Soak up the whisky on one of the four food trails that run through the Cairngorms National Park. You could have coffee in the café of Balmoral Castle, the royal family’s Scottish retreat; feast on a renowned smoky seafood platter as you gaze down on a loch from over 2,000 feet; or take your pick from a world-renowned selection of whisky in the highest village in the Highlands.
Nosing along the Malt Whisky Trail
If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of whisky distilling, you’ll be well-versed in them by the time you finish the Malt Whisky Trail through Scotland’s beautiful Speyside – home to more than half of the country’s malt whisky distilleries. It includes no fewer than seven working distilleries, a historic distillery so you can get a taste of how things used to be done, and the Speyside Cooperage, where many of Scotland’s whisky casks are made. The three-day trail encapsulates the story of whisky, with the chance to meet the distillers who consider themselves the guardian craftsmen of this much-loved beverage.
Days 1-2: Scotch Malt Whisky Trail
Spend a happy few days on Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail through Speyside, home to the world’s largest concentration of malt whisky distilleries. The landscape here is stunning, ranging from white-sand beaches to pine forests to mountains, and the trail links several distilleries scattered through it, including The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and Strathisla, the oldest continually operating distillery in the Highlands. Don’t miss the Speyside Cooperage, the UK’s only working traditional barrel-makers.
As you chug along on the Strathspey steam railway, you can fill up on the best of Scottish produce, from tea by the Cairngorm Leaf and Bean Company to bread from an artisan baker in Inverness. Don’t let the delicate sandwiches, miniature cakes and fresh scones with jam and clotted cream distract you from the views too much though; the train journeys through the heart of the glorious Highlands.
On a break from the whisky distilleries, tour a brewery instead. The award-winning Cairngorm Brewery, in Aviemore, has a fascinating range of beers made from traditional recipes, some with an added twist. Book a tour and tasting of the brewery, where around 6,500 litres of ale are produced each day. Don’t forget to stock up on your favourite beer from the brewery shop before you leave.
Days 3-4: Scotland’s West Coast
Allow at least a couple of hours for the meandering the jaw-droppingly scenic drive from the Cairngorms to the west coast of Scotland. Here, you can pick up the Seafood Trail, which takes in the best seafood and shellfish available along this spectacular stretch of coastline. You’ll dine on the freshest seafood imaginable as you explore 8 highly rated seafood restaurants and inns with waterfront locations. Amazing views come as standard too.
Sandwiched between a loch and a mountain on the remote Isle of Skye, historic destination hotel and restaurant Kinloch Lodge takes food very seriously indeed. It runs a Michelin-starred restaurant, and they’re just as impressive when it comes to dishing out the foodie know-how. Choose from a range of bespoke cookery classes, including butchery and filleting, sauces and mousses, and entertaining specials, or work alongside the head chef on a half-day workshop.
Charter Argyll Sea Tours to take you out on a fishing trip through the beautiful lochs and islets around Oban on Scotland’s west coast. In winter, when the tours tend to take shelter from the open sea in Loch Etive instead, you could catch conger eel, cod, whiting or thornback ray. In summer, add 3-hour-long mackerel and pollock fishing trips to your options. Serious fishers with bags of patience could angle for enormous skate.
If there’s one place to eat that you shouldn’t miss it’s the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, one of Scotland’s gastronomic icons. As the name suggests, you’ll find it on the edge of a loch, set against a backdrop of mountains. The daily-changing menu uses seafood fresh from the loch, which can be smoked in the in-house smokery, and the best local Argyll produce available; provenance and sustainability are key here.
Day 5: Edinburgh
From the west coast, drive east around the northern edge of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital is known for its world-class festivals, Old and New Town cityscapes, together a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its lively foodie scene. Don’t miss afternoon tea aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen’s former yacht. It’s served in the Royal Deck Tea Room, where the royal family used to play deck games.
Apparently, the secrets of the small-batch Edinburgh Gin Distillery’s success lie in its two stills, Flora and Caledonia. You can get to know them on one of the distillery tours. Go for the Gin Connoisseur Tour for a tutored tasting, or get hands-on with the Gin Making Experience and make and bottle your own custom gin with a personalised label. Finish up in the Head & Tales bar, where you can sample other gins.
You’ll find innovative dining in The Kitchin, a restaurant in a converted whisky bonded warehouse in Leith, Edinburgh’s old dock area. Chef Tom Kitchin – Scotland’s youngest Michelin-starred chef – has a highly seasonal nature-to-plate philosophy, and all butchering and filleting is done in-house. For a more laid-back dinner, try The Scran & Scallie, a gastropub by Kitchin and the chef behind the award-winning Castle Terrace Restaurant.
For a delicious way to see Edinburgh, join a foodie walking tour. Eat Walk Edinburgh blends Edinburgh’s Old and New Town highlights with a carefully chosen selection of restaurants, shops and bars. You’ll sample food and drink and meet local foodies who love their city and their food. The guides’ recommendations on where to eat in Edinburgh are worth their weight in Aberdeen Angus steak too.