One hears about the exceptional beauty of Scottish highlands time and again. Scotland was always there somewhere on my travel cerebrum. But it often happens that your mind slips out the most obvious things.
…and then me and my husband (absolute junkies of Netflix and chill kind of fun), started watching a television drama series “Outlander”. Claire, the protagonist in the series, made us deeply profound of Scotland through her intriguing travel tryst back in time. The righteous, passionate and courageous story of Claire and Jamie recreated the Scottish history, the war tales, the culture and the spectacular landscapes in our living room. Also the Scottish accent, red hair and love for a wee dram ; )
We were gripped to their story so intensely that we decided to discover it through our own eyes in the summer of 2016.
Dearies (as the Scottish say it), we weren’t wronged a wee bit! Scottish highlands guise unreally enticing nature scenes. You feel, either you are in a 3D fairy tale book or you must be high!
For the next 10 days, we were high on Highlands experiencing it’s…..
…Never ending green dunes
…Grasslands polka dotted with cattle folk (and more cattle folk than humans)
…Breath of barley brew in the air
…Typical country side food, like mom’s cooking every meal
…War lands filled with sorrow and pride
…Land of castles officially
…Lake stories coming out of a magic hat and
…Weather with a split personality (forecast ditching you by the hour)
Why Aviemore is the perfect place to stay in Scottish highlands?
As I started planning my trip to Scotland, for a fair amount of time I remember being clueless on where to go and where to stay… because everywhere in highlands seemed beautiful and unmissable. This time we were visiting Scotland for around 8-10 days and I was already certain that this would be one of our many visits to Scotland.
We wanted to spend a relaxing time soaking in the beauty rather than chasing destinations. So we decided to visit a realistic length and breadth of highlands, spanning between central lowlands to the mouth of Northern highlands. We chose the town of Aviemore as our base to stay, offering great panoramic views of the Cairngorms mountain range. Not just that, there’s lots more to do around Aviemore.
- If you are driving from Glasgow or Edinburgh, then you will pierce through the scenes of highlands up to Aviemore (and trust me it’s just the beginning of the beauty trail).
- It is a sprawling green town in the thick of Scottish Highlands, in the Cairngorms National Park range.
- For all the Scotch lovers, Aviemore is located just a few miles from Scotland’s famous Malt Whiskey Trail in Speyside region. Who is in Scotland and not up for this?
- Aviemore is just a 30-40 mins drive from the picturesque city of Inverness and the Culloden battlefield.
- From here, you can also visit several other places in proximity like the placid lakes, mountain trails, ski runs and ancient forest inhabiting several wildcats and bird species.
The Mountain Grange – a perfect Airbnb to stay in Aviemore
We are frequent Airbnb-ers and in most cases our travel planning starts with finding that unique bnb setting somewhere in the concealed areas of a country. Desirably if this setting also has some quaint places to visit and local places to try food at, then it pretty much sounds like a plan for us.
Well this time we found our unique airbnb in Aviemore, called the Mountain Grange, which remains one of my favorite airbnb experiences till date. A true Scottish home dating back to the 18th century, with recent modern refurbishments completed by Graham & Olga, for their global guests!
The Mountain Grange is a self-catering property in the Scottish Highlands, set in the very heart of the Cairngorm Mountain Range. You can comfortably stay here with a family or group of about 12 people, consuming the 4 bedrooms, kids rooms, hot tub, sauna, kitchen and large dine with latest cooking equipment, garden room, outdoor fire place, games room and a gigantic green pasture just for yourselves.
Plainly, this is the ideal places to indulge in outdoor activities, breathing the fresh Scottish Highland air. You will instantly begin to unwind, if you are looking for some adventure and peace with your family, at your pace.
Here’s my top 5 things to do in Highlands
The idea was to rejoice at our pace, soak in the remoteness and relax rightly. Go for run waving at the cows, cook the fresh produce from the highlands and sip some scotch near the fireplace.
And guess what? We were luckier than that. We did not get any rains for 5 days in Scotland…. Doesn’t happen to most people! So with the sun shining bright on us, we even added an afternoon sauna on the grass fields to our hygge style vacation in Scotland.
Having said that, we did hop to some places but clearly without a to-do list and hassle of schedules. Therefore, I caution you to look at my list only if you too like to follow your heart on travels, rather than a to-do list:
1.Pay homage to the glorious Scottish history in the Culloden Battlefield
As I am an ardent fan of the television series Outlander, I was most inquisitive to visit the Culloden Battlefield. This is the mass of land that brought upon itself the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, concluding in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat to regain the British throne. I wanted to step forth on this piece of history to embrace the emotions that professed in my heart while watching Outlander. I wanted to touch the Scottish clan stones sited in the soil that soaked their blood and feel the heroic pride with which they fought for their being. Especially, I was compelled to visit the clan Fraser, for my complete admiration for Jamie’s character in Outlander.
