Dotted with tiny villages, the golden farmlands of rural Buchan in Aberdeenshire stretch for literally miles and miles. At Buchan’s heart is the village of Mintlaw home to the Saplinbrae Hotel and Lodges. We checked in as a stop on our road trip exploring part of the North East 250 to visit the stunning Moray Firth coast. What we found was a rather lovely country house hotel with a lot of heart.
Welcome to the Saplinbrae Hotel…
I love a good country house hotel – all wood panelled rooms, huge roaring fires, four poster beds, crisp dressing gowns and candle-lit dining and Saplinbrae Hotel has that country house feeling in spades. Built as a coaching inn by Lord Pitfour in 1756 for visitors to his estate, Saplinbrae Hotel has all the country house hotel touches you’d expect, but this is a also a family-run hotel with a lot heart, offering up so much more.
Stay at the Saplinbrae Hotel
Our superior room overlooked the garden (and the constant adventures of Saplinbrae’s wee robot lawn mower which we had great fun spotting around the grounds) and had a huge squishy four-poster with great quality covers, a spotless bathroom with massive white fluffy towels and dressing gowns, lovely toiletries from Ness Soap (a social enterprise who also help young people into work locally) and locally spun wool blankets. The whole hotel has a lovely and classy Scottish design – think muted tweeds and greens rather brash tartans.
Saplinbrae also offers self catering properties – two cottages, the Old Shooting Lodge for families or groups and Willow Lodge perfect for couples. Saplinbrae also has wooden chalets designed for self catering and sleeping up to six (and dogs) with wood burning stoves.
Dining at the Saplinbrae Hotel
From morning to night, Saplinbrae’s lounge/restaurant is a bustling space – this is no stuffy country house hotel. The main rooms are used constantly – fresh from filling folks up with a hearty Scottish breakfast ready for exploring the area, the warm and smiley staff then serve up huge scones and tray bakes for elevenses, followed by lunch, then afternoon tea, before the candles and fire are lit for pre-dinner drinks and happy diners fill up the room… phew! It was great to see a hotel which felt truly part of the local community.
We dined in Saplinbrae’s restaurant twice and left very happy indeed. Saplinbrae prides itself on a seasonal and very local menu – we visited in Autumn and found a menu filled with stylish comfort food. Starters included pigeon, black pudding and apple, chunky lamb koftas, and a utterly delicious scallop & bacon dish, all served up with fabulous bread from the local Ythan bakery.
Mains covered all the classics – a daube of Aberdeenshire beef with local veg from Crimond, Speyside pork fillet with apple and celeriac slaw, duck break with roasted plum and my favourite – a special of smoked haddock, chorizo and langoustine carbonara – oh gosh I could eat this dish every day!
My photos really don’t do the quality of Saplinbrae’s food justice – candlelit dining is lovely but not for a travel blogger trying to be discreet!
Saplinbrae’s desserts have to be seen to be believed (the pavlovas looked amazing!) although we went for a platter of cheese from local deli Food For Thought & port and a Sticky Mickey (ahem, it is a late harvest sauv blanc dessert wine) by the fire. Well done indeed Saplinbrae.
Things to do at the Saplinbrae Hotel
The Saplinbrae Hotel is perfectly positioned for exploring the local area – which includes the fabulous Moray Coast just a 30 minute drive away. Here is what we got up to at the Saplinbrae Hotel.
Explore the beautiful Pitfour Estate & Aden Country Park
A five minute walk up behind the hotel takes you to the remains of the Pitfour Estate with its lovely fishing loch and canal. Visit at sunset for some gorgeous colours and follow the path around the loch (it will take you about 20-30 minutes) which passes a tiny Theseus temple with its water bath – it is said it was once home to alligators so i’d keep a close eye on the loch!
Slightly further afield is the Aden Country Park which has a well-recommended cafe (it is also run by Saplinbrae!) and a children’s play area if you are staying as a family in one of the lodges.
Discover the Moray Firth villages
Starting at Cullen and finishing at Fraserburgh the villages of the Aberdeenshire section of the Moray Firth is a Scottish gem worth discovering. Here is where to visit:
- Cullen – home to Scotland’s most famous soup, Cullen Skink, Cullen is also a lovely little town stuffed full of antique shops to rummage in. Try Cullen Skink at the Rockpool Cafe.
- Portsoy – with the oldest harbour on the Moray Coast, Portsoy is home to the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival, which takes place each year in June and delicious Portsoy ice cream. If the wind is blowing a hoolie take shelter in Portsoy’s great harbour pub – the friendly Shore Inn.
- MacDuff – home to a marine aquarium which tells the story of the Moray Firth habitats, the aquarium has a unique kelp reef, daily talks and touch shows, as well as some greedy stingrays! Tickets for the MacDuff Marine Aquarium are Adult: £7.25 and Child aged 3-4: £2.90 – and are valid all day so you can come and go for the shows.
- Gamrie – Gardenstown and Crovie are probably the most picturesque of the Moray Firth villages – and a popular spot for photos of the traditional fishing cottages hugging the coast. Gardenstown has a lovely 19th Century Harbour and Crovie has no road – the cottages are only accessed by foot!
- Pennan – With a row of cottages built end on to face the wind, Pennan is at first sight little different to nearby Gardenstown and Crovie, but visitors come to this wee village for one thing – Local Hero – the cult Scottish film about an oil company trying to buy an Aberdeenshire Village… and a very famous red phone box!
Read more: a full guide to visiting the Moray Firth Coast
Thanks to Saplinbrae for inviting us to stay – we loved the hotel and left with huge smiles on our faces from being completely looked after from the hotel’s friendly and excellent staff. This is a hotel where every little detail was thought of – rather like checking into your perfect parents home, if they ran a lovely comfy country house hotel…
Love, from Scotland x