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The Highland High Life

Steeped in history, blanketed in breath-taking scenery and bidding for a place in the world luxury travel scene, the Scottish Highlands deliver on every level for a truly decadent yet rustic break.

In a year where Scotland fought for independence, but in the end the overriding vote remained true to Great Britain, this land has been thrust into the international spotlight and what has emerged is a country that has stayed true to its roots. Here you will find people who embrace the weather, castles at every turn and more single malts than is possible to try in five days. Yet, in true Scottish style you will definitely attempt it.

Inverness

Starting my break in the Highland capital of Inverness, I found the city to be raw yet beautifully calm. Opting to stay in a quaint Bed and Breakfast where the Inverness born-and-bred owner had transformed a charming town house into a traditional highlands cottage.

Think tweed, tartan and images of highland cattle worked into the soft furnishings. Thoroughly and quintessentially Scottish. A moments’ walk takes you to the River Ness that runs fast and hard through the centre of the city and nestled high on the banks and illuminated under the night’s sky is Inverness Castle. Historically, the clans of the Highlands are famed for their warlike qualities, and therefore during your trip, castles emerge from misty lochs, high in the hill tops or guarding cities.

The foodie scene here is hearty yet experimental and standing out is Rocpool on the banks of the River. The city offers a more traditional fine dine scene, quite different to the rest of the highlands. Rocpool offers an intimate and romantic setting serving dishes such as freshly caught mussels served with Thai red curry and coconut cream and for the main event, succulent Venison served with black pudding and Palma ham. Washed down with red wine and a wee dram of whisky should you wish.

Travelling west

Moving out of the city, the landscape changes from urban jungle to tranquil, mist-covered deep, dark lochs. First up, en route to the Isle of Skye on the west coast is the infamous Loch Ness. The drive winds along its eerie shores on one side and high tree-clad escarpments rise up on the other.

Tall dark green fern trees jut up into the sky whereas Loch-side, autumn hues of browns, golds and yellow reflect in the glassy waters. This is the Scotland I came to see. Its natural beauty wins over any man made attraction for me and it’s clear that the Scottish Tourism Board is well aware of its mesmerising lure.

As the road winds its way west, the scenery subtly changes to lunar-like with dark mountains reflecting black lochs below. People become scarce, roadside cafes and the tourism trap of Loch Ness becomes a distant memory. You are now on your own surrounded by mesmerising landscapes making a photographer’s paradise.

Isle of Skye

The upmarket western Isle of Skye offers a true taste of harsh island life. Yet, it is naturally luxurious in its offering to tourists. This may seem like a juxta-posed statement but let me elaborate. This island offers the best of everything; so whether we are talking seafood, gamey meat or extremes of weather, Skye will not disappoint
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My stop here took in the fine dine Three Chimneys restaurant and a stay in the attached House over By. Both are located on the west of the island aside a huge loch where prevailing winds sweep across the otherwise open lands. The rooms are huge, each with patio doors looking out over the loch. The décor is highland chic with a country cottage feel.

Homemade fudge and a mini bar welcomes you and the staff are only too happy to celebrate your arrival with an offering of scones with tea, cream and jam. For me, arriving just before the cloudy day turned into a picture perfect starry night was ideal to witness dusk in this mesmerising location, but moreover, I only had a few hours until dinner was served.

Now, this is the Isle of Skye and if you enjoy seriously good food without the pretence of a fine dine restaurant, then this is where you should be headed. The new head chef, Scott Davies (a runner up on Masterchef, The Professionals) knows exactly how to please his audience.

He knows that while in Skye guests will be making the most of the spectacular landscapes and spending their days trekking the many sights such as the Old Man of Storr or battling the winds in the majestic Fairy Pools, so upon returning to the hotel and looking to eat, he understands that a dress code is not mandatory and a relaxed atmosphere where his food does the talking is all that is needed to keep the Three Chimneys right up there with the best establishments in the world.

This isn’t to say that the service is second rate; it certainly isn’t. Knowledgeable staff describes the menu effortlessly and the extensive wine list is well thought out by sommeliers (tip: Try the New Zealand Pinot Noir ‘Little Beauty’). The tasting menu serves bitesize teasers followed by decadent fresh fish and tasty gamey meat.

The menu changes seasonally but I’m convinced whatever Davies serves up will be inventive and simply delicious. After dinner, your server will escort you back to the main house where a plethora of Whiskeys await. This is Scotland and home to the drink.

A social atmosphere is encouraged in the main house and instead of private tables, guests sit on sofas round a cosy fire discussing the day’s activities and of course the meal just served. Its wonderfully refreshing to be in such an elegant, upmarket setting with a feel of a cosy B & B.

The Three Chimneys and House Over By’s location is perfectly situated in the midst of the island meaning exploring is easy. Drive in any direction for a maximum of 40 minutes and you can take in all the sights. From the Talisker Distillery to the mountains of Quarain, the Isle of Skye will simply take your breath away, quite literally.

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