My dear cousin visited Scotland last September and her raving reviews (and photos) were a strong motivation for me to schedule a trip in August of this year.
And for me it was love at first sight! You see, it’s this beautiful green scenery everywhere, in all its forms. Coming from the dreadful heat of more than 40 degrees in Athens to the freshness of the 17 degrees of Edinburg was indeed regenerating. It is now officially confirmed that I am a winter and not a summer kind of person!
July and August are probably the best months to visit weatherwise, to be able to drive around easily. We were lucky with the weather, it was mostly lovely, we had a little bit of rain at St Andrews and some atmospheric fog and light rain while visiting the Isle of Skye. We never felt cold. I am pretty sure that Autumn and Spring are beautiful seasons too.
August is the month of Fringe Festival in Edinburgh (the world’s largest performance arts festival, a world-leading celebration of arts and culture). Expect crowds during this time and higher accommodation rates. But the vibe is great, and you have a huge selection of events to attend, including the Royal Military Tattoo (which sadly we missed).
We arrived at Edinburgh very early on a Saturday morning. I was rather struck by the state of the airport, which badly needs renovation. Nevertheless, everything was very well organized and obviously secure, including the taxi queue (you state your destination, and a taxi is assigned to you, giving you the fare estimate in advance). Train and bus options are also available to the city center.
We checked in for the first 3 nights at Motel One Edinburgh Royal. The location is TOP and the rooms are of decent size. It is clean and offers a good breakfast option. The staff was friendly, we even met 2 very nice Greeks working at the reception and the bar.
Hop On Hop Off buses are the best way to get acquainted with a city. And we did just that on two occasions. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at gastro pub Scran & Scallie. Between walking around for 10km, the early wake up call to catch the flight and the time difference (2 hours), I collapsed in my bed, watching Skyfall (James Bond) on TV.
For Sunday we had organized a visit to St Andrews. It is approximately a 2-hours ride by bus, which we took from the modern bus station in the city center. Nicolas was waiting for us at the bus stop at St Andrews and was kind enough to show us around. He was until recently a student there and knows the town like the back of his hand. What a beautiful place! Like I’ve already said, if I had a child, I would send him/her to the university of St Andrews to study. Not just for the academics, but also for the culture and the centuries-old traditions. We also saw the The Principal’s House (9, the Scores) and St Salvator’s Hall (where William and Catherine met).
The Old Course at St Andrews is considered by many to be the “home of golf” because the sport was first played at St Andrews in the early 15th century.
The famous for the opening scenes of the film Chariots of Fire, West Sands, is located on the eastern coastline and extends for almost 2 miles of uninterrupted sand backed with dunes.
Our day started with the second itinerary of Hop On Hop Off (Palace of Holyroodhouse, Royal Botanic Garden, The Royal Yacht Britannia) and a quick visit to the Royal Scottish Academy of art and architecture which is under extensive renovation.
Our day was followed for a 2-hours long pre-booked visit of Edinburgh Castle, which of course is a must.
The 18th century, witnessed a reversal in the city’s fortunes as its council leaders and great thinkers of the Enlightenment restyled Edinburgh as ‘the Athens of the North’. As Athens had been a center for ancient learning, New Town Edinburgh now flaunted its credentials as a world leader for academic discipline, reasoning and discovery.
We skipped lunch and managed to do a little bit of shopping. Scotland is famous for tartan, tweed and cashmere sweaters and scarves. We are now fully prepared for cold weather! Whiskey and Gin were also on top of the shopping list, but we left this for later!
In the afternoon we enjoyed Afternoon High Tea at the Palm Court of Balmoral Hotel. Another great place for high tea is at The Colonnades at the Signet Library.
In the evening we enjoyed an outstanding performance by the London Symphony Orchestra at Usher Hall. Rachmaninoff & Shostakovich, what more can one ask for… Our “restricted view” seats turned out to be exactly behind the orchestra, which was really amusing!
After picking up our car rental from Green Motion, we headed to the highlands via a pre-booked visit to Balmoral Castle. On the way there, we stopped at the quaint village of Pitlochry. We had tea and hot chocolate at Hettie’s (a sweet little tearoom) and lunch at the Old Mill Inn.
The scenery on the way to Balmoral Castle is so utterly beautiful… It makes total sense why the Royal Family chooses it as one of their yearly summer holiday destinations. Entering the majestic gates, one has the possibility to visit the beautiful gardens and see the castle from the outside (it is possible to only visit the ballroom on the inside).
Our way to Newhall Mains in Balblair (some 140 km away) included a bit of an adventure due to a closed passage and the existence of a brand-new bridge (not yet included in google maps…). I think we circled around Tomintoul area 3 or 4 times! Oh, well, we finally managed to arrive at the hotel after about 4 hours, around 9:30 in the evening. Thankfully the hotel restaurant was still open for dinner, something not obvious in that part of the world!
