Start your day in Inverness, a character-packed city bursting with art, music and theatre before heading for the open road. As you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind, you’ll follow the A82 right along the shore of Loch Ness, with great views encouraging you to stop and admire the sheer scale of Britain’s biggest and deepest lake.
Stops: No visit to Loch Ness would be complete without a trip on to the water – perfect for a spot of monster-hunting, or just to take in the picture-perfect views. Stop off at Clansman Harbour, where you can choose either a one-hour cruise by itself, or a 1-hour cruise combined with a 1-hour visit to Urqhart Castle. If you fancy more time at the castle, a set of atmospheric ruins sitting right on the shore of the loch, you can visit here separately after the cruise. Its café also makes a great spot for lunch.
Where to eat: The hotel has a well-regarded brasserie, or a short drive away is the unique Eagle Barge. This converted Dutch barge is now a restaurant floating on the Caladonean Canal. Pre-booking is essential.
Where to stay: The Lovat Loch Ness occupies a beautiful Victorian building in Fort Augustus at the lake’s southern tip and has 28 bedrooms.
From Fort Augustus you continue to follow the A82, past the fabulously-named Loch Lochy. Then it’s on to the equally-scenic A86, and in to the beautiful Cairngorms National Park, situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. In the winter, Aviemore is a great place for skiing, but year-round it’s a great base for exploring all the national park has to offer.
Stops: Close to Aviemore, Loch An Eilein is hidden in a large forest, and was once voted Britain’s best place for a picnic. The freshwater loch is stunning – on a calm day, the sheet of water perfectly reflects the sky above and the mountains behind it, with an easy walk around its shores. In the evening book a session in a wildlife hide run by Speyside Wildlife – you’ll have the chance to see deer, badgers, and the elusive pine marten.
Where to eat: The Winking Owl in Aviemore is owned by The Cairngorm Brewery, so is a great place to try some local beers and food.
Where to stay: A short stroll from Aviemore town centre and its bars, restaurants and shops is Ravenscraig guest house. It has 14 bedrooms, which are offered on a bed and breakfast basis.
From Aviemore you’ll take the A9, which continues to meander its way through the national park, with views of mountains and waterways to admire on the way. You’ll finish the day in Inverness, so make sure to leave time to explore the many attractions it has to offer.
Stops: You’re firmly in whiskey country, so make time to visit the Tomatin Distillery, just off the A9. The brand dates back to 1897 and you can choose from a range of tours, including a variety of tasting experiences. Once back in Inverness, head to Castle Viewpoint – this newly-opened tower of Inverness Castle offers sweeping, panoramic views of the city, the River Ness and the surrounding countryside.
Where to eat: Rocpool is a sleek and modern riverside restaurant with glass-fronted windows that look out to Inverness Castle Its creative, changing menu utilises the best Scottish ingredients, including Isle of Skye crab and Speyside venison. It’s ideal for a special night out.
Where to stay: Kingmills Hotel is located beside the manicured fairways and greens of Inverness Golf Club, the perfect place to pick up a set of clubs and try a round! Alternatively, you can relax with a treatment in the on-site spa.