Once as shrouded in mystery as it is in atmospheric mists, the wonders of Scotland are being unveiled thanks in part to, you guessed it, travel and tourism. A thirst for its awe-inspiring landscape and exceptional libations mean that passionate and devoted producers of some of the world’s finest food and drink are now revealing the secrets of their country’s heritage and bringing enlightening experiences to intrepid food and drink explorers. “The Inside Track” below brings you more on this.
From buzzy, cosmopolitan cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh to the Highland heartlands and stunning and peaceful isles such as Islay and Skye, there’s so much to discover here.
Scotland offers so many experiences that will pack your trip with bucket list ticks, so how do we know which to choose?
Our Editor, Kate Rowe speaks to Mark Thomson, Ambassador to Scotland for Glenfiddich Single Malt Whisky about the local gems he’d be sure to seek out were he a visitor to Scotland.
“Other than spending time tasting, and augmenting your whisky knowledge, at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, obviously…”
“…given a free week, visiting Scotland for the first time, or as a traveller who has already fallen for Scottish charms and wants to see more, what would you do and where would you go?”
“My tour would start in Edinburgh, with brunch at The Scran and Scallie, Tom Kitchin’s Bib Gourmand-winning gastro pub, followed by a tour of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Then, I’d take a walk down the Royal Mile and end up at the White Horse Oyster and Seafood Bar for a late lunch.”
“A long one?”
“Yes, so I could then take a stroll up Arthur’s Seat to watch the sunset. I’d kick off the evening with Martinis at The Register Club and dinner at Hawksmoor, and end it with drams at Scotch at The Balmoral before bed at the sumptuous Chaumer Abide.”
“That’s a packed day. Are we staying in the city tomorrow?”
“No, the next day will be a drive to Dunkeld, stopping in at Aran Bakery, the brainchild of Great British Bake Off semi-finalist, Flora Shedden to pick up some fuel before walking The Hermitage. Afterwards, I’d drive to House of Bruar for the best Highland shopping of all kinds – country clothing, gifts, and to explore their food hall. I’d definitely take in a cookery class at the fabulous Ballintaggart Farm, and stay over at the Grandtully Hotel, which is the perfect base camp to hike Schiehallion the next day (a munro, and a fairly easy one). A drive through Glen Coe would take in the natural wonders and enable you to stop off on the banks of Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit, which is not quite on the banks, but has one of the best whisky bars for miles around, Fiddler’s. To really escape the city pace of life, I'd stay at the Glen Affric Youth Hostel – a log cabin in the middle of nowhere.
The next day would see me going over to Skye, where I’d drive round the back of the distillery and up the hill to The Oyster Shed for super-fresh seafood and then up to The Storr where, if the wind is strong enough, you see the waterfall flow backwards!”
“That’s three amazing days, so what would you do with the rest of your time?”
“Driving back down to Glasgow, I’d while away time at its great whisky bars, including The Pot Still, Ȯran Mór, Bon Accord, Ben Nevis and Lismore. In between, I’d eat at Gannet, Brian Maul, Ox and Finch, and Six March (a new fave). Heading further south to Dumfries and Galloway’s coast where my choice, Knockinaam Lodge, would blow away resulting cobwebs.
Other than that, I’d travel around to visit some of my favourite places – The Malt Room in Inverness; The Grouse Inn in Cabrach; The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie; Dowans Hotel in Aberlour; Muchrach Hotel in Granton-On-Spey; Inverlochy Castle Hotel in Fort William; Fonab Castle in Pitlochry; Ardsheil Hotel in Campbelltown; Ballygrant Inn on Islay; The Grill in Aberdeen.
Oh, and not to forget my hometown, Dundee. I’d recommend visiting the V&A before diving deep underground to the proper speakeasy bar, Draffens. No website, no social media, not even a telephone!”
“Doesn’t it just?”Read less
You can arrive in Scotland by air, land, or sea but air is the most convenient for direct access to cities of culture and heritage and self-drive pick-ups. The main points of entry are the cities of Inverness, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, which are approximate gateways to the North, South, East and West of Scotland, respectively. The large border with England means driving from or to other parts of the UK and Europe is a scenic option, especially if driving from northern England.
Although the direct passenger ferry link to Scotland from mainland Europe is limited, the UK road and rail networks provide good access to all regions of Scotland. So if you’re travelling from the continent, going via England is a favourable alternative, preferably sailing to a port in north-east England to minimise subsequent driving or train time. The Port of Newcastle is around two and a half hours from Edinburgh by car, while Hull is roughly four hours from the Scottish border.
Scotland also provides a gateway by ferry between the UK and the numerous Scottish isles, great if you’re looking for an onward connection, for example, getting a ferry to Scotland from Northern Ireland is simple with year-round timetables to cross the Irish Sea; or equally if you’re heading back to explore more of the UK.