The Culloden Battlefield is only a 35 mins drive from the Mountain Grange or Aviemore. The battlefield is open for a visit on all days daily, however the visitor center timings might vary – opening from 9 or 10 am and closing from 4 to 7 pm (depending on the time of the year). You may check the detailed schedule, ticket pricing and other visitor’s info.
2. Taste the “Water of Life” at the Glenlivet
I am making a convenient assumption, which I am sure is correct in most cases – You are in highlands to sip in the Scotches….. After all Scotch is Scottish!
Certainly, you will have many distilleries on your list to visit, I do recommend not to miss a tour to the Glenlivet distillery in Moray. In Scottish “Glen” means a deep valley in the Highlands. True to the meaning of its name, Glenlivet is the oldest distillery in the parish of Glenlivet, producing excellent single malt Scotch whisky. Some travelers argue that visiting Glenlivet is a fairly commercial tour setting. I would still pursue you to visit this distillery because:
- They not just preserve but also demonstrate the culture and craft of Scotch making with great precision. Several distilleries in the region offer tastings, however not many of them have a well-organized/ guided tour and tasting experience like Glenlivet offers. Therefore, you may choose to visit and taste as many “waters of life” as you like, but my recommendation is to also visit Glenlivet to understand the procedure and nitty-gritties of Scotch making, even Scoth drinking!
- They run a tour every 30 mins from 10am to 4.30 pm each day, starting with an introduction to the Barley grain, taking you through the distilling sites, store houses and the tasting room. You don’t need to pre-book this tour, just show up few mins in advance and sign-up.
- You can’t click pictures through this tour, but the experience turns out to be very interactive with the guide answering all your questions. Also you get to cling a drink with your tour mates in the tasting room that preserves the Scotch collections and several stories from the Glenlivet royal history.
You can explore more tour options at the Glenlivet distillery.
3. Visit the circumference of beauty at Chanonry point
Well, let me be honest… I was going to skip this one for a lazy afternoon at the Mountain Grange, thinking that I have been to several Dolphin watching points…. How much better can this one be? But thank god something twisted in my brain last minute and I changed my mind. Quote me, this spun out to be one of the most breathtaking coasts that I have been to – in Highlands and otherwise!
It may be a lesser known fact that Chanonry point is not just another Dolphin watching point, but it is an infinitely large and unbelievably stunning 360 degree landscape. …and ofcourse you can spot Dolphins if you are lucky. You will just fall short to click this landscape in your camera or consume it in your eyes. I could just feel it and spent hours rejoicing the visual massage I was unknowingly going to skip. Let me not say more, so that you feel the surprise that I did!
4. Spend a charming evening in Inverness
I have always loved the name of this city. Sounds more like an adjective to describe your feelings and less of a city name to me. You may know it is the largest city and the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. At the center of the Old Town, stand tall the 19th-century Cathedral and the 18th-century Old High Church, rewarding the city with a unique vintage charm. Supplementary to this, if you also happen to have a gloomy sky the day you are visiting, you are sure to feel like you are walking back in time. This city absolutely zoned me out into reflective and exultant moods. One of my most dreamy evenings in the Highlands was spent here, walking through the elevated bridges, almost like hoping chapters of life. Don’t miss to have a quaint dinner here one of the evenings!
Also, if you are visiting Inverness for drinks or dinner, you can drive in a bit early and go further to Loch Ness (about 13 miles from Inverness). You may have heard about the story of Monster Nessie emerging out of this lake. Well, you can visit to believe your own truth to this Scottish folkfare.
5. Discover the handsome Highlands with no plan!
Holding true to our vow of “NO TO-DOs”, we often took drives in the Highlands following our hearts. On one of our days in Highlands, when we felt well rested, we decided to head out towards Loch Lomond, however with no rigid target or route guidance. We kept on going with almost no map checking, just being sure that we are headed in the right direction. Highlands are handsome, and the idea was just to follow beauty, wherever it took us.
We just kept on taking any turns and routes that enticed us with their beauty. At the end I really don’t know where all we eventually went, apart from the fact that it was a stunning drive. Well I do know vaguely that we passed from near Newtonmore, Pitlochry and Aberfeldy, where we stopped for lunch at Ben Lawers Hotel (I can promise drool worthy homemade lasagna). Bottom line? I highly recommend you to do an exploration of your own, in the Highlands.
As I end my Scottish tales, I just want to say – There are beautiful places and then there are places that are so beautiful that your eyes cannot consume their beauty.
Scottish Highlands hem in such untouched beauty– high on eye!!