The yearning for adventure fills the hearts of many people (and even some hobbits), but the dream of a trip rarely includes the nasty logistical bits that cast one down to the mundane, earthly realm of the modern travel experience. I can’t tell you how many trips to Scotland have begun with some whisky and bright-eyed romanticism: Galloping across the hills and through the glens, my vision somehow from a drone’s point of view, as the skirling notes of a bagpiper’s air fade on the swirling wind. I’m laughing because it’s true. Invariably, the reality of that dream starts in endless lines, stale airports, cramped cabins, and distinct physical discomfort. The thought of “roughing it” with your accommodations suddenly turns from adventurous to foolhardy.
Even the most seasoned travelers need a little luxury in their lives.
Scotland has you covered. There’s something about gorgeous natural beauty that inspires people to create gorgeous accommodations, and there’s a shockingly large number of luxurious, high-end places to stay from the Outer Hebrides to Aberdeen and Shetland to Dumfries. Many people think accommodations don’t really matter — really, they say, how much time am I going to be spending there — and that they just need a pallet and a pillow. That’s true for some people, but for many others that’s the sound of exuberant naiveté. After a vigorous day exploring the highlands, sipping whisky, clambering over ruins, and galloping through the glens, there are few things as pleasurable as returning to your classy, comfortable accommodations and recharging.
Today I’m continuing my Best of Scotland series with five of the most deliriously luxurious places I’ve stayed in my travels around Scotland.
The Torridon Hotel, Wester Ross
Snug along the shores of Loch Torridon, which is essentially a Scottish fjord, The Torridon Hotel has it all: Beautiful surroundings, historic heritage, luxury accoutrements, delicious food, and that special highland hospitality. What was once a shooting lodge in the 19th Century has become one of the great luxury escapes of the Scottish highlands. The Torridon Hotel exudes subtle, luxurious touches from the warm wood panelling to supple upholstery to cozy benches surrounding wood-burning fireplaces inviting weary travelers to relax with a dram. The rooms are plush with huge beds and tasteful, modern refurbishments like chrome fixtures and walk-in showers. From the multi-port charging station to the tubes of foot salve we found on our pillows at night, the Torridon Hotel pays attention to the details. The hotel also organizes a host of outdoor activities — everything from archery to clay-pigeon shooting to gorge scrambling and pony trekking. After a tiring day out, relax in the hotel bar with the best selection of malt whiskies on the northwest coast before a life-changing meal at Restaurant 1887. If you’re looking for a luxury highland experience, an adventure basecamp, or a romantic getaway, look no further.
The Dulaig, Cairngorms National Park
Secluded just a couple blocks from Grantown-on-Spey’s high street, ivy-covered The Dulaig combines luxury accommodation, world-class food, and a personal warmth the likes of which are impossible to learn. The Edwardian, stone-built and harled building dates from the early 20th Century and is decorated with a mixture of Arts & Crafts antiques and contemporary furnishings. There’s a sense of mise en place and implicit feng shui about the house as you walk the hallway, climb the stairs, and look upon the cozy bedrooms. A bright, artifact-filled sitting room looks over lovingly manicured gardens where fowl of all feathers wander, and it makes the perfect place to enjoy The Dulaig’s homemade scones or a dram from the complimentary whisky bar. Breakfast at The Dulaig combines art and heavenly, homemade flavors for a mythic memory that may well ruin future B&Bs for you. The Dulaig’s location in the north-central part of the Cairngorms National Park is perfect for exploring the region’s highlights. If there’s another B&B in Scotland like The Dulaig I’ve yet to find it.
The Brochs of Coigach, Wester Ross
A “broch” is an Iron Age drystone dwelling found only in the northern highlands and islands of Scotland, and Reiner and Sheileagh Luyken have used these ancient structures as inspiration for a pair of luxury, eco-centric buildings called The Brochs of Coigach. They wanted their Brochs to exist in harmony with the landscape, just as the Iron Age brochs might have, and many of the materials in their building are taken or salvaged from nearby land. While the exterior of the Brochs has an attractive, eco-rustic appeal, the interior is all about comfort and luxury. The Broch I stayed in, Gille Buidhe’s Broch, is the larger of the two and upon walking inside you can’t help but fall under the spell of the massive wall of windows looking out to the Summer Isles. The entire Broch has an open concept with high ceilings, modern art, and impeccable furnishings, and for a place built into the earth it was surprisingly bright and airy inside. Finding a place like The Brochs of Coigach that marries together history, luxury, green principles, peace and quiet, and immense views is a bit like finding a unicorn. Beyond providing wifi, modern distractions are kept to a minimum — there are no TVs anywhere in the building — and it serves as a reminder that this is a special place, a getaway from all the baggage of modernity, a chance to forget when you are.
The Three Glens, Dumfries & Galloway
The Three Glens luxury eco house is not your average anything. The house is a harmonious part of the landscape. A drystone wall – the kind used to divide pastures and farms throughout Scotland – runs through the center of the house and continues on in both directions as functional elements of owner Neil Gourlay’s farm. Expansive glass windows reduce the feeling of separation from the landscape and capture light and heat, which help keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer thanks to its passive solar alignment. Most of the materials used to build the house come from Neil’s land, from the stones in the wall to the exterior oak cladding to the treated sheep’s wool used as Three Glens’s insulation. An entire wall is composed of glass panels that slide open by a switch for easy access to a huge balcony overlooking the valley. The entire house – including each bedroom – is equipped with Sonos wireless music capabilities, and the wifi blazes at fiberoptic speeds. The interior decoration fits the space perfectly with small details that evoke the local countryside, from a massive set of bull’s horns to the oversized farmer’s flask in the kitchen. The Three Glens is a destination, and I found myself simply wanting to stay in and read, to wander through the halls and soak in the surroundings of a place that feels like the perfect manifestation of a dream.
The Roxburghe Hotel, The Scottish Borders
The Roxburghe Hotel outside Kelso boasts 22 unique bedrooms, a championship golf course, an excellent restaurant in Chez Roux, a spa, and a wide variety of activities available throughout the grounds. This is grand country living at its finest. Magnificent portraits, maps, tools of country life, and chandeliers hang over wide stairwells and tartan carpeting in the public spaces. The rooms are spacious, and mine had an anteroom for hanging coats, hats, suits of armor, and whatever else a lord might need to unload before relaxing. A wide window overlooked the front of the hotel and allowed in copious amounts of light. Beautiful furniture had been arrayed around a wood-burning fireplace, and all of this stood opposite a comfy king-size bed. The decanter of whisky on the desk was just the icing on the cake. The Roxburghe Hotel has among its many public rooms a handsome conservatory where guests can relax with a pint or a dram from one of the many whiskies on offer. Dinner at Chez Roux is a sumptuous affair with local Scottish produce transmuted into delectable French cuisine. The Roxburghe Hotel is the perfect place to base yourself in the Scottish Borders. Few places can match the combination of luxury, excellent food, and activities that the Roxburghe provides.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at a handful of my favorite luxury spots in Scotland. I can’t wait to experience the next batch!