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So much Mhor than a Scottish country inn

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PERTHSHIRE, Scotland -- A posh fish 'n' chips shop, a back-to-basics cooking school, a rural tea room, a traditional bakery, a working farm and a stylish boutique hotel: this is the mighty clan of Mhor.

Set among the Scottish Highlands in Trossachs National Park, Mhor is a vertically integrated tourism product masterminded by award-winning chef Tom Lewis.

Here's just one of the many potential scenarios available to guests: you can kill a deer on the 800-hectare farm, learn how to butcher it at the cooking school, eat it for dinner at the hotel restaurant and then sleep in the 18th-century farmhouse.

"We've got so much on our doorstep, it makes it easy," says Lewis.

It started simply enough: once upon a time Lewis's mom hung a sign reading "Tea and Scones" outside their pink farmhouse.

The service was such a hit that the business soon bloomed into a full blown hotel.

Today, Monachyle Mhor Hotel is a charming rural getaway. Situated in Balquhidder on the banks of Loch Voil, it is tucked away down a winding country lane.

The original granary, stable and hayloft have been converted into 14 rooms that are at once thoroughly modern yet evocative of the past. Breezy white decor seems perfectly matched with antiques such as old apothecary jars, dress forms and handmade paintbrushes.

The setting itself is so spectacular your ambitions might begin and end with nursing a glass of wine and gazing placidly at Rob Roy's original farm, which lies directly opposite. Perhaps you'll while away an hour or two at Mhor's Library Tearoom, a magnet for weekend ramblers who trudge in wielding walking sticks and muddy boots. Or you might overdose on carbs at Mhor Bread, the bakery in nearby Callander that churns out Scottish classics such as morning rolls, treacle scones and fresh doughnuts.

All of the above are tasty, but Mhor will appeal even more to those with an appetite for skill acquisition.

Thinking about keeping chickens? The team will give you a crash course on everything from selecting a hen to whipping up a delectable omelette. Feel safer with inanimate objects? Mhor's got a dry stone walling course so you can build one of those romantic Scottish fences back home.

Lewis will also let you tag along as he forages for ingredients such as wild garlic, chanterelle mushrooms and elderflower.

Then there's the official Highland Safari, a two-hour jaunt into the wilds with farm manager Alan Sneddon, who weaves yarns about Rob Roy and the MacGregor clan, angles for sightings of the resident red deer and golden eagles, and always concludes with a wee dram of Glengoyne Whiskey.

No licence is needed for "stalking" deer, which takes place from August to February.

"It's the act of trying to get as close as possible without being seen," says Sneddon.

The trigger can be swapped for a camera's shutter, if you prefer to shoot photographs. However, in keeping with Lewis's sustainability theme, all 30 deer that are killed on the farm annually are used by the restaurant.

With Mhor Fish, also in Callander, Lewis is attempting to gentrify that well-known Scottish harbinger of heart attacks: the chippie.

The decor is hip; the selections unusual (John Dory and sole, for instance), and upstairs in his new cooking school, Lewis serves up a hearty dose of reality. "It's amazing how far we've distanced ourselves from food," he notes.

When is the last time you plucked anything except your eyebrows? Exactly. If de-feathering a partridge sounds appealing, you may excel at one of Lewis's day courses, which also tackle the lost arts of butchering and gutting.

At his popular seafood demonstrations, Lewis instructs his students on how to shuck an oyster, scale and filet a fish and prepare them all for a lip-smacking lunch.

Should handling dead flesh seem a little overboard, don't fret.

Mhor's got something more fragrant for you: a day course called Bread, Butter and Jam.

Despite all his expansion, Lewis can trace his philosophy back to one place: his mother's kitchen, where he became passionate about good old-fashioned cooking.

"Around the world, that's what people love," he says.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 D3

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