15 January 2016
Scotland is this strange land where nature blends with the weather whims to create ghostly landscapes.
It is also this small territory where we go in less than an hour’s from secret beaches to peeled mountains, small fishing ports to steel blue lochs.
A common thread? Some nice whiskey tastings, spectacular greens and charming “very Scottish” addresses.
Tartan atmosphere by the fire.
At the North of Edinburgh, take the coastal road of the Kingdom of Fife, between Kircaldy and St Andrews. The Kingdom of Fife? A spit of land with a distinct atmosphere from the rest of the country, dotted with fishing villages and well known “capital” to students: St Andrews. First stop at Elie, a small unspoilt village with its streets lined with typical and flowered houses. Hardly troubled by the gusts of wind and cricket games on Sunday, on the shore. Continue forward Anstruther, taking the time to stop in St. Monans – sublime parish church – Pittenweem – known for its cave that served as a chapel … It is protected and locked but ask the key at the chocolaterie, at 9th High Street – and Crail, photogenic little village with its cottages and red tiles. Everywhere we buy crab and lobster in kiosks, we get into long walks along the beaches. In Anstruther, mandatory stop at the Fish bar on the harbor, famous throughout Scotland for his “best fish & chips in Great Britain”.
Continue forward St. Andrews, the oldest university town in Scotland. Here we take the time to stroll through the streets, wander amid the medieval ruins but mostly fans from around the world are about to make an old dream come true: finally tread the Old Course, the most famous golf course in the world. Overlooking the sea, on the west end of the city. Affording a course here is a privilege! The key? Book from Wednesday 1st of September of the year preceding the date chosen for the game. No reservations available for Saturdays or the month of September.
From St. Andrews, go for Dundee towards the coastal road … this time with a stop in Arbroath, for its sublime beach at the end of which stand towering red cliffs, and for its famous smockies, a smoked fish specialty, famous again throughout the country. From Dundee, go for Dunnotar Castle – a medieval castle set on a rocky outcrop – then Aberdeen for an overnight in Speyside.
From Scottish origin, great lover of whiskey, Donald J. Trump has built two mansions in Scotland, the MacLeod House & Lodge, in Aberdeenshire. Ideal starting point to travel the Speyside, THE whiskey region. The ancestral lands of the billionaire worth visiting for the wink, but mostly for its golf course, objectively sublime, on the beach shore and that became a must-see of the Scottish championships. The arrival at the hotel is impressive with this stone Manoir, which stands in the middle of a structured huge park. This is the Scotland of aristocracy!
The +: the 16 rooms that give the area the atmosphere of a large family home – a bit surreal, certainly, with crystal chandeliers and thick beds quintuple – but away from the humdrum of a hotel. At night, we get cozy by the fireplace sipping a single malt.
This northern region is to Scotland what’s Bordeaux is to France: the “Golden Rectangle”, of whiskey here. With nearly 60 distilleries in less than 60 km2, here is what to perfect your culture and variety. Because according to the type of houses and selected casks, the “eau-de-vie de château” has different characteristics and this is what makes the exercise fascinating. A tip though: the country has undertaken a policy of struggle against severe alcoholism therefore not to take risks on the road, two visits may be enough. Start in the morning with a prestigious house like The Balvenie, located in Dufftown, then finish after lunch by a more confidential distillery, as Benromach, at the north end and less than ten minutes of your next hotel night.
The Balvenie – same house than Glenfiddich but with a production of single malts reduced by half – is interesting for several reasons: it is one of the 10 distilleries producing malt using traditional methods and it is especially the only one to have its own cooperage. With 7 full-time coopers, 16 barrels are coming out every day, with two typical characteristics: US drums (wood that comes from Kentucky), whiskeys that give a golden color and vanilla aromas; Spanish drums, causing more mahogany tones and fruity notes. A famous cellar master throughout Scotland, with 57 years of housing: David Steward. The bottle to bring back? 21 years old PortWood Finish.
Benromach … we must go back on the north coast to find the smallest Speyside distillery. After the village of Forres, whose sublime stone houses are among the best preserved of Scotland. Closed for 15 years, this house repurchased in 1993 has been producing a fine collection of single malts, cold unfiltered and without caramel. The classic: the 10 years-old, herbaceous and fruity. The bottle to bring back? The Peat Smoke which, as its name suggests, offers a version of peat (perfect as a liqueur).
The Boath House is the epitome of the beautiful Edwardian houses charm and their gardens in the Anglo-Saxon style. This one, built by one of the greatest English architects two centuries ago, works as a beautiful guest house, with different rooms, with mottled furniture and exquisite taste. A little bit like at home, the aperitif is taken in the first lounge at 7 pm, at 7:30pm, a single menu is served in the small rotunda dining room and we end the evening in the cozy and felted library lounge while chatting with diner fellows. It is no coincidence that this address is now one of the jewels of the small Scottish label Connoisseurs of Scotland, the starred table is one of the best in the country. All products come from nearby farms and orchards. Please do not snub breakfast, the muesli with fruit garden is an anthology! Precisely, the garden: it is the pride of the owner Wendy Matheson who made his name around these species. Plan an hour to walk around and reach the wee loch that decorates the park. In autumn, the mirror effect with the red swatch is a beauty.
Just only to cross the Caigorn National Park and all the Trossachs region, joining the Loch Lomond from Inverness, is to provide a final moment among the most beautiful natural beauties. If you want to make the journey in two parts, you can spend the night in the picturesque town of Pitlochry offering the opportunity to visit the one that was long the country’s smallest distillery, Edradour. A set of white and red cottages quaint, crossed by a small river … 14 people in all, two small stills and all further steps manually performed. It is far from wholesale market production!
To reach Loch Lomond, choose the scenic touristic route including Loch Tay, the scenery is sublime and the ghostly atmosphere during fog days alternates natural pictural landscapes that reflect during good weather in the calm waters. Stop at Killin to walk to Dochart Falls and then continue along the Loch Lubhain, with its forests that plunge again in the peaceful lakes.
In Ardlui, we approach the shores of Loch Lomond. The largest lake, and above all, the most famous after Loch Ness. About thirty kilometers from Glasgow, it has become the weekend destination of choice for residents of the second city of Scotland. From north to south of Loch, landscapes differ drastically, hence the idea to travel around at your own pace. The southernmost part, lined with meadows and forests is composed of 60 islands – mostly private – while the northern part becomes narrower, until it forms a groove formed during the Quaternary glaciations and framed by mountains of nearly 1,000 meters.
It is with no exaggeration the triptych offered by one of the finest hotels in the whole country. A 18th century stately, where you’re welcomed in traditional kilt before being driven to your room overlooking Loch Lomond. You could almost spend the whole day here, between the 18 holes golf course that is part of the championships circuit, a seaplane output (which is parked under your windows) to fly over the whole Loch Lomond area, an X-hectare park, Marina and its Fish Bar, The Carrick Spa, an unusual specimen of the genre, with 17 treatment rooms, a XXL jacuzzi …on the roof and spa care dedicated to golfers.
The +: starting the evening at the steak house (exceptional pieces), and finishing the evening at the whiskeys bar. An impressive collection of references and lockers with names for those who leave a bottle to sleep for each of their venues …