Tip: If you’re hoping to return fully-stocked with food, drink and spoils to enjoy once home, consider multi-transport travel options. Flying into Scotland gets you there quickly, but returning on the comfortable sleeper trains from Inverness to London (or high-speed Edinburgh to King’s Cross), and onwards, is preferable to avoid baggage limitations. This has the further benefit of removing the need for a designated driver - so you can fit in that last distillery visit before you leave.
You can use Sterling (GBP) banknotes issued both by the Bank of England and Scottish banknotes, marked by the Bank of Scotland. The Scottish banknotes will always be accepted in Scotland, but in some parts of the UK they are not as easily accepted, so we recommend you use your Scottish banknotes as much as possible while in Scotland, and utilise the Bank of England pounds if you're planning to visit the rest of Britain. All the established stores accept international credit cards and ATMs delivering local currency are easy to find in the main cities and larger rural towns.
Each of the four seasons heralds a new spectrum of colour and activities in Scotland, so it’s a great all-year-round destination. Spring and Autumn see Mother Nature at her best here, and the cooler and wetter months (Nov-Feb) showcase the rugged coastlines and national peaks at their most elemental and life-affirming. The beauty and bounty of Scottish nature and hospitality truly shine in these “twixt” seasons – the colours of spring and autumn illuminate the glorious countryside and mean city hotspots have warmth and ambience without the crush.
Christmas, Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) and Burn’s Night (25th January) are all the better for happening in the chilliest months, so you can retreat into Scottish hospitality with a dram of something amber and warming.
For those keen to explore Scotland’s game menus and country pursuits, remember that these adhere to strict seasons. Full information is here: https://ardaledeer.com/sporting-lets/
Your visit duration should be as long as long as you wish, for there’s plenty to amuse here – destination dining opportunities showcasing local ingredients in their natural habitats, active sports that challenge you to get to grips with the wild landscape, serene walks and more liquid refreshments than you can shake a sporran at. However, well-organised rail routes, roads and flight connections mean that many take the opportunity to explore other bucket list sights across the British Isles in one trip.
Scotland boasts a mix of enchanting landscapes, across fifteen diverse regions, each with a distinct cultural heritage. www.visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/
You’ll find each region and clan celebrated by its own tartan, and the local tweeds and tailoring are unmatched anywhere in the world. Scotland was one the epicentre of the textiles industry, and its quality fabrics are seeing an artisanal renaissance in both traditional dress and high fashion.
It is a land of glorious, sweeping highlands with glistening lochs, is fringed by humbling coastlines, and is inhabited by a rich and varied wildlife. Equally, its cities boast a burgeoning arts and culture scene, which is prominent in Glasgow; and countless castles, the most famous being the iconic hilltop fortress in the capital, Edinburgh. It’s believed there were once over three thousand castles in Scotland.
Scotland is home to many archipelagos and individual islands, of varying size. The picturesque Isle of Skye is perhaps the most well-known (part of the Inner Hebrides just off the west coast), as well as the historically rich northern isles of Orkney and the slightly more far-flung Shetland Islands. Many of these islands, particularly the Western Isles, are home to Scotch whisky distilleries, each with their own unique house style and historical tales.
It’s Speyside that is famed for its density of distilleries though, with tiny Dufftown boasting seven distilleries alone. Alongside expressions true to family heirloom recipes, you’ll find maverick producers combining legacy knowledge with innovation, and this means an exponential growth in gin distilleries and breweries to be discovered too.
The Inside Track: To replicate the first three days of Mark Thomson’s dream trip above, fly into and explore Edinburgh. On the second day, hire a car and drive north to Dunkeld (around 1h 20min). Following your time there, drive 30 minutes north-west to Blair Atholl and The House of Bruar, and back down the scenic A9 (which cuts through the heart of Scotland) to the Pitlochry area for Ballintaggart Farm and Grandtully Hotel. The following day, a drive west of around 30 minutes will bring you to the foot of Schiehallion. From there to Drumnadrochit via the Glencoe Valley will take you along the famous Loch Ness. Your rural bed for the night is an hour west at Glen Affric Youth Hostel, Alltbeithe. Thence, travel the hundred miles west to Mallaig for the ferry to Skye.
Get A Ghillie: Tagging days with a Scottish “fixer” onto Winerist tour days will result in the ultimate food/hunting/fishing/whisky tour of this dramatic land.
Sam Thompson can be secured to act as your personal guide to Scottish field sports. Via his network of conscientious country pursuit experts, you can spend your chosen number of days exploring the Cairngorms, the Spey and country estates indulging your passion for hunting and fishing, and even quad bike and off-road driving.
Winerist Scotland tours here: https://www.winerist.com/search/index/winetours?&q=scotland
Contact Sam Thompson here: https://ardaledeer.com/contact/
The No-Brainer: Many Winerist tours are fully-formed itineraries in their own right, and cover many single or multi-day trips, meaning all the thinking is done for you. One immersive example can be tailored to one, three or six days here:
Bespoke Itinerary: Whatever your preferences, timescale or budget, a unique bespoke tour can be created by the travel experts here at Winerist, for you. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to Catherine or Céline on 020 7096 1006.