Review: Macdonald Houstoun House, Edinburgh

Houston we have a problem. Not really. Macdonald Houstoun House is a four-star historical mansion an hour from the centre of Edinburgh.

We got off the bus at the main entrance to the property and walked down the picturesque tree lined driveway to the main entrance.

Being an historic building, there were reminders of yesteryear ranging from the steps allowing ladies to mount their steeds, to stone pineapples (apparently the sole surviving remnants of Strathbrock Castle) and even a dovecote where the original inhabitants kept pigeons for the table.

The reception area still showed signs of Xmas decorations and a welcoming fire in the fireplace illuminated a gingerbread depiction of the Manor House. Nicely done!

We navigated the check-in process without delay and made our way outside to one of the outbuildings to our room.

The room itself was a very comfortable size, decorated in sumptuous style. All of the photos on the walls were of the property, and the powerpoints featured USB charging points.

A bible had managed to escape the bedside drawer, reflecting perhaps the religious bent of the chain’s owners.

The bed was two singles pushed together, and apart from that the only quibble we had was that the curtains allowed quite a bit of light from outside in at night. I guess the positive side of that was that the paths were well lit for security purposes…

My Christmas present from Ange was the Indulgent Spa Break at the Houstoun which included room, breakfast, dinner and two 25 minute treatments. So after settling into the room we went for a scenic walk around the property before hitting the Vital Health and Wellbeing Club.

The grounds were smaller than I expected, separated from the neighbouring golf course by a small creek and a leap across the culvert. Given the muddy conditions I suggested we avoid the golf course and head to the Health Club for a pre-massage swim.

The Health Club boasted a good sized pool, gym, sauna and steam room (unfortunately under repair). We filled the time before our booked massages with a dip in the pool which was heated but not incredibly warm. Ange commented that when the weather was stormy or snowing it would be quite blissful watching it through the plate glass windows before heading off to the sauna.

It’s always better having a couples massage with your partner in the same room but they didn’t have rooms for two, so we settled for coincidental massages separated by a wall. The twenty five minutes whizzed by and then we left through the shrine/showroom for Elemis beauty products to get changed.

Somehow the deal Ange had booked also qualified us for a £10 credit for food or drink as well, so we elected to try a pre-dinner aperitif at the aptly named Vaulted Bar.

The bar was tucked away near the base of the stairs in the main building and featured a lovely fireplace which chased away the chill and a broad enough menu which allowed us to get a drink each and still not exhaust the credit entirely.

Dinner was a civilised affair. Served in the main manor house, we thought we would be getting the set menu, but instead got a credit towards the meal.

I got the salmon to start with followed by the fish and chips while Ange elected to try the goat cheese followed by the pithivier. We asked before finalising our order, discovering that the pithivier was a pastry, so it was pretty much a vegetable tart with a fancier name.

Every now and again the lights in the dining room would flicker slightly. Not much but noticeable out of the corner of your eye. Ange had been reading up on the history of Houstoun House and was aware that it had been a favourite spot of Mary Queen of Scots, seeing as it was less than an hour’s horse ride away from her home in Linlithgow Palace.

When she was beheaded the Woman House (where she used to stay) was locked and never used again. Until it was reopened as a Honeymoon Suite. I told Ange that I was sure it wasn’t Mary Queen of Scots haunting the dining room and playing with the lights.

Ange went down to use the bathrooms and came back with the tale that the hand dryer had mysteriously turned itself on while she was nowhere near it. I smiled and told her that if it had been Mary Queen of Scots it was good news because she obviously washed her hands.

We elected to share the sticky toffee pudding for dessert and they very thoughtfully gave us two puddings – I didn’t think that it was their standard serving and certainly appreciated not getting just a half share of one portion!

The breakfast the following morning saw us tucked into the corner of the dining room, the central table no longer having Christmas decorations but instead spread with a sumptuous continental breakfast.

Upon being seated we were asked what kind of toast we’d like and our tea and coffee requirements. Our waitress left us with the menu and let us loose on the continental offerings.

A little later she brought us our toast and coffee and took our order for the cooked component of breakfast. They very kindly honoured Ange’s request for bacon with her poached eggs on avocado toast and I smiled because I only got one rasher with my full Macdonald Breakfast and she got two.

Still, after the toast and the bacon, eggs and black pudding et al, plus a breakfast pastry, all washed down with plunger coffee and various juices, I fairly waddled back to the room, totally replete.

Just before we checked out, we asked which of the buildings the Woman House was and Suprina, who was on reception at the time, gave us a keycard so we could have a look inside.

The Honeymoon Suite was nice: only a little bigger than our room but nicer fittings and bathroom. The toiletries were Elemis like ours, just with more of them. The view from the window was lovely but I think the best part of it was actually being in a room where Mary Queen of Scots had been.

Would I Return?

If I was looking for a weekend away on the same deal that Ange got then I’d be tempted. There’s something cool about having dinner and breakfast taken care of and getting a twenty five minute back rub while you’re at it.

The pool and sauna are great and as the weather conditions deteriorate outside, the value of being able to watch as you remain warm and toasty inside increases.