Scotland in style: How to sample the Caledonian spirit with a touch of class
Fast cars, classic trains, converted fishing boats and whisky trails...
Friday 09 August 2013
Summer in Scotland: the heather's in bloom across the glens and the grouse are getting nervous. In Edinburgh, meanwhile, festival season is in full swing. The elegant capital shakes off its classic reserve at this time of year and starts to party: the brooding tenements, dramatic castle and Georgian crescents become a giant stage set for a cast of tourists, ticket touts, face-painters, jugglers, actors, authors and comedians.
Even during full-blown festival frenzy, however, Edinburgh has more to offer than raucous beer tents. The historic Signet Library has been turned into a pop-up Pommery Champagne Café Bar, with a tutored champagne tasting in the private Upper Library on 15 August at 5.30pm. Here, you can sample four seasonal vintages before choosing your favourite for another glass, then tuck into a roast lobster dinner. Tickets cost £50 per person and are available at the Fringe Box Office (0131-226 0000; www.edfringe.com).
If gin's more your style – it's certainly in vogue at the moment – Stac Polly (0131 556 2231; stacpolly.com) has just launched a gin bar above its restaurant, stocked with a range of Scottish brands, from Hendrick's to Caorunn: G&T with a chunk of apple. Meanwhile, at Timberyard (0131 221 1222; timberyard.co), an edgy new warehouse restaurant, they make their own tonic, along with other mixers, from herbs in the kitchen-garden and there are also mouthwatering cocktails.
Hip bars and gourmet restaurants are also available. Two have opened over the past year: the eponymous restaurant from Great British Menu's Mark Greenaway (0131 226 1155; markgreenaway.com); and Michelin-starred Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack's latest venture, shabby-chic gastropub Scran & Scallie (0131 332 6281; scranandscallie.com).
Elsewhere, Dundee was once way down on the list of desirable destinations. Now it's the location for a new V&A Museum opening on the revamped waterfront in 2014 (01382 305665; vandaatdundee.com), and boutique hotel chain Malmaison (0871 943 0350; malmaison.com/dundee) is launching a new hotel there this autumn.
John O'Groats has undergone a multimillion-pound regeneration courtesy of Natural Retreats. The final phase is drawing to a close with the renovated The Inn at John O'Groats (0844 384 3166; naturalretreats.com) set to open next week. Built in 1875, this old hotel has been converted into a handful of contemporary self-catering flats, while the striking multicoloured Norse-inspired extension has the "wow" factor. There's a special offer to celebrate the opening: seven nights for the price of five and three nights for the price of two, with rates starting at £90 per night.
If you want to get around in olde-worlde style, board The Royal Scotsman (0845 217 0799; royalscotsman.com). This luxury train takes you through some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery, past soaring mountains, fairy-tale castles, thick forests and craggy stretches of coast. With only 36 guests in luxury en suite cabins and two dining cars, this is travelling in style. A three-day, two-night circular Highland Journey from Edinburgh costs from £2,350 per person full board, including a private tour of the Culloden battlefield, clay-pigeon shooting or fishing on the Rothiemurchus Estate, Cairngorms, and a visit to Strathisla, the oldest distillery in Scotland.
For more information, see Visit Scotland (0845 859 1006; visitscotland.com).
Take the high road
Scotland's highways are a joy to travel. In fact, this is the perfect landscape in which to fulfil a common fantasy: McKinlay Kidd (0844 873 6110; seescotlanddifferently.co.uk) offers breaks in classic, sports and prestige cars. Three two-night road trips in a Ferrari 360 Spider are available, picking up the car in Edinburgh or Inverness and bedding down in a five-star Highland castle at the end of each day.
One of the routes takes you to the far-flung north coast staying in the 15th-century Ackergill Tower, which oozes history, is decked out with antiques and comes complete with Barbours and wellies. From £1,025pp, based on two sharing and including breakfast, dinner and three days' car hire.
Or how about a VW Campervan? Scotland by Camper (0141 569 3265; scotlandbycamper.com) south of Glasgow offers a week's rental from 1 April until 30 September for £575. In low season, you can hire campervans from £85 per day.
