Scottish hero Rob Roy eluded capture by escaping into the wild Trossachs, and today top-drawer celebrities have made it their own Highland hideout.
Secluded at the end of a narrow, winding road, Monachyle Mhor makes a luxurious spot for an incognito getaway. Stars such as Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler have stayed at the small country hotel. Even Prince William dined at TV chef Tom Lewis's table and got into some Highland high jinks.
"He's good friends with good friends of ours - the nicest young man," Mr. Lewis says, recalling the night of the "drinking jumper," when the prince experienced the Tequila Stuntman ("you snort the salt, drink the tequila and squirt the lemon in your eye") after donning a sweater someone spontaneously spray-painted with a Superman "S."
"We had a big night here before university - and someone painted a tank top with a tin of black paint - I wonder whatever happened to it," Mr. Lewis muses.
It's really not a surprise that Prince William felt comfortable enough to let his hair down. The 18th-century farmhouse, perched on 2,000 hilly acres above Loch Voil, feels just like home.
Perhaps it's the snug little bar or sinking into a squishy old club chair by the fire in the parlour. Maybe it's the chic and spacious suites - like mine above the old coach house, with its brown velvet settee for curling up with the stack of art and photography books displayed on a sleek shelf, and a little jar of crunchy shortbread from the baker.
Or maybe it's just the Lewis family's fun and infectious hospitality.
The 14-room boutique hotel began life as their home, the place where parents Rob and Jean raised Tom, Dick and Melanie after moving to Scotland from their farm in Wales in 1983. Jean plunged into the hospitality business by first serving tea and scones to hikers and hunters passing by the farm, eventually creating a cozy B&B, which her offspring have expanded into a posh country hotel in the farm's cluster of historic stone outbuildings.
The parents have since retired to France, and the children have put Monachyle Mhor on the map as an exclusive getaway with Tom's fine cooking. They have also opened a fish shop and cooking school (Mhor Fish) and an artisan bakery and tea room (Mhor Bread) in the nearby town of Callander, and run the old Library Tea Room in Balquhidder, just across the road from the churchyard where the legendary Highlander Rob Roy (MacGregor) is buried.
It all makes for a great jumping-off spot for tramping through the Trossachs. The feisty MacGregor and MacLaren clans rallied for battle here, slipping away from the redcoats into the hills that are crossed with their old footpaths, and you can hike up to Rob Roy's cave, once a Jacobite mine, hidden behind a rushing waterfall. In the famous outlaw's day, Jacobite sympathizers painted the fronts of their houses pink, and the Lewis farm still stands out on the grassy Highland hillside in all of its pink glory.
Monachyle Mhor remains a working farm - you will see the family's black-faced sheep and woolly Highland cattle grazing in the fields below the house, and there are Tamworth pigs, honeybees and laying hens clucking in the yard. All of this local food makes its way onto Mr. Lewis's creative menu - from the full Scottish breakfasts to appetizers of blood-pudding bonbons or quenelles of smoked Scottish salmon and eel, Kyle of Tongue oysters on the half shell with whisky mignonette, fat scallops served atop a tangle of tender squid in nutty romesco sauce, and their Highland steak with melting braised beef cheek - all artfully presented and tasting very "mhorish."
Mr. Lewis is the culinary driver of this creative family project. He describes himself as "a farmer and a professional sheep shearer," but he has absorbed enough about cooking from his talented mother to make this one of the finest places to dine in the countryside.
"I have so much on my doorstep, it makes it easy to cook," he says. The wild mushrooms - cepes, hedgehog, boletes and chanterelles - found in the glen are a specialty, and he includes lemony wood sorrel, wild garlic, rowan berries and elderflowers on his plates. The sustainable seafood, served here and sold at Mhor Fish, is based on what the fishermen net on the way home, including the "bycatch."
"We pay a premium to buy that mixed box - it's a nicer way to buy fish," says Mr. Lewis, who instructs customers on how to cook whole fish or prepare unusual things like blue ling cod, brill and gurnard. There are also cooking classes focused on bread and jam making, even butchering and cooking wild game "if a customer goes stalking" or fishing for brown trout and char in the lochs.
You can drive in to the secluded Monachyle Mhor - just 90 minutes from either Edinburgh or Glasgow - or, if your budget allows, charter a seaplane for a short but scenic flight and a gourmet lunch.
Come to the rugged glen for Christmas mulled wine and mince pies, or the famous Scottish Hogmanay (New Year) festivities.
It's the perfect place to slip away for the season.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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