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The Lowdown | Scotland

Scotland’s Greatest Hits––From Lochs and Mountains to Castles and Whiskey Words by Mike MacEacheran

Where United Kingdom

Quick Quote $700 per day (for 2 people including hotels)

Best Season Early Summer and Autumn

Thinking of Whiskey, Landscapes, Castles

Best Portrayed in Braveheart, Harry Potter, Outlander

Scotland has always been great at causing a fuss. From the sublime drama of Edinburgh to the stag-populated glens of the Highlands and the blockbuster razzmatazz of the world-famous Isle of Skye, it's little wonder visitors fall under its spell.

Where to Stay

In Edinburgh: More baronial hunting lodge than city center bolt hole, Prestonfield House is located on acres of parkland with its own croquet lawn, putting green and golf course. Come for the stag antler armchairs and gilded mirrors, stay for the strutting peacocks and Highland cows in the grounds. With ornamental balconies, turrets and a landmark clock tower. The Balmoral is Edinburgh’s most prestigious address. Rooms have bespoke color palettes-––from misty grey to heathery purples––and of the 188 rooms, the west-facing suites have the most romantic views of Edinburgh Castle.

““With its full-figured glens, heathery hills and castle-topped crags, Scotland is a dream destination. From the capital Edinburgh––or ‘Scotia’s darling seat’, as it was called by national bard Robert Burns––to the spectacle of Loch Lomond, Glencoe and the Isle of Skye, a trip is a riot of clan history, charmingly-ragged pubs and Harry Potter movie magic.”

Geared towards a young crowd, the Principal Hotel Charlotte Square is a sprawling five-star townhouse with all the trimmings, and is wedged between the bar-hopping pubs of Rose Street and splashier clubs of George Street. In Glasgow: Situated on a Georgian square, the Blythswood Square Hotel is a landmark property once home to the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. Bedrooms have a suitably aristocratic whiff and the lobby and restaurant are fitted with marble fireplaces, period ceilings and wood paneling. Countryside retreats: Gleneagles, Perthshire is not just Scotland’s leading country house hotel, it’s also a five-star authority on exquisite spa and golf breaks. Expect second-to-none Highland hospitality at Kinloch Lodge, a stunning boutique hotel, plumped on a promontory overlooking the mainland in the Isle of Skye. The first impression of Torridon is of red and brown mountains bookended by a monstrous sea loch. But that’s to overlook the Torridon Hotel, a sensational castle-style hotel, which hides a dedicated whiskey bar, cream tea lounge, haute cuisine restaurant and activity program to keep you busy for days.

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Words by Mike MacEacheran Scotland Editor

Mike MacEacheran is a Scottish freelance writer and guidebook author who regularly contributes to Conde Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, Sunday Times Travel, The Guardian, The Observer, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, The Independent, BBC Travel and The Globe & Mail. He has travelled to 107 countries and lives in Edinburgh.

Where to Eat and Drink

Breathe deep and Scotland smells of an intoxicating blend of sea salt, fudge and whisky. From city kitchens to harbors, the country benefits from an unrivaled larder of hand-dived scallops, langoustines and peat-smoked salmon, as well as wild game such as venison, grouse and pheasant. That’s not all, either: sample world-beating craft beers, fruit-spiced gins and whisky like nowhere else, right from the source. In Edinburgh: come rain or shine, you’ll find locals lapping-up chef-owner Scott Smith’s modern Scottish cuisine at Fhior. Michelin-star chef Tom Kitchen has his fingers in three spots in the capital, including Castle Terrace and The Scran and Scallie, but The Kitchin remains Edinburgh’s champagne moment. Hidden on cobbled William Street in the West End, The Voyage of Buck is a ravishing cocktail bar with antiquated brass lamps, travel souvenirs and glossy timber, and yet the drinks list is as inventive and sophisticated as it comes.

Around the country, there’s no let up in great dining options. In Glasgow, consider The Two Fat Ladies in the City, a box-sized restaurant serving an A to Z of shellfish without fuss or pretension. Farther up the coast into the northwest Highlands are two Michelin-star stunners: the restaurant at the Isle of Eriska Hotel north of Oban and The Albannach Hotel in Lochinver. On the east coast, a culinary road trip takes you to Geoffrey Smeddle’s, The Peat Inn, a restaurant-with-rooms south of St. Andrews. The menu cuts straight to the jib with a greatest hits of Scottish produce, including East Neuk wood pigeon, St. Andrews Bay lobster and Baldinnie quail eggs.

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Exploring in Edinburgh

As if created by a mad god, Scotland’s capital has a surplus of macabre spires, a medieval underbelly of alleys, and a fist of rock crowned by a fairy tale castle. Add a panoramic volcano, trend-setting distilleries, and imaginative Michelin-star dining, and your perfect itinerary is mapped.

Framed by museums, romantic passageways, Georgian turrets and shortbread tin-shaped tenements, the Royal Mile is the centrepiece of Edinburgh’s architectural marvel and one of the world’s most romantic streets. Stride past the kilt-wearers, the Braveheart face-painters and bagpipe-players to the top of Castle Rock, a volcanic plug crowned by Edinburgh Castle. At the foot of this scene sits Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence in Scotland, Holyrood Palace, where a who’s who of historical greats, including Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary, Queen of Scots have plotted against the crown. Beyond its gate is imposing Arthur’s Seat, the city’s 251m-high dormant volcano, sitting atop a wild swathe of lochs, basalt cliffs and pocket-size glens. Such a backdrop inspired author JK Rowling, who used Edinburgh’s backdrop of magician’s hat spires and cloaked hills as a blueprint for the Harry Potter saga. Spot it in the medieval alleys funneling down from the High Street, at George Watson’s College and in spooky Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The Countryside

It doesn’t take long to understand the heart-in-mouth potential of Scotland. As you leave the city behind, the country unfolds like a map of adventures, with hundreds of snow-dusted peaks to summit, secret coves to explore by snorkel or kayak, and cross-country trails knitted together by snaggletoothed castles, gushing waterfalls and salmon-filled rivers. 

This mist-wrapped glens of Glencoe have all the bloody battles, castles and storied legends you’d want from a Hollywood thriller, while the road north takes you past Eilean Donan Castle, an impossibly-built fortress on a tidal island where three sea-lochs meet. Cross the stone bridge from the mainland to read-up on its clan history––you may even have a worthy land rights claim yourself. The next stop on a Highland tour is the Isle of Skye, where the Black Cuillin Ridge meets a series of natural waterfalls inhabited by fairies (at least that’s what the legend claims). Scotland is renowned for whisky and it’s not hard to detour via a distillery––our favorites are north of Inverness while driving the North Coast 500 (a veritable Route 66 for Scots). Two to try for spicy and aromatic single malts are Glemorangie and Old Pulteney.

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