One hour from: Aberdeen

Leave behind the northern lights of Aberdeen and instead head for Scotland's castle country.
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The Independent Travel

Stonehaven

A delightfully old-fashioned seaside resort with a small working harbour and a great beach, Stonehaven is famous for its Hogmanay Fireballs Festival, which involves more than 60 "swingers" running down the high street at midnight, swinging flaming tar balls around their heads. Two miles south of town are the dramatic ruins of Dunnottar Castle, used as the backdrop for Zeffirelli's Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.

By car: take the A90 south to Stonehaven. By train: from Aberdeen station. By bus: from Aberdeen bus station.

The Sands of Forvie and Cruden Bay

The Forvie National Nature Reserve, one of the UK's largest dune systems, is a vast expanse of undulating yellow sand, perfect for playing Lawrence of Arabia. It also has an awesome array of birdlife. Further north at Cruden Bay is the ruined Slains Castle, which inspired Bram Stoker to pen Dracula.

By car: take the A92 north, then the A975 for Newburgh and Cruden Bay. By bus: there is an hourly service from Aberdeen bus station.

Fyvie Castle

Fyvie is the grandest of the 11 baronial properties on the Castle Trail. Five fabulous towers make it pure Disney, and it comes complete with Scotland's finest wheel-stair and a resident ghost.

By car: take the A947 to Fyvie village and follow signs. By bus: from Aberdeen bus station to Fyvie village, then taxi.

The Lost Gallery, Strathdon

Contemporary Scottish paintings, sculpture and photography are on display in this 19th-century former farmhouse, set in the beautiful Glen Nochty.

By car: take the A944 to Alford and Mossat, then the A97 to Bellabeg, looking out for the sign.

Balmoral Castle and Royal Deeside

Drive along the banks of the River Dee to the picturesque villages of Banchory, Kincardine O'Neil and Aboyne. Balmoral, the Royal Family's summer retreat since 1852, is open to the public daily from mid-April to the end of July. Nearby Ballater is good for tea shops.

By car: take the A93 to Milltimber and follow signs for the B9077 and the South Deeside Road. By bus: two-hourly service from Aberdeen bus station.

Glenshee and Lecht Ski Centres

Tomintoul is the highest village in the Highlands at 1,600ft, and the nearby ski centre at Lecht is usually one of the first places to see snow. There are runs to suit all levels of experience, and the winter season has been extended thanks to the dry-slope and snow-making facilities. Glenshee is the major attraction, stretching over four mountains and three valleys with 38 runs.

By car: take the A93, then the A939 and follow signs for Tomintoul.

Easyjet (0870 600 0000; www.easyjet.com) offers flights from £15.40 one way in April. Aberdeen is on the East Coast line from King's Cross (08457 484950). Simpson's Hotel, 59 Queen's Road, Aberdeen (01224 327777; www.simpsonshotel.co.uk) offers bed and breakfast from £70 per room per night. Hertz (0870 848 4848; www.hertz. co.uk) offers weekend car hire from £69.

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