By Flora Murray
For most of its long and winding history, the Scottish Highlands was little known beyond its borders – a remote outpost of crofts, lochs and rebels.
But when the region began to inspire poets and artists from Coleridge to Turner, the landscape was transformed in the British imagination from gloomy moorland to magical wilderness. Suddenly, every landowner in England was fascinated by their Highland roots – donning tartan, sipping whisky and dancing cèilidhs (the Romantics would’ve made great travel PRs).
Today, the romance of the Highlands still charms travellers in search of history, nature and seclusion. If you’re looking for some of the best hideaways, cuisine and scenery in Britain, you’ll find it tucked away here.
Where to Stay
Perched at the foot of the Cairngorms, this five-star 19th-century estate is surrounded by wild rolling hills that make the roaring log fires inside all the more inviting. Owned by the Swiss art dealers behind the celebrated Hauser & Wirth gallery, the rooms are brimming with art and antiques, including works from Picasso, Martin Creed, Lucian Freud and Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The wonderful service – coupled with a host of activities from fishing to deer stalking to whisky tasting – will make you a laird for a day. And if you’re feeling particularly regal, a tour of Balmoral is just 15 minutes away.
When sketching Inverlochy Castle in 1873, Queen Victoria wrote that she “never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot”. Today, nestled in an arc of highland peaks, the beauty of Inverlochy Castle hasn’t waned a bit. Arriving by steam train to Fort William, you’ll find the perfect time capsule of a Victorian country manor, complete with brocade furnishings and Venetian chandeliers.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the activities are endless: white-water rafting, off-road driving, stalking, fishing, photography, mountain biking, hill walking. On return, guests can hunker down in the Great Hall for a whisky while awaiting a five-course menu of local produce headed up by Albert and Michel Roux Jr. Think wild boar charcuterie, Highland venison wellington and Loch Linnhe langoustines.
Reopening its doors in August 2023 after extensive renovations, this 1902 estate has undergone a Marine & Lawn transformation, establishing itself as a Highland golfer’s paradise. The renewed lobby spaces, restaurants and 89 spacious guest rooms pay homage to the region's rugged landscaped and storied golf heritage, while the grounds boast a new putting green and fire pits for visitors to enjoy. Especially thrilling for golf devotees, the hotel overlooks the Royal Dornoch Golf Club's prestigious first fairway – a gem of Scottish golfing.
Where to Eat and Drink
Standing on the most westerly promontory of the British Isles is the 13th-century Mingary Castle. Its walls have withstood Vikings, clan feuds, Spanish troops and 700 years of Atlantic winds. Quite the dramatic lunchtime setting. Inside, warmth prevails in four bedrooms and a cosy 20-seat restaurant serving a colourful menu that rotates daily and seasonally. Scallops, halibut, venison, beef, lamb and ingredients sourced from the neighbouring community garden make up chef Colin Nicholson’s inspired menu.
If you’re in Scotland for world-class whisky and excellent food, Glenturret – the oldest working distillery in Scotland – is the answer. Teaming up with French glassware brand Lalique (who have a track record of running award-winning restaurants at wineries), Glenturret was awarded a Michelin star just seven months after opening. Hailing from Glasgow, chef Mark Donald (Noma, Hibiscus and Number One at The Balmoral) artfully combines Scottish meat, fish and shellfish with foraged ingredients like wild garlic, morels and sweet cicely to create a striking balance of flavours, textures and colours.
Though a renowned hotel in its own right (popular with guests from Barack Obama to Jude Law), many travellers flock to Cameron House for the food alone. Tamburrini & Wishart, a relative newcomer to the Cameron House restaurant lineup, is already making waves with its tasting menu of Scottish cuisine (with hints of French and Japanese for good measure). Chefs Paul Tamburrini and Martin Wishart have created a menu of unlikely harmonies, from squash and dashi soup with fluffy langoustine foam to Scottish partridge with foie gras, celeriac, cherry and beetroot.
What to Do
No visit to the Highlands would be complete without a trip to spy Loch Ness and its monstrous resident. Rather than heading to the tourist hub of Drumnadrochit, make your way to Urquhart Castle – a 16th-century fortress partially ruined in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces. Decayed ramparts make for a special lookout.
Founded as the Milltown Distillery back to 1786, Strathisla is one of the oldest working distilleries in the Highlands. Now owned by Pernod Ricard under the Chivas Brothers name, it offers a guided tasting of single malts and grain whiskies that culminate in mixing your very own blend, and the opportunity to enjoy drams drawn straight from the casks inside the Chivas Regal Cellar.
Charter a Helicopter to Tour the Highlands and Isles
If you’re looking for a truly alternative perspective of the towering hills and rugged coastline, luxury tour companies like Kated offer bespoke helicopter charters, touching down directly at distilleries, castle hotels and islands.
Spot Whales on the Hebridean Trail
For a low-impact and easily accessible way to observe marine life from the shore, the Hebridean Whale Trail is a must. The trail highlights 33 exceptional sites throughout the West Highlands, ranging from orca sightings near Ardnamurchan to humpback and minke whale habitats off the Isle of Lewis. The coastline is also a haven for basking sharks, porpoises and the world's largest dolphin species.
Explore the Isle of Skye
Known for its fairy pools, sea stacks and crystal-clear swimming spots, Skye has become abuzz with walking tourism and vibrant bars and restaurants. Take a day tour from Inverness or stay in one of the growing number of beautiful boutique hotels (such as Kinloch Lodge) and enjoy two of Britain’s most exciting hikes: the Old Man of Storr and Quiraing.
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