On The Road: Give me cool, refreshing Scotland over St-Tropez

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The Independent Travel

Scooting along the loch on a speedboat complete with white leather upholstered seats, I would have been feeling really smug if it weren't for the fact that my hand had nearly frozen to my glass of champagne. As we raced past the flooded seaplane platform, it occurs to me that this kind of transport is fine in St-Tropez, but in Scotland, in winter, it's perhaps a little inappropriate.

Colin, the Celtic Warrior's hardy skipper, is animated, standing on deck in his shirtsleeves. "We're nearly there – yes, here we are, we've made it to the Highlands!" he cries. Half of Loch Lomond is in the Lowlands and half is in the Highlands, with the snow-dusted peak of Ben Lomond looming over it all. We find the right pontoon as the sun starts to set in a purple sky. A golf buggy is waiting to take us to the Carrick Spa, visible from the loch due to the steam rolling off its rooftop hot tub. One of the best regarded spas in Scotland, it's all shiny tiles, saunas and slinky golfers' wives.

Scotland never used to be like this. My memories of family holidays in the country are full of damp tents, the smell of wet dogs and clouds of midges that filled your lungs when you inhaled. I also recall a particular guidebook mission where I was testing out the public transport systems of the Western Isles in the middle of November, drenched to the bone and starving because every pub shut at 2pm. Not to mention the time I nearly drove off the road in a blizzard on the Isle of Skye. Ten years on, Scotland's still got the wild roads, roaming sheep and wilderness views, but it's got designer tartans and super-luxury hotels, too.

Later, in Glasgow, I'm sipping a cocktail in a New York speakeasy-style bar, the Blind Pig, and wondering if all this international styling is a good thing. Fancy taps and Michelin-starred meals seem a little ersatz compared to the real romance of Scotland. Then I put a hand up to my face. Aah, I think, there is something special about Scotland after all. You can't get this kind of windburn in St-Tropez.

'Footprint Scotland Highlands & Islands' handbook (£14.99) is available now