People of Glasgow, we envy you – if only all cities were half an hour’s drive away from the serenity of a 24 mile-long lake, so beautiful that it has its own song, where there are more ospreys and freshwater salmon to count than there are cars.
The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond form part of The Trossachs, a National Park that’s home to over 40 mountains, 22 large lakes and at least 50 rivers (and, to us, just as broodingly beautiful as the Highlands that so many travellers rush past the Trossachs to reach). It’s a peaceful place with consistently impressive views of glassy waters; half-submerged islands home to ruined castles or wallaby colonies (yes, really); and a mountainous backdrop that peaks and troughs like Italian meringue.
Because of its National Park status, there’s little development along Loch Lomond. But one building that has stood proud since the 18th century is Cameron House, a baronial mansion now operated as a luxury hotel. Views from loch-facing rooms are uninterrupted (save a little jetty, which the hotel’s seaplane takes off from) and the building itself does a good job of matching the beauty that surrounds it.
It’s unmistakably Scottish: deep red tartan carpet, dark wood panelling and dripping candles make up the decoration, although there are trendy touches too – we loved the faux taxidermy heads at reception (look for the bear with a trout in its mouth) and framed kilts adorning The Cameron Grill.
Bedrooms mirror that same warm, enveloping feel with rich tartan wallpaper, plush velvet sofas, grand four-poster beds and, for the most expensive rooms and suites, tall bay windows that absorb as much of the view as possible. You might also find real deer taxidermy in the whisky suites – an apt and genuine symbol of the surroundings for some; a bit of a surprise for others.
All guests have access to the leisure centre next door, with its swimming pool, sauna and flumes, and there’s a spa just over two miles down the road – shuttle buses will take you there and back. It’s worth a visit, if only for the rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the 18th hole of the Carrick golf course, a pleasant spot to sit and judge other people’s play.
As well as the sauna, swimming pool and seaplane rides, Cameron House offers two golf courses (nine- and 18-hole) and champagne cruises around the loch. The latter are unmissable. Depart from the marina and let your captain point out the marvels of Loch Lomond (including Inchconnachan island, where a wallaby colony introduced in the 1940s by Lady Arran Colquhoun still thrives) from the top deck of the gleaming ‘Celtic Warrior’.
For us, however, the biggest attraction of Cameron House is the food. As well as hearty portions of British classics at The Cameron Grill (try their peaty smoked venison to start), Martin Wishart – holder of one Michelin star and four AA Rosettes – also has a restaurant here. It, too, overlooks the loch but where The Cameron Grill is a more every-day kind of place Martin Wishart serves fancy, beautiful food best enjoyed as a six- or eight-course tasting menu. It’s also home to an excellent sommelier, Christopher Donnachie, a walking encyclopedia on his subject and an expert at pairing Martin’s food with the right bottle – a glass of Alsace pinot blanc, for example, beautifully accentuates the hint of orange in an asparagus and hollandaise dish.
Every Martin Wishart meal starts with two amuse bouches (a trend we encourage), including a tiny bowl of intensely rich puy lentils, smooth and smoky, with little potato chipsticks on top for bite and a shaving of Iberico ham. The first dish of an eight-course menu, Loch Fyne crab, is some of the freshest seafood we’ve enjoyed; clean and light, served with a delicate buttermilk dressing and rich Jerusalem artichoke. The corresponding vegetarian option, cep mushroom and Madeira veloute, is memorably velvety with just the right amount of orange zest in it to lift the dish at its end.
Every seafood course is excellent – hand-dived Orkney scallops are as fat as a hockey puck and come with a nutty beurre noisette and frothy cauliflower foam; fillet of turbot, decorated with pickled cockles, juicy morels and wild garlic, flakes at the slightest poke; and langoustine is creamy enough to eat on its own, let alone alongside gently spiced pumpkin and a carrot sauce.
From the land, saddle of borders roe deer is, as expected, a beautiful cut of meat – so flavoursome, rich and fruity that it makes us wonder why anyone would eat anything but game – served with pungent black garlic and a caramelised onion jus. The vegetarian menu is still a treat – special mention to the pumpkin tortellini with earthy sage and a chestnut cappuccino – but it would be a shame not to try Martin’s magical ways with seafood.
Indeed, we decide, the mix of good food, splendid rooms and rugged Scottish scenery is a sure-fire recipe for a return visit.
Cameron House (and Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond)
Written by Charlotte Morgan, April 2016
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