We arrived into Edinburgh where we made our way to The Balmoral, a beautiful Rocco Forte hotel in a wonderful location. We only spent one quick evening here but made the most of it. We did a dinner tasting in two new restaurants, ending up in the famous cocktail bar, Bramble Bar and Lounge. After a few fun drinks and some good music, we returned to The Balmoral for a good night’s sleep.
An early start and we were met by our terrific guide, Tim, into whose van we loaded our gear and made our way towards Braemar. On the way we stopped in Dundee for lunch and a visit to the new V&A museum, the first outside of London and Scotland’s first design museum. Inside, we walked through an interesting exhibition on ships through history; outside, we were thrilled to see the RSS Discovery at the pier, Scott and Shackleton’s wooden, three-masted ship that carried them on their first successful trip to Antarctica. This was only a quick stop as the main objective of this trip was to visit the highlands and the new Fife Arms Hotel which had recently opened and which I had been very excited to experience.
Braemar is a small 300-person town in the highlands and it does not disappoint. The Fife Arms, located in the middle of the village, is the newest and one of the most stylish properties to open in Scotland. It is unique. With an art collection worth over 200 million dollars, the owners refurbished an old Victorian coaching Inn and have created something special. The art, scattered over the many common areas as well as in the bedrooms, is a mixture of contemporary and classic, paintings, furniture and objects. In the drawing room a Picasso hangs on the wall under a ceiling playfully painted in coordinated color, adding a funny balance that just works. The attention to detail in the tweeds and tartans that cover walls and floors is stunning.
After checking in we settled into our rooms before heading downstairs to have a cocktail in the cozy Elsa’s Room. Then we made our way into the Clunie Room, their gourmet restaurant where we had a delicious meal. We retired for the evening, looking forward to continuing the adventure the next day.
This morning we had a typical Scottish breakfast before heading out on a beautiful hike through thick forests cut by waterfalls. Our exercise was rewarded by a distillery visit, perhaps a little too much tasting but a good bit of knowledge about the making of scotch. We all met up later at the Flying Stag, a pub located in the Fife Arms that has been a fixture forever in the town’s life.
Because the Flying Stag has always been the local pub for the people of Braemar, the owners kept the pub open to all, serving not only drinks but simple hearty fare at very decent prices. The fun is that, in this easy way, foreign guests can share a pint and a shepherd’s pie with locals who are only too happy to regale them with stories of the highlands. After a delicious dinner and a couple games of darts, we retired again for the evening to get ready to leave for our next stop.
Today we set out for Cairgorms where we would be staying at Killiehuntly Farmhouse. On the way we stopped at the Royal Lochnagar Distillary which was stunning. Run by two men and kept as traditional as possible, it was a great contrast to the one we had visited earlier in the trip. We then made our way to lunch which turned out to be one of the best experiences I have ever had.
We drove to the house of acclaimed chef, Ghillie Basan, who regaled us with her story while preparing the most delicious lunch. Known as one of the best British chefs, Ghillie moved to Scotland where she continued her love for cooking by entertaining guests and writing additional cooking books. Do look her up and buy one of her books. The food is incredible! We left Ghillie and continued driving to Killiehuntly Farmhouse where we spent the last two nights. The Farmhouse is a beautiful part of the Killiehuntly collection and has 4 bedrooms and a beautiful open kitchen and living room where guests can relax sit in front of the fire.
Today we explored the UK’s largest National Park by 4×4 with the wonderful Killiehuntly team. We spent the day traveling through different elevations which, of course, changes the landscape immensely.
We hiked by waterfalls while also looking for different wildlife along the way. Later we shot some clay pigeons in classic Scottish hunting garb before heading back to the Farmhouse to change for dinner. Tim took us and some of his friends to a local restaurant where we spent the evening laughing and listening to locals playing an assortment of instruments. A lovely way to spend our last night.
Today we woke up early and drove back to Edinburgh to fly home. I am looking forward to returning to the western shores of Scotland to do some more exploring.