The Victorians were fascinated with Scotland’s Trossachs, primarily because it was the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem “The Lady of the Lake”. They would travel by train, then steamer and horse and buggy to admire the misty lochs, walk amongst the purple peaks and mingle with the highlanders. I’m sure a wee dram of whisky had something to do with it too. 😀
Today the Trossachs are still popular with tourists – all wanting to get away from it all and indulge in outdoor activities such as kayaking and hiking whilst surrounded by the famous mirrored lochs and heathered hills.
Set in the midst of all this is Forrest Hills, a friendly 4-star resort perched right on the bonny banks of Loch Ard. Originally a country estate for a wealthy Glasgow family, Forest Hills is now operated by the MacDonald Group. The hotel and lodges are set in acres of woodland, with waterfalls, meandering paths and spectacular loch views.
There’s a newly refurbished leisure centre and spa, and activity centre that offers mountain biking, rock-climbing, fly-fishing, guided walks and archery. The friendly staff organise activities, including talks and Rob Roy walks with local guides (our bearded guide reminded me of Victorian naturalist John Muir), clay pigeon shooting at the neighboring farm, Scottish evenings with whisky tastings, haggis and Ceilidh. Kids will love ball games, films, crown making, Splash Time (foam floats), and penning holiday postcards.
The large swimming pool area has a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi and lounge chairs. Children under 16 need to be supervised, but it’s all located in an open space – so you can relax, use the facilities and also look after the kids. We went swimming each evening, and I found that part of the day very enjoyable. The changing rooms are nice too, much like ones you would expect in a high-end leisure centre.
The Lodges at Forest Hills
We stayed in a 2-bedroom “Loch Ard” apartment with stunning views over the loch. The interiors are dated (think late 70s prefab charm) but very clean and functional. And when coupled with the fabulous location, they make a great holiday.
Our main living area was one rather steep floor up on the 1st floor (we were in Maple 4). The star feature of the property is an open plan kitchen/dining area/lounge area with French windows that open on to a balcony with partly covered seating area. There’s a pull down double bed (located behind the wooden doors in pic below) bringing the sleeping space of the Lodge up to 6.
The kitchen is fully stocked with pretty much everything. I always find preparing meals in self catering accommodation a challenge – it can be maddening trying to find where everything is kept (where are the glasses? Is there a cheese grater?) And the pots and pans are usually poor quality. However, we planned several evenings in so I was determined to master my new environment (and I eventually did).
The main sleeping area is located on the second level, which is through two heavy doors and up another flight of steep steps. I briefly wondered if the two levels had once been separate properties, now united through architectural prowess. Upstairs there’s another bathroom (with, surprisingly, a sauna!); a twin-bedded room and a double ensuite. Linens are all provided and made up for your arrival. They’re luxury ones too – there’s something about the feel of freshly washed and pressed 400-count linen against the skin that I just love!
For an extra £10, there’s a huge interactive TV with email and movies on demand. We don’t watch a lot of television so didn’t need this. What I really missed was the Internet! There’s no mobile connection (our carriers are Three and O2) and there’s intermittent wifi in the lodge, but you can’t depend on it. We ended up going to the Post Office in town to use their free wifi – as long as you buy a paper or sweets, they’re happy to oblige. To really enjoy this place, you need to be OK with being disconnected for the week.
You can borrow as many DVDs, board games and books as you want (I indulged my inner Chic Lit and grabbed a copy of Girls Poker Night by Jill A Davis) and we all played Monopoly and finished a 1,000-piece Corner Shop puzzle! Old fashioned family fun.
Best bits? The stunning panoramic loch view. Any reservations pale when you sit on the comfy dark leather sofa, mug of steaming tea in hand, and watch the mist rise from the loch.
My niggles? MacDonald resorts have this weird thing about charging extra for electricity. They explain that they just pass on the cost, but the result was I was afraid to use the sauna fearing how much it would cost. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried, as I was told on check out it was about £2/hour. Our electrics for the week were £24. The other big niggle was lack of reliable wifi.
