A clever blend of all the good things in life can be found at this colourful and stylish home from home in Perthshire
Photography Matt Davis
Words Catherine Coyle
Chris and Rachel Rowley found themselves in the same position as a lot of people do when they hit that quarter-point in their career. “Is this it?” they thought. The couple, who met at university, were living in Edinburgh with their two young daughters; Rachel was looking after the kids and hosting supper clubs as a side project (and a source of adult company, away from baby groups and soft-play areas) and Chris was working long and stressful hours in financial services, feeling rather miserable.
“We were looking for our forever family home in Edinburgh, but we were priced out of the market,” says Rachel. “But we knew we’d reached a point where we were craving flexibility in our work lives and balance in our family circumstances.”
They were braver than most. When a promised redundancy package failed to materialise, this ambitious couple packed up and moved to London for a few years, where Chris retrained: he took a food and wine diploma, graduating top of his class, and gained some vital experience in hospitality.
Keeping an eye on the property market in Scotland, they looked to Perthshire, where they realised they’d get both more for their money and the kind of community spirit they wanted to be a part of. They found Ballintaggart Farm, an 11-acre plot overlooking the Tay valley, and moved there in 2016, just as Rachel was about to give birth to the couple’s third child.
There, together with Chris’s brother Andrew, they set up their family business – a restaurant with rooms, cook school, kitchen garden and wedding venue. And they didn’t stop there: “Six months after we moved, a hotel five minutes along the road came up for sale,” smiles Rachel. “It had operated as a hostel, so it was very tired and was a bit of a bargain. We couldn’t pass it up!”
Two years to the day after Ballintaggart Farm launched, they opened the Grandtully Hotel. Working with architect Scott Wardlaw at Novo Design, they turned the 152-year-old building into an eight-bedroom hotel with a restaurant, bar, whisky snug, private dining room and terrace.
“Not many of the original Victorian features were left but we did all we could to maintain the character of the building,” says Rachel, who worked with Edinburgh shopfitters Francey to recreate the heritage that had been lost over the years.
To keep costs down, she undertook the interior design of the hotel herself, focusing investment on areas that would last, like panelling and windows, rather than blowing the budget on cushions. “I wanted every room to be different and for the colour palette to speak out.”
With a similar ethos to Ballintaggart Farm, food is at the heart of what Andrew, Chris and Rachel are doing at the Grandtully. They grow what they can, have a group of local artisan producers and suppliers (among them, Great Glen Charcuterie, Grierson’s organic butchery and dairy farmer Katy Rodgers) and change their menus daily based on what’s in season.
The restaurant is a small but smart affair but guests can keep it casual with a bar meal in the Tully. You might be in a sleepy Perthshire hamlet, but there’s no plaid or dark banquettes here; instead, the sleek subway-tiled bar serves up bespoke cocktails more befitting of buzzy metropolis.
“We are a team of about 50 now, working across all aspects of the business,” Rachel says proudly. “This means everyone understands what’s involved in what we do and is able to pitch in and help, whether that’s in the hotel or at the farm. We’re creating a destination here. I think Perthshire is really underrated. It’s beautiful here. It can be gruelling, exhausting work but it’s incredibly rewarding.