After an early (disappointing) breakfast at Newhall Mains, we hit the road once again to the Isle of Skye.
Destination the Iconic The Three Chimneys Restaurant on the shores of Loch Dunvegan, with the dramatic backdrop of the Duirinish Peninsula, recommended to us by Nicolas. Exceptional food & staff. Can’t wait to go back. They also have a few well-appointed rooms, which need to be booked a long time in advance.
What a stunning part of the world the Isle of Skye is! Spectacular in so many ways, peaceful, beautiful…
Neist Point (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha na h-Eist) is a viewpoint on the most westerly point of Skye. Neist Point Lighthouse has been located there since 1909. Driving to and from was a bit of a challenge, but so worth it. And luckily the sun was shining!
The Quiraing has been a filming location of choice for a huge number of films including Stardust (2007), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), 47 Ronin (2013), Macbeth (2015), The BFG (2016), King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017).
The rocky summits of the Cuillin are amongst the toughest mountains in the UK and are pure drama. Scenes of Highlander (1986) were filmed there.
I have to say, rocks don’t come much more cinematic than the Old Man of Storr.
You need at the very least 2 days to go around. We had only one. More next time!
We returned to Inverness via Portree, the largest town on, and capital of, the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides. I was not impressed.
We arrived at our townhouse hotel in picturesque Inverness around 10:00 in the evening. No luck this time, all restaurants were closed. Dinner was just tea, chips, and some cake leftovers we were carrying along. Our hotel was a “Faulty Towers” scenario, if you get my meaning. But the location was excellent, right next to the river, close to the city center, surrounded by trees and pretty gardens. Also, as it turned out, they have a very decent Brasserie, where we had dinner the following night.
We decided to have a (comparatively) more relaxed day. Took a boat trip from Dochgarroch Lock, through the Caledonian Canal, into Loch Ness as far as Urquhart Castle and back, looking for Nessie. Again, such beautiful, peaceful scenery…
Afternoon tea at Culloden House. Aristocratic, but I am sure it has seen better days.
This was followed but a stroll in the town and an early dinner at the Brasserie of our hotel.
Speyside is whisky heaven! By far the largest (by number of distilleries) and arguably the most famous of Scotland’s whisky regions, this breathtaking area sits in a fertile valley of rivers and secluded glens and is home to over half of Scotland’s distilleries.
Speyside is arguably the driest and warmest part of Scotland and the fertile farmlands in and around the region are ideal for growing barley, which when combined with soft local water tumbling down off the mountains, produces some of Scotland’s best-loved malt whiskies.
Follow the world-famous Malt Whisky Trail – the world’s ultimate Scotch whisky experience.
We had saved the “pièce de résistance” for the last day. I by that am referring to our visit to the Distillery of The Macallan at Easter Elchies, Aberlour.
An obsession with quality has been the hallmark of The Macallan since its founding by Alexander Reid on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland. The distillery is surrounded by a 485-acre estate with Easter Elchies House at its heart. Founded In 1824, The Macallan was one of the first distillers in Scotland to be legally licensed. Since then they have built a reputation as one of the world’s leading single malt whiskies. The creation of The Macallan draws on the vital contributing influences of Spain, North America and Scotland – and of their respective natural raw materials, combined with traditional methods and craftsmanship.
Designed by internationally acclaimed architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the Distillery sits at the heart of The Macallan Estate. Just 400m from the previous distillery, it sits alongside its Spiritual Home, Easter Elchies House. The project took three years and six months to complete and £140m was invested.
We had pre-booked The Curated Collection for 14:00. A unique tasting flight of three expressions of The Macallan, expertly selected and featuring a range of new releases, limited editions, and archival products from their exclusive ‘vault’. The selection promises a journey of discovery and intrigue! After our tutored tasting, we were able to stay a while longer soaking up the majestic views of Speyside and of course make purchases from their extensive whisky menu at the shop.
A note: Scotland has a zero-tolerance approach to drink driving. As I was the designated driver, I would just smell the whiskeys but was given the rest in small individual bottles to enjoy them later on.
Part of the Distillery is Elchies Brasserie, led by Head Chef, Pawel Sowa, who joined The Macallan Estate team in May 2021. Reservations are required for dining and can be made online well in advance. Unfortunately, there was no availability for the day of our visit.
On our way to The Macallan we first stopped for tea & scones at the sweetest coffee place that is part of the Ballindalloch Distillery. In the parking lot we met by coincidence the owner, a figure straight out of Downton Abbey, who informed us she was born in Ballindalloch Castle near-by, where her relations have lived since 1546! Fascinating!
We also had a yummy lunch at the cozy “The Mash Tun”, a whiskey Bar in Aberlour. They clearly have a real passion for great food, Scottish malt whisky and cigars!
We returned to Edinburgh in the afternoon, got a last glimpse and departed for Athens early the next morning, wanting for more.
PS. Do watch “Men in Kilts: A Road-trip with Sam and Graham”