There are plenty of places to sip a wee dram, but the route along the Malt Whisky Trail (maltwhiskytrail.com) in Speyside has to be one of the best. At The Glenlivet (01340 821720; theglenlivet.com) you can take an exclusive "Spirit of the Malt" two- to three-hour tour and tasting for £30pp or fill your own bottle from the cask, then cork, cap and label it (£70).
Further north, at Glenmorangie in Ross-shire you can bed down in sumptuous Glenmorangie House (01862 871671; theglenmorangiehouse.com) from £140pp B&B or £185 half board. Alternatively, sign up for its Whisky Tasting Weekends from £450pp for two nights' full board, a tour of the distillery, tuition and ceilidh.
Next month in Edinburgh, a smart new Scotch Whisky Bar opens at The Balmoral (0131 556 2414; the balmoralhotel.com) stocked with more than 400 single malts.
Forget Pringle jumpers and harlequin socks: even golf in Scotland has cranked up the style. Links House (01862 810279; linkshousedornoch.com) a luxurious eight-bedroom hotel in an old manse in Royal Dornoch, opened in May and has doubles from £215 with breakfast. The library is crammed with old sporting books; the drawing room is decked with antiques and oil paintings, and there's an outdoor fireplace where you can relax with a dram.
Five-star Georgian townhouse hotel Nira Caledonia (0131-225 2720; niracaledonia.com), in Edinburgh, has a new three-night Heli-Golf package from £1,699pp with breakfast, chauffeur-driven Bentley, airport transfers and a private Execair helicopter to whisk you to two of the world's greatest championship golf courses. You'll have a reserved tee time at St Andrews and you can test your swing at Gleneagles, which hosts next year's Ryder Cup.
A charmingly converted fishing trawler is an idyllic way to see the wildlife-rich waters of Hebrides and Argyll. The Majestic Line (01369 707951; themajesticline.co.uk) has two vessels with wood-panelled cabins. You can hire the whole boat for a private charter. (Three nights for 11 people costs £9,550 with all meals, wine, snacks and trips ashore.) Or book a three-night scheduled cruise around the Inlets of Mull and Loch Linnhe, which starts at £965pp, on the same basis.
Where to stay
Sumptuous castles, sleek self-catering – it's all about design: bespoke tweed rather than tartan tat. A clutch of exciting new places to stay includes Fonab Castle (01796 470140; fonabcastlehotel.com) in Pitlochry which has doubles from £170 including breakfast. The house, built in 1892 in the Scottish Baronial style for the Sandeman family (port and sherry merchants), sits on Loch Faskally and will have a spa and ultra-modern gym by the end of the year.
For self-catering in the Outer Hebrides, the two-bed Lewis Longhouse (lewislonghouse.com) on the Isle of Lewis is now open. On the east coast, near the beach, it has huge picture windows and sleek contemporary interiors and costs from £950 per week.
The Stonehouses is another stunning new property (01854 613 838; thestonehouses.co.uk). A vision of stone, timber, glass and turf, it is built into the hill above Ullapool, with views of the west coast. It has vaulted ceilings, limestone floors, a wood-burning stove and sauna. Sleeps four; from £900 per week.
While Edinburgh grabs all the attention this month, don't ignore the charms of Scotland's biggest city. First thing's first: check out PeopleMakeGlasgow.com for a guide to what's on and to download a free app for exploring in style –from shops and galleries to the best bars. Then head to the new Meat bar (0141 204 3605; themeatbar.co.uk) where the mood is macho, the meat home smoked and sliders are the latest craze: pulled pork rubbed with ginger, chipotle and mustard.
Next, bed down at designer penthouse pad Grasshoppers (0141-222 2666; grasshoppersglasgow.com) above Central Station, where 30 rooms are decked out with handmade wallpaper and Caledonian oak floors. Doubles from £75, including breakfast.
Or you could try CitizenM (0141-404 9485; citizenm.com) a city-centre hotel with bold colours and touch-screen Mood Pads. Doubles from £68, excluding breakfast.
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