This was a venture full of great expectations.
It was Royal Deeside, after all, which the Queen has chosen year after year to provide tranquillity and seclusion for her and her family.
Banchory is the gateway to Royal Deeside and is a picturesque town near Ballater and Braemar. With two castles - Crathes and Drum - nearby, there is a charm about the shops and coffee bars that puts visitors at ease - and no shortage of things to explore. You can even catch a glimpse of salmon leaping at Bridge Of Feugh.
Tor-Na-Coille Hotel and Restaurant is an imposing Victorian design that captures the atmosphere of this historic area perfectly.
Making our way up the sweeping driveway, we were already captivated by the beautiful surrounds. Little did we realise, though, just how hopelessly besotted we were to become. We arrived in reception to be greeted by warm, friendly and informative staff who took time to make us feel welcome.
The hotel has 25 individually designed suites that have recently been refurbished to a very high standard. Our vast room - No 6 - oozed luxury, with its wooden panelling, stunning fireplace, quality furnishings and colossal bed.
There was also a television, a comfortable seating area and enough room to hold a dance, if you so desired.
Our en-suite bathroom continued the fairy tale, with a roll-top bath … perfect after the long drive.
I really did not think anything could tear me away from my palatial room, but when we ventured down to the lounge it became clear that Tor-Na-Coille was a popular restaurant for visitors and locals.
There was a friendly, relaxed buzz as groups of families and friends chattered away. A roaring fireplace merely added to the warmth.
Some had chosen to dine in the lounge and, from later experience, I can recommend this. However, if you are a foodie and seeking a menu that offers fine dining, The Royal Deeside Restaurant is a delight.
Our starters, Pan Fried Breast of Wood Pigeon carved on to a warm salad of Potato Gnocchi, Wild Mushrooms and Truffle Oil served with a Red Wine Jus, was beautifully presented and tasted divine.
By the time I had devoured my main course - Steamed Fillet of Sea Bream set on a Quince and Spring Green salad served with Sweet Onion Bhaji and a Tomato Coriander Oil - I had fallen in love with the hotel.
Dessert - Banana Tarte Tatan served with rum and raisin ice-cream - was a sweet ending.
Later, in the lounge, we happily sipped our coffees in front of the fire listening to the contented sound of the other guests and feeling we had shared the wonderful secret of Tor-na-Coille.
Little wonder this hotel was awarded four stars by the Scottish Tourist Board. Great expectations … and totally fulfilled.