Queen Victoria remarked that she "never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot" after her week-long stay in 1873.

The marketing strategy at Inverlochy Castle, off the A82 in the Scottish Highlands, is pretty much non-existent. They don't need one. 

Managers say they could sell the 17 rooms "ten times over" and plans are afoot to add eight more.

Looking directly onto Ben Nevis on lush, verdant grounds that also boast a small loch and rowing boat, the five-star hotel, just over three miles from Fort William, has had its fair share of famous guests over the years from Charlie Chaplin to Robert de Niro, Mel Gibson and Daniel Craig.

It's not unusual for visitors to be dropped off by helicopter for afternoon tea.

Guests descend down the sweeping oak staircase for dinner at the same time, a throw-back to when it was a lavish country retreat for a family of aristocrats.

The Herald:

Jane Watson, who is originally from Glasgow but moved to the Highlands as a child, has been with the hotel for 43 years, starting out in the laundry and working her way up to general manager.

Both her own mother and mother-in-law worked there too while her daughter Kerry pitched in at 12 years of age rolling butter balls.

READ MORE: 'Rest and be Thankful saved our business', says Scots couple

The 42-year-old is now Group Operations Manager with ICMI which runs the hotel and she was married here, five years ago.

"I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be," she says. "I feel like I grew up here."

The Herald:

On the hotel's endurance in an increasingly difficult hospitality market she says: "Obviously it's a castle, so there is the appeal in that sense but I always say that to people, we're not a Gleneagles, we don't have big fancy swimming pools and spas but it's not what people come for.

"They are coming for the personal attention and the food and the peace and quiet. We don't feel the need to shout about it."


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While celebrities usually give advance warning of their A-list demands, staff will do their best to fulfill all requests.

Taxis have been sent to Inverness, around 80 miles away, if diners take a notion for something that isn't on the menu.

"We had one [American] guest, her tea had to be boiled with Evian water, any food that was being cooked had to be Evian water," says the general manager.

The Herald:

"There was barrel-loads of Evian water being delivered.

"You had to be there to unpack her clothes." Such attention is rewarded with loyalty as the guest returned for a number of years.

Celebrity chef Marco Pierre White said at one point that Inverlochy Castle had the best restaurant in Scotland.

READ MORE: Plans unveiled for Swiss-style trains with luxury catering on West Highland Line 

The hotel held it's Michelin star for around 20-plus years and although it has not had it for around five, it is now under the stewardship of Michel Roux Jnr, who holds two stars of his own and comes up regularly for events to promote the Seasgair menu.

The Herald:

"It's great to have [a star] but first and foremost it has to be about the guests and I've been to too many places and restaurants where you can almost tell it's a menu written with a view of getting a star.

"It's a lot harder when you are a hotel than a restaurant," added the group operations manager.

The Herald:

"It's got to be the whole package and not just focussed on the dinner service.

"You have to make sure the ham sandwich is as good as anything else going out."

That night's menu, which changes daily, includes wild trout 'nori ballotine' with horseradish cream and cauliflower pickles.

Inverlochy Castle was originally built as the home of the third Lord Abinger, William Frederick Scarlett, who first visited the Highlands with his father as a boy of 13 and later became part of the railway company that built the world-famous West Highland Line.

The Herald:

The castle's construction began in 1863 and it was designed by London architect George Hesketh, in an ornate Scottish baronial style typical for the period when it was fashionable for the aristocracy to build such properties on their shooting and hunting estates north of the border.

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In 1889, an Edinburgh architect, MacVicar Anderson was hired to extend and upgrade the castle adding a four-storey tower and turret and "state-of-the-art" features including a hot water system and electric lights.

Decorative touches were also added including the spectacular ceiling frescoes of cherubs nestling in the clouds in the grand entrance hall.

READ MORE: NC500 hotelier responds to criticism over £25 fish supper 

After more than a century in the Scarlett family, Inverlochy Castle passed into the hands of Joe Hobbs, an Englishman brought up in Canada, and his wife Eve who used it as a private residence.

The Herald:

Then in 1969, Joe Jnr and his Danish wife Grete, an elegant woman who was kind to staff and a generous philanthropist and never without her pearls, decided to turn their spacious home into a country house hotel.

The couple are buried in a private graveyard on the grounds.

"At that point, the castle was probably one of its kind," says the general manager.

"It was just one long table and a set menu every day, which is what we've gone back to now. Everyone sits at the same time, on separate tables."

The current owner is K C Chai who said, after 12 years running it: "At the time it was already one of the top hotels in the UK and certainly in  Scotland it was the epitome of all that was desirable in a Highland estate. I was persuaded by my brother to aim to be one of the best in Europe."

When Covid struck, staff took it in turns to stay in the hotel, which costs around £1152 for a suite for the night, to keep it ticking over. "Obviously it's a very expensive place to keep running," says Ms Watson.

The Herald:

"With an old building like this, you can't just shut everything down and hope it's going to be okay. Once we got back open, business was great.

"The castle has huge occupancy, we could sell the place ten times over."

However, like most hospitality businesses, they are not immune to the challenges of Brexit including retaining staff.

"You are always looking, especially line staff level, so the waiters, the housemaids because that was traditionally Europeans but that's now not an option," she says.

"We can't even take students over. We worked with a hospitality school in France but we are quite lucky we can offer accommodation, which helps a lot."

Her mother says the late US actor Robin Williams, was a favourite guest "so down to earth and a proper gentleman" while Judy Dench sent her a personal notes saying she could have stayed up all night chatting.

Around 80% of their guests through the Summer are Americans, who soak up the history of the area and scenery but the European and British market is growing.

The castle also gets the odd unexpected guest looking for the old Inverlochy Castle ruin, which dates from the 13th century, who are directed to "the one without the roof" a few miles away.

Thanks to the advent of social media, more locals are now coming to enjoy afternoon tea or a celebratory meal in the drawing room, something which pleases the managers.

"I think it had the reputation, 'Oh it's the castle, you can't go there," says the group operations manager.

"But we are actually really informal.

"The way we talk to guests, the way we interact with guests.

"It's got to have the Scottish hospitality, the personality and the craic. That's what the guests remember."