Peebles Hydro Hotel & Spa – Review
By Richard Jones
One of the great ‘hydro hotels’, Peebles Hydro was built in the 19th century as a hydropathic destination for those Victorians keen to ‘take the waters’.
Perched on the banks of the Tweed within the gentle hills and stretching valleys of the Borders, it opened its doors in 1881, before burning down in 1905 and being rebuilt two years later.
Fast forward more than a century, and when the team at Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels took over in 2014, they recognised that, despite its grandeur and reputation, the Peebles icon required modernisation.
As with their property in Perthshire, the results were magical, and the already special hotel was given a new lease of life, securing its place as a 21st-century year-round resort destination.
My wife Rachel and I, along with our two daughters, Isla, 14 and 10-year-old Evelyn, headed into the Borders for a couple of late-summer days.
Safe to say, we were all taken aback by the beauty of Peebles Hydro and the high-class service within.
Peebles Hydro is much more than a hotel. With 132 rooms and suites, it is a big old place, but even when it was at its fullest, it never felt overcrowded. We spent a fair bit of time exploring the cavernous corridors decorated with old pictures of bygone eras, before relaxing in the lounges and bars, and on the outdoor patio with spectacular views of the Tweed Valley. For retail addicts like Isla and Evelyn, there is also a lovely little shop near the reception desk selling Borders-themed souvenirs and trinkets, as well as a cafe which stocks delicious ice cream and snacks.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Our adjoined family room was effectively a corner suite, with two huge bedrooms and super comfy king-sized beds. In between, there was a pristine tiled bathroom with rain shower, double sink and Arran luxury toiletries. There was also TV in each room and ample tea and coffee-making facilities – ideal for making a morning brew before heading down for breakfast. But best of all, we woke up to breathtaking views across Innerleithen Road, past the River Tweed and the rolling green hills out towards Kings Muir and the Kittlegairy Estate.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Meals are served in Peebles Hydro’s magnificent high-ceilinged dining room, a nostalgic throwback to the building’s Edwardian past. However, the fare served up is anything but old-fashioned, and the four of us particularly enjoyed refuelling with a very modern hot Scottish and continental breakfast in the morning. Then, at night, the dining area becomes classy The Grill Room, with a menu as good as any resort in the Borders. We devoured smoked duck breast, hot cured salmon and braised beef broth for starters, followed by ribeye steak, lamb leg steak and chicken breast with wild mushrooms for main.
GIN THE MOOD
Although people used to head to Peebles Hydro to benefit from the water remedies, these days another sort of hydration draws visitors there. Every drop of the world-famous 1881 Gin is taken from the hotel’s private spring, Shieldgreen. It is then distilled in the basement, the location of the Gin School, which invites visitors to take part in Gin Distiller Experiences and create their own bottles with herbs from the market garden. Alternatively, if you just fancy a drink, the mixologists in the Gin Palace and Not the Cocktail Bar will knock up something special for you. My personal favourite was a Bramble, which combines 1881 Pavilion Gin with citrusy lemon, sweet sugar and tart blackberries.
WHOLE SHOOTING MATCH
Since its creation, Peebles Hydro’s focus has always been on the outdoors and we made the most of the clement late summer to get out and about. After a walk around the grounds, we picked up clubs from the hotel’s leisure centre and spent an hour on the putting green, before knocking shuttlecocks and tennis balls around on the courts. Then, it was time for the activity that the kids had really been looking forward to – air rifle. For 45 minutes, we each loaded and fired pellets at targets, before the winner (Isla) was announced. For rainy days, there is indoor table tennis, a billiards room, board games and of course, the exquisite Decleor and aromatherapy spa, complete with large pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.
PEEK AT PEEBLES
It took a while to tear ourselves away from the hotel, but the old buildings and boutique shops in thriving market town Peebles were well worth the visit. Just off the High Street sits Cocoa Black, the home of leading chocolatier Ruth Hinks, and the Tweeddale Museum where you can learn about the area’s fascinating history. We found a hidden gem too – the scenic Cuddy Path or Riverside Walk which took us from the steps of the Parish church to the northern edge of town. For those more adventurous, you can head into nearby Glentress Forest – home of Go Ape – or explore the historic houses and gardens at Abbotsford House over in Melrose and Floors Castle further afield in Kelso.
As well as running Peebles Hydro, the Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels also own The Park hotel, another perfect base for a family break in the Borders town. After sampling their delicious scones and sausage rolls during an al fresco lunch (they claim the latter are the best you’ll taste, and they’re right), we headed down there for dinner on our final night. And it didn’t disappoint – the homely food in The Park Restaurant in Ballantyne’s Bar was as good as that up the road at Peebles Hydro. Seafood pie and fish and chips for mum and dad and hand-pressed burgers for the girls – it was perfection in The Park.
Richard Jones and his family were guests at Peebles Hydro in the Scottish Borders. They offer a double room with breakfast for £110 per night. For more information, please go to: peebleshydro.co.uk
Alternatively, The Park in Peebles offers a double room with breakfast for £108 per night, and guests can use the facilities at the nearby Peebles Hydro. See parkpeebles.co.uk