THE UK’s first vegan hotel is almost entirely booked up until Christmas after a rocky start which saw it shut just months after opening in the Scottish Highlands.
Aimed at vegans, vegetarians and those who are “plant curious”, Saorsa 1875 opened its door in Pitlochry in June 2019, eight months before the pandemic struck and the world came to a standstill.
It was not the best of starts but the quirky 11-bedroom boutique hotel, owned by mother-and-son duo, Sandra and Jack McLaren-Stewart, is already making waves in the hospitality industry, notching up a string of awards.
Set in a 19th century Baronial mansion, the hotel is completely free from animal products with furnishings, toiletries, cleaning products all vegan, as well as the food and drink.
The owners also support the Green Earth Appeal by planting a tree for every dinner served and the hotel is entirely powered by Ecotricity, a green energy company that’s Vegan Society-certified.
Originally from Dundee. the family lived down south for while before returning to Scotland and say the hotel was the product of “a lot of conversations”.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” said Mr McLaren-Stewart.
“We’ve managed to do quite a lot in the time we’ve been open and the response we’ve had from the community and the broader community has been phenomenal.
“We did a soft re-launch in May and then re-opened fully from June 1 and it’s been pretty much fully booked since then and it’s looking like that until the end of the year.
“We are in an independent hotel and we are the first vegan hotel in the UK. Before we opened we were having sleepless nights worrying that someone else had beaten us to it.”
According to food retail magazine The Grocer, the meat-free and plant-based dairy sector has doubled in size over the past five years and is now worth just under £600m each. Tesco has pledged to hike sales of meat alternatives by 300 per cent by 2025.
A recent study by University College London’s ZOE tracking app, involving 600,000 people, found that those who ate a “high quality”, plant-rich diet were 10% less likely to catch Covid-19 and the risk of being hospitalised was reduced by 40%.
“As a family we’ve been vegan for a number of years,” said Mr McLaren-Stewart.
“My parents were looking at re-locating back to Scotland and opening some kind of hospitality venture. Originally we were just looking at a B&B and that began to expand.
“The more we discussed it, the more we realised there was a good opportunity. There is obviously this massively expanding market, not only for vegans but for those who have read a lot about it and want to come and try it.”
Since it opened, Saorsa 1875 has been named among the Sunday Times’ top 100 hotels and was also declared a winner in the National Geographic Big Sleep Awards.
The owners say the dining experience offers “something different” with Australian chef Deborah Fleck at the helm, using ingredients sourced locally or from the hotel’s gardens to produce five-course tasting menus. The current menu includes Jersey Royals with asparagus, rhubarb & buttermilk cream.
“What we really wanted to do is create a hybrid experience where we served very high-end food but we didn’t want the stuffiness that can come with those type of restaurants.
“Originally we had a five-course tasting menu and everyone sat round one big table.
“We see a lot about the rise in ‘mock meats’ and I totally support them but what we really wanted to do was show that plans themselves can be used to create amazing meals. You don’t have to seek to replicate meat.”
Mr McLaren-Stewart said the hotel had had its “fair share” of famous guests but politely declined to name any when asked. The hotel is now planning to plans to offer luxury retreat-style breaks next year, which are likely to entice a few more through its doors.
They are being run in partnership with Dr Nestor Demosthenous, a health and wellbeing practitioner based in Edinburgh who also carries out non-surgical aesthetic treatments.
They aim to promote the health benefits of eating fewer animal products and the £1950 packages will also incorporate personal training and nutrition sessions, yoga, wild swimming, meditation, and life coaching.
“It’s not a fad,” says Dr Demosthenous. “I think everyone has to move two or three steps closer to a plant-based diet because the reality is our western diet is killing us.
“The idea is not to force feed people it’s just to give them some inspiration to maybe say, I’m going to have one or two days a week being plant based.”