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Review: What's it like to stay at the vegan hotel, Saorsa 1875?

Amanda Cassidy checks into Saorsa 1875, a dedicated vegan hotel on an eco-friendly lifestyle mission in Scotland

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The house is quirky and opulent

The house is quirky and opulent

A bedroom at Saorsa 1875

A bedroom at Saorsa 1875

The restaurant at Saorsa 1875

The restaurant at Saorsa 1875

The lounge area at Saorsa 1875

The lounge area at Saorsa 1875

Vegan dining at Saorsa 1875

Vegan dining at Saorsa 1875

'Whiskey or Not Whiskey' menu: Saorsa bar

'Whiskey or Not Whiskey' menu: Saorsa bar

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The house is quirky and opulent

A generation ago, trekking in Madagascar or climbing remote glaciers was unthinkable.

The world has since become smaller. But as horizons widen, there are signs of growing environmental responsibility.

Copenhagen aims to become the world's first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025 and, last year, Ireland got its first certified carbon-neutral hotel (Hotel Doolin in Co Clare).

Around the globe, more hotel chains are moving to replace single-use plastics, and growing numbers of guests are looking to travel sustainably. But for the delightfully eclectic Saorsa 1875, this is about more than just pandering to the green zeitgeist. This small, family-run hotel is inviting you to experience an entire way of life.

The rating: 8/10.

Arrival & Location

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'Whiskey or Not Whiskey' menu: Saorsa bar

'Whiskey or Not Whiskey' menu: Saorsa bar

'Whiskey or Not Whiskey' menu: Saorsa bar

Located 30 minutes from the Scottish ski slopes and five miles from author JK Rowling's 162-acre estate, the hotel opened last year on a gentle hill overlooking the tiny village of Pitlochry. A vision of 27-year-old Jack McLaren-Stewart and his parents Sandra and John (all committed vegans), the three-star Baronial-style business is named after the Gaelic for Freedom and the year it was built. Surrounded protectively by a cluster of wiry Scots pines, its eye-catching scarlet apexes startle against dappled skies.

On arrival we're greeted in the tiled entrance hall by the inquisitive brown bundle that is Roxy, the owner's Spanish Water Dog. Her pal Lizzie, a rescue pup, follows behind. Both dogs (vegan of course) are mentioned repeatedly as part of the charm of Saorsa 1875 in the overflowing-with-positivity visitor's book. 8/10

Service & Style

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The restaurant at Saorsa 1875

The restaurant at Saorsa 1875

The restaurant at Saorsa 1875

This charm extends to the interiors. The house is quirky and opulent, with a wood-and-candlelight welcome. A book at reception labelled 'Open me' is a copy of Alice in Wonderland with a service bell tucked inside. Animal themes abound. Dotted up the sweeping staircase, gold monkeys happily hold up lampshades and flamingos wear top hats. It is an eclectic luxury that reflects the family's global travels. Think soft greens and greys, high ornate ceilings and mismatched high-end furniture made for lolling with a book. A roaring fire and high panelled windows give it a more luxurious country-club feel. 9/10

The Rooms

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A bedroom at Saorsa 1875

A bedroom at Saorsa 1875

A bedroom at Saorsa 1875

The raison d'être for Saorsa 1875 is the extraordinary passion of the McLaren-Stewart family for ethical travel as well as lifestyle. And you can see that philosophy reflected everywhere with vim and vigour. The toilet roll, for example, is by Who Gives A Crap - a company providing toilets in developing economies (whogivesacrap.org). The hotel plants a tree for every dinner served. All energy is by Ecotricity - a Vegan Society-approved energy provider.

In the bedrooms, toiletries are made by The Highland Soap Company, the wild nettle and heather hand-foraged locally. There are 11 individually styled rooms, most facing onto a landing at the top of the wooden staircase. Each is named after an endangered Scottish species. We stayed in Lynx, a bright room with bold, statement walls. None of the bedrooms contain wool or silk, bed linen is 100pc organic cotton and pillows are microfibre. True escapism triumphs with the deliberate lack of televisions throughout, and cleverly placed mirrors offer still more Through-The-Looking-Glass vibes.

We found the bathroom draughty, but the powerful shower distracted nicely. Sleep came deeply to the lullaby of nearby Loch Faskally. 7/10

Food & Drink

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Vegan dining at Saorsa 1875

Vegan dining at Saorsa 1875

Vegan dining at Saorsa 1875

Food and drink are exquisite: locally sourced, lovingly cooked, communally served. Visitors can relish the candlelit dining room with fellow guests sharing vegan recipes and swapping how-we-came-to-be-here tales.

It's important to know that not every visitor is vegan. Curious carnivores (like me) and vegan toe-dippers concurred that the grilled romaine and sea lettuce with fried capers and pickled lemon was sublime.

The five-course tasting menu (£45) also included spinach and ricotta berlingot with roasted tomato sauce (as well as the loveliest apple tartin I've ever eaten). Life stories exchanged, the hotel's guests, as well as those visiting for dinner, retired en masse to the living room fire to sip Arnold Holzer Invaders Orange wine (£35 a bottle) while the dogs slept by our feet. 10/10

Insider tip

For breakfast, marvel at the vegan croissant's miraculous butter-free flakiness. Separately, the menu at a dispensary-style bar tucked into a drawing-room nook reads 'Whiskey and 'Not Whiskey.' Try the Ginger Laddie, an ice-clinking delight of Bruichladdich classic laddie, port charlotte, Oloroso Sherry, Sweet Vermouth and Orange bitters (£10).

Local 101

Come in October to experience the magic of The Enchanted Forest. The pioneering sound and light show is set amidst the woodland trails of the Perthshire Highland. Expect Scottish music, fairy hunts and shimmering light displays around the River Tummel.

The Bottom Line

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The lounge area at Saorsa 1875

The lounge area at Saorsa 1875

The lounge area at Saorsa 1875

After 24 hours absorbing the unique experience that is Saorsa 1875, I'm surprised at the depth of commitment by so many guests to a more sustainable break away. The feeling that you are entering the family's own home might not be for everyone, but for us, it set the experience apart.

The hotel is part stately manor, part playground for the earth-minded, part passionate vegan supper-club, a Scottish hideaway that has managed to successfully marry tourism with veganism and sustainability with escapism.

Expect to see a rise in such pioneering hotels, with the ins and outs of daily operations considered from the outset. My advice? Let yourself fall down its rabbit hole.

Rates

Rooms from £130; suites between £180-230 B&B. +44 1796 475 217; saorsahotel.com

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