In the heart of Perthshire, directly in the center of a triangle formed by the wonderful towns of Dunkeld, Pitlochry, and Aberfeldy, stands one of the region’s finest accommodations. I had the chance spend a trio of nights at Cuil-an-Duin Country House at the beginning of this past November, and as you will see it’s hard to ask for a better base from which to explore the glory of forested Perthshire.
This part of Scotland, being just north of the cities and on the main route deeper into the highlands, is filled with all types of excellent accommodations, from B&Bs to hotels to castles. It seems to me to be a difficult place to start such a business, but then the payoff of success will be equally large. I spent a full week in Perthshire as the guest of the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust. They showed me around for a time (more on these adventures later) and the rest of the time was my own to plan and pursue. I always try to find new and interesting accommodations within the area I’ve identified as an ideal location, so when I stumbled upon Cuil-an-Duin (pron., roughly, CULL-in-DOOin) in my research I knew I’d found the place.
The country house is tucked back off the A9, surrounded by forest, directly between Pitlochry and Dunkeld. The narrow road eventually lead to a pair of small stone pillars where Cuil-an-Duin’s drive began (turn around and notice the view!), running between tall trees, en route to a stately yellow manse. I couldn’t help marveling at how quiet it was here so near the A9 as I shouldered my bags and crunched across the gravel lot. At the door I was met by David, a wonderfully friendly and engaging fellow, who ushered me inside to a gorgeous common room. Sally, his wife and partner in hospitality, arrived shortly thereafter laden with tea and homemade shortbread and cake.
We chatted for some time about careers and the history of Cuil-an-Duin, which probably means ‘fort on the hill.’ David used to be an accountant in London. The job had him traveling around the world for as little as a night, and eventually he’d had enough. Sally hails from nearby Kirriemuir, and the idea to open a guesthouse in Scotland near to her family seemed like the perfect exit from the rat race. I love meeting people who didn’t back down from well-worn lives that seemed inescapable and made new, better lives. They bought Cuil-an-Duin, which was built in 1925 as the private residence of Lord James Stewart-Murray, future 9th Duke of Atholl. The building itself was built by renowned Scottish architect Reginald Fairlie and remains a Category B Listed property. Amazingly, David and Sally have a book of photos documenting the building of Cuil-an-Duin, and it’s wonderful to see the property in such good repair nearly 100 years later.
Cuil-an-Duin’s grounds are part of that listing. You’ll no doubt see why when you wander among the tall trees, green sward, and stone walls. In autumn it was particular beautiful, and I took some time to simply sit at the patio table and admire the colors.
Cuil-an-Duin’s interior is fresh, squeaky clean, and tastefully decorated. The main hallway leads to the common room, breakfast room, and stairs that lead to the bedrooms. Over the years I’ve come to really appreciate a common room, and I spent quite a bit of time in Cuil-an-Duin’s for it was a comfortable, cozy place where David always had a wood fire going. The high ceiling, tall windows, and lavish furnishings are a salve after a long day out exploring the beauty of Perthshire or even farther afield places like Angus, the Cairngorms National Park, or the Kingdom of Fife.
My room on the second floor overlooked the back yard and was quite spacious with a king-size sleigh bed replete with the highest quality mattress and linens. A small desk made work easy in the evenings, and of course I had my own en-suite bathroom and shower. Cuil-an-Duin has two other rooms, both of equal quality though even more spacious. This is a good time to mention that beyond bed and breakfast, David and Sally also offer two self-catered, luxury cottages on the grounds for a very reasonable price per week.
Of course if you choose a self-catered cottage you will miss out on Cuil-an-Duin’s amazing breakfasts. David is an accomplished cook and baker, and the three breakfasts I enjoyed here were some I’ll never forget. They start with local, fresh ingredients of the highest quality, including eggs from their own hens, and serve up delicious food presented with panache. A cold breakfast bar with fresh fruit, muesli, and yogurt and a unique vegetarian dish each day. The Dunkeld Smoked Salmon on toast and David’s cooked breakfast with Stornoway pudding set me up perfectly for the day ahead. The breakfast room shares the rest of the house’s charm and character: Spacious, bright, and cozy with a fireplace in the corner.
Cuil-an-Duin Country House is an amazing, luxurious B&B run by warm and friendly people. The location is impossible to beat in Perthshire, and it’s the kind of place you could just as easily spend the day at relaxing and soaking in the beautiful nature and history. I can’t recommend Cuil-an-Duin highly enough, nor can I wait to return.
Disclosure: Cuil-an-Duin Country House provided me with a discounted stay. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.