Viva Varun: Dornoch, Scotland!


Answer to “Where am I?”: Varun is at The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Dornoch, Scotland!

Congrats to everyone who answered correctly, especially Pierre St-Arnault and Yorgos Schwartzmann!

For me “integrity” is one of the most important words in the English language. In a way, we all look for integrity in our decision-making process whether it be choosing a new friend or the brand of a new camera.

For the past few nights I have been staying in a castle in Scotland which was home to the greatest philanthropist this world has ever seen. Unlike the magnates of today who set up foundations where part of their fortunes (usually tax deductible) are placed, industrialist Andrew Carnegie – once the richest man in the world – made it his mission to give away every penny he ever earned. He amassed an amazing US$300 BILLION (in today’s terms) in his lifetime which was all donated to good causes like the building of libraries, music halls (Carnegie Hall in New York is one of the city’s great venues ) and universities. Andrew Carnegie had integrity.

He was a self-made man. Born in Dunfermline in Scotland in 1835, he was moved by his parents to Pennsylvania at the age of five. His first job paid was a paltry US$1.20 a week but by the time he died in 1919 he was vastly richer than Croesus.

In 1897, his wife Louise gave birth to daughter Margaret. He then decided to buy a rundown estate in Dornoch, Scotland which became the family’s summer home. Finished in 1902 after 3 years of work, Skibo Castle was the most comfortable & contemporary dwelling in Great Britain. It boasted an indoor heated swimming pool, 9-hole golf course and of course an enormous stately home that hosted royalty, writers and fellow industrialists.

When Margaret died in 1981, the Castle was sold (with the proceeds going to charity, of course) and converted into a hotel. In 2004 it was acquired by its current owners and it is now – undoubtedly – the finest private members club in the world.

I have actually been staying in Mr Carnegie’s suite in the Castle – virtually untouched due to heritage conservation laws. The 3-roomed suite has many original features; his bed (I have been assured that the mattress has been changed though), wardrobes, a superb bathroom with an unique bidet and enamel bath. The highlight though is a private balcony which offers views over the Dornoch Firth and the estate’s vast gardens.

The Championship golf course sees less than 3000 rounds played on it every year. The last three holes are the most memorable I have ever played. The swimming pool is very special indeed boasting a 25-metre stainless steel pool enclosed by an enormous Victorian conservatory.

Dornoch itself is located in the Highlands of Scotland and is just a few kilometers from famous whisky distilleries, for example Dalmore and Glenmoragie.

The scenery is breathtaking with deep green carpets of dense forest punctuated by glistening lochs.

I am lucky to have visited over five hundred luxury hotels & resorts in the past decade. The Carnegie Club is not a hotel but it offers the greatest service experience in surroundings that are unrivalled anywhere in the world.

For the first time since I have taken charge of my new Leica, I have felt intense pressure to do my subject justice … and bizarrely have been questioning my integrity as a photographer…

-Varun Sharma

Varun Sharma is the host of Inside Luxury Travel – a television show that focuses on high-end travel. The show airs in over 160 countries, in 18 languages and is beamed into 390 million homes worldwide. He has now stayed in over 500 luxury hotels & resorts … and has in the past year flown in a fighter jet, gone diving – without a cage – in Tiger Shark infested-waters, had dinner with a dingo and has cooked with over 50 Michelin-starred chefs! He likes nothing better than playing a round of golf with his pooch Gemima by his side, cigar in mouth and flask of single malt Scottish whisky to hand!