at night.
A declicious breakfast before it’s goodbye Ardoe House Hotel
After a comfortable sleep, aided by fresh air and a super comfy bed, we were up early and ready for breakfast. When travelling, breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I love the anticipation of the day ahead and chatting over a good cup of coffee.
After checking out we decided to go for a walk before heading home. “How about the cliffs by Stonehaven?” I suggested. Mr G rumbled me in an instant. “Would that be the cliffs by Dunnottar Castle?”, He asked. He knows me well.
Dunnottar Castle – it’s impossible to pass
Dunnottar is a magical, medieval fortress which stands precariously on a rugged clifftop. It’s one of Scotland’s most iconic and instantly recognisable castles. It’s steeped in myth and legend. A ghostly lady dressed in traditional green plaid, William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Scottish crown secreted away from advancing Cromwellian forces to lie hidden for years. It’s no surprise that when Disney Pixar visited the area to do some research for the movie Brave they were so inspired by the castle that they featured it in the movie.
When we arrived a heavy sea haar clung to the coastline obscuring the castle. Only the faintest of outlines was visible through a damp, blanket of white. It was amazing to see, dramatic and atmospheric. It’s probably my favourite view (or lack of) of the castle yet.
As we explored inside the sea haar started to burn off. More and more of the castle revealed itself to us. The wee dug charged around sniffing every corner as he does with each new castle he visits.
After visiting Dunnottar we reluctantly said goodbye to Aberdeenshire. I suspect it won’t be too long before we return.
We stayed at Ardoe House Hotel on a complimentary dinner, bed and breakfast basis, however opinions are my own.
Until next time …
(Sadly, Ardoe House Hotel closed in the autumn of 2020. Hopefully, it’ll reopen as a hotel again soon).