We were recently invited to visit Balbirnie House Hotel, an award-winning country house hotel situated in acres of rolling parklands in the village of Markinch, Fife.
Balbirnie House Hotel is Scotland’s 2019 National Wedding Hotel of the Year and was recently (October 2019) named ‘Best Destination Wedding Hotel’ in the global category at the international Haute Grandeur Awards held in Kuala Lumpur, beating luxury competitors from all over the globe to achieve the prestigious award.
Our visit was not to experience the award-winning wedding service simply to enjoy an overnight stay with dinner and breakfast included. Read our review to find out more about our quintessential country house hotel experience.
You could write a book about the history of this 17th century country house which is the work of Mr John Balfour of Balbirnie and his son General Robert Balfour and is noted as one of the earliest Grecian style houses in Scotland. The foundations for the new house were dug in 1777 and the house build was completed in 1819 – and structurally today it remains with little alteration.
It remained the residence of the Balfour family until it was sold in 1969 and then bought by Glenrothes Development Corporation, who were then building the new town of Glenrothes. In 1990 a private owner bought the property and redeveloped it into the award-winning 30-bedroom hotel it is today.
The drive way leading to the house is perfectly nestled in 400 acres of dense woodland with a neighbouring golf-course. The Grade A listed Georgian mansion stands in well maintained grounds with a neighbouring golf-course and it quite impressive upon approach. You can just imagine the Lords of the 17th Century galloping up on horse-back!
We were warmly greeted by the receptionist, a local lady who had great knowledge of the surrounding area and things to do nearby.
Although we arrived before the official 3pm check-in time our room was ready for us and we were instructed where to find it.
Our home for the night would be the lovely and extremely spacious honeymoon suite with stunning views across the hotel gardens.
One of the house-maids popped her head in to welcome us and ask if we’d like a TV or bed for our little boy, she was very friendly and extremely obliging – this friendly and genuinely helpful service was echoed throughout every team member we encountered.
Furniture and furnishings reminded me of a scene from Beauty and the Beast, with one of the biggest free-standing wardrobes I’ve seen, which I expected to burst into song at any given moment. The bed was of equally large proportions – me, my wriggly toddler and tall husband all comfortably slept in it without any night-time nudges or duvet wars.
The bathroom was stylish and simple with an oversized free-standing bath (which my chunky four-year-old could almost swim in!) with period hand-held shower head, basin and toilet were in keeping with the period theme.
Basics such as tea, instant coffee and scrummy Tunnocks teacakes were laid out as the in-room refreshments.
An extremely comprehensive old-school style guide to the hotel services (many of which we didn’t need or use for example; dry cleaning, library, babysitting, business services and a drying room for golf and outdoor gear) and suggestions for a great variety of walks and things to do in the nearby area.
Dogs are welcome too!
Despite it being a wet day we immediately put on our waterproofs and went out to explore the beautiful estate.
There are many woodland walks marked out, ranging from a short stroll around the beautifully maintained hotel grounds through to more challenging hikes for serious walkers. The stream, river, hidden dens, toadstools and hundreds of years old trees really create a magical experience. We didn’t embark upon a serious walk yet still managed to explore for just over two hours by which time the sun had made an appearance so we enjoyed a tranquil 20 minutes seated in the hotel garden, where we were quickly asked by the bar manager if we’d like a drink or anything to eat. We didn’t but it was nice that the team were so attentive (as we weren’t siting in obvious eyesight of the bar).
Lewis, the hotel’s GM, kindly gave us a guided tour of the mansion house and showed us some historic and fascinating features that really brought the place to life.
For example; the portraits of Mr and Mrs J.C. Balfour proudly hanging in the gallery, the cupboard in what was originally the master bedroom which is home to the height markings of the Balfour’s grandchildren dating back to the 1700’s, the signatures of the original builders perfectly preserved, the butcher’s hooks and original slow cooker which are now key features in the Bistro and the library which guest can make themselves at home and snuggle in front of one of the many open fires. The list goes on!
All communal areas present period décor, fixtures and furnishings and several rooms have recently been refurbished – it is clear to see which these and one of my favourites was the ‘Gold Room’ where we enjoyed drinks by the open fire before dinner.
We were also shown the ballroom which is at the heart of the award-winning wedding services and I must admit the sparkly almost starlight-esque dance floor did have a certain je ne sais quoi about it. The house is not just a place to host wedding receptions, official wedding ceremonies can also be conducted onsite.
The house is beautifully warm with well stoked fires, although it wasn’t that cold outside we were told that if temperatures drop below 10 degrees the fires must be lit and with listed windows not opening it was very cosy – which I love!!
Guests can choose to dine at the Bistro which presents a country casual vibe and as you’d expect a bistro menu with a Scottish influence. When we visited, it was quite busy with what appeared to be locals who had just enjoyed a walk or a round of golf.
Private dining and The Chef’s table are options too which as you’d expect are more suited to bigger groups or special occasions.
We decided to dine in the Orangery and although a more formal experience than that offered by the Bistro our toddler was made to feel very welcome and well catered for too.
The menu presents classic dishes with their own Balbirnie twist. A good selection of fish, meat, game and veggie dishes for each course along with a good choice of sides which could equally double up as a starter, the route I took opting for haggis bonbons as my starter.
We enjoyed a pre-dinner drink in the recently refurbished ‘Gold Lounge’ aptly named from one of the décor tones, where our dinner order was taken. After a comfortable period of time we were shown to our table in the Orangery. The décor was quite basic but the service and quality of food was most definitely not, in fact I was pleasantly surprised.
We were served a tasty filo prawn appetiser before our starters arrived. As mentioned I opted for haggis balls which were delicious and my husband enjoyed the Cullen skink. Our little boy opted for garlic bread from the children’s menu. A mango sorbet with Prosecco was presented as our palette cleanser followed by our main course for which I chose cream marinated pigeon breast served with puy-lentils and pancetta, rib-eye steak and chunky chips and sausage and mash were the other two dishes of choice. And for dessert, oooh I am slavering just thinking about it….we all indulged in warm apple crumble tart with brown sugar ice-cream and Calvados anglaise. It was divine!! Plus, the ice-cream is all home-made on site which guests can buy to take home with them (if it lasts that long!!).
Staff were attentive without being intrusive and we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience.
Prices are very reasonable too.
Breakfast was just as enjoyable with a quality non-greasy full Scottish helping to kick-start the day, a hearty bacon sandwich (with plenty of bacon) and a great selection of fruits, nuts, cereals and pastries. We certainly wouldn’t need lunch in a hurry. The service at breakfast was more relaxed than the evening service we’d encountered but the friendly and helpful qualities prevailed
Balbirnie House is a charming place which boasts plenty of character and great quality and value dining options.
I think it’s a great a base for golfers or walkers wishing to explore the local area and I can easily see why it’s a popular choice for weddings.
Address: Balbirnie House, Balbirnie Park, Markinch Village by Glenrothes, Fife, KY7 6NE
Phone: 01592 610066