The Question: We want romance, adventure and whisky in the Scottish Highlands in winter. Any suggestions?
Frosty landscapes. Azure skies. The wild landscape of this region in winter can be spectacular, says Donald Reid, co-author of The Rough Guide to the Scottish Highlands & Islands ( roughguides.com). But it can also be cold, damp and dark.
“Having said all that, the weather is the perfect excuse to retreat indoors to a blazing fire and a warming dram of whisky.”
The moody scenery and lack of crowds of the off-season also bode well for romance. Plus it’s cheaper, allowing you to splurge on inviting inns or fine dining.
But before you bar the door, Reid suggests heading to Aviemore, located about three hours from Edinburgh, where you can check “adventure” off your list. Here you can explore the mountains and moorlands of Cairngorms National Park ( cairngorms.co.uk). Go hill walking, spot swans in the wetlands or rent a bike at Rothiemurchus Estate ( rothiemurchus.net) to cycle through the ancient pine and birch forests. (Scotland’s winter weather tends toward the frosty or damp, so snowfall does not get in the way of enthusiastic riders.)
Cairngorms is also conveniently not far from Speyside, the country’s main whisky region. “Distillery tours range from basic introductions to in-depth, behind-the-scenes connoisseur affairs. Try Glenfiddich or Glen Grant for the former, the Balvenie or the Macallan for the latter,” says Reid, who also edits The Larder, a guide to Scotland’s food and drink.
As for accommodation in Speyside, the grand Craigellachie Hotel ( craigellachie.com) or the traditional Archiestown Hotel ( archiestownhotel.co.uk) stand out, says Reid, as well as the foodie haven The Cross ( thecross.co.uk) in Cairngorms.
Or consider starting your adventure in Edinburgh, a good all-season base.
“It’s a beautiful city, with a fabulous castle all its own… [and]the city has fine restaurants and good pubs and great hotels,” says Jeniva Berger, a senior travel consultant and Scottish expert with Vision 2000 Travel Group in Toronto. “Edinburgh also has the Whisky Heritage Centre.”
Ramp up the romance at the four-star The George ( thegeorgehoteledinburgh.co.uk) or luxury boutique The Scotsman Hotel ( thescotsmanhotel.co.uk), both near the Royal Mile, and then sample the countryside through tours.
For instance, one day trip that runs in the winter includes St. Andrews (where Kate and William met) and the fishing villages in Fife. Then venture into the north country with a three-day Highlands tour that includes the Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Ness. A bagpiper playing on the water’s edge, the ruins of Urquhart Castle, Nessie in the distance: sounds romantic to me.
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Karan Smith is a former editor of Globe Travel. Special to The Globe and Mail