My tips? If you are self-catering, bring at least one good knife. I’ve never been in a vacation rental that has a decent knife. Ever.
Would I book again? Yes. For many reasons the lodges at Forest Hills works for our family, and we’re planning to book for next year. I just wish they’d fix the wifi.
Self-catering meal ideas
Conveniently, there’s a Co-op just 4 miles away, which makes stocking up for self-catering a breeze. I find when self-catering, it’s better to “assemble” meals rather than try to do any heavy-duty cooking. Forget anything that has lots of chopping or needs high quality pans. I always feel a bit Ready Steady Cook and am amazed when I produce a meal. This is what I made:
- Chili con carne with rice, salad and tortilla chips. Onion, Red Pepper, Uncle Ben’s premade sauce, made basmati rice in microwave, served with grated cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and tortilla chips. Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough and double fudge ice cream for dessert.
- Linguine with pesto, salad. Linguine, pesto, parmesan, garlic bread, salad.
- Chicken fajitas with Mexican rice and salad. El Paso fajitas kits, extra tortillas, chicken, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and Uncle Bens pre-made Mexican rice.
- Birdseye individual chicken pot pies, new potatoes, Bisto gravy, steamed broccoli.
IF YOU GO:
Hoseasons, part of the Wyndam Vacation Rentals Group Vacation Rentals hoseasons.co.uk. Hoseasons is one of the UK’s leading self-catering accommodation specialists, with over 21,000 places to stay in coastal and countryside settings throughout Britain and Europe. From lodges and parks, to boats, cottages and apartments, they offer a wide variety of self-catering holidays in the UK.
Macdonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa Macdonald Hotels Kinlochard, The Trossachs, Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire FK8 3TL Kinlochard, The Trossachs, Aberfoyle, Stirlingshire FK8 3TL 0844 879 9057 macdonaldhotels.co.uk
Go Ape! Aberfoyle David Marshall Lodge, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle, Stirling FK8 3SY +44 0845 643 9215 goape.co.uk Zip wire heaven in Loch Lomond. Set in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Sterling, two of the UK’s longest zip wires over 400m long and 150 feet above the ground. The Lodge Cafe has a great menu and features floor to ceiling views of forest.
Cruise Loch Lomond The Boatyard, Tarbet, Argyll & Bute +44 01301 702356 cruiselochlomond.co.uk By yon bonnie bonnie banks. Cruises, ferries and day trips/cycle hire. Catch a boat at one of the four piers and enjoy loch views. This was a trip highlight.
The Loch Lomond Arms Hotel Main Road Luss G83 8NY +44 (0) 1436 86042 lochlomondarmshotel.com Traditional hospitality in Scotland’s loveliest village. Try wild mushroom and Lanark blue cheese salad with hazelnut dressing and Gigha halibut with oxtail tortellini, wild mushrooms, sweet corn, roasted salsify and chicken jus.
Loch Lomond Shores Ben Lomond Way, Balloch G83 8QL +44 01389 751031 lochlomondshores.com Great views, and great shopping, including Jenner’s with a Ness concession.
The Lake of Menteith Hotel & Waterfront Restaurant, Port of Menteith FK8 3RA +44 01877 385 258 lake-hotel.com Drive through stunning Scottish scenery, and nestled by the lake (the only one in Scotland) is this award winning New England waterfront hotel/restaurant. Offers local cuisine, like Crispy Ayrshire pork belly with corn succotash and BBQ sauce and the beef burgers are out of this world.
Nick Nairn Cooking School, Port of Menteith, Stirling FK8 3JZ +44 01877 389900
Katrine Wheelz Invertrossachs Road, Callander FK17 8HW +44 1877 331100 katrinewheelz.co.uk Rent bikes, takes the 10.30 Sir Walter Scott steamer to the far end of Loch Katrine, and take a leisurely cycle (1 and ½ to 3 hours, depending on ability). It’s a bit hilly, but the views are oh, so worth it.
Our accommodation was provided by Hoseasons for the purpose of this review. All opinions and editorial are my own and my family’s.