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Tales from our travels
Edinburgh, that Georgian grande dame, is a picturesque starting point for Scottish capers. Explore the Old Town’s narrow wynds and old-world pubs from G&V Royal Mile Hotel, a heart-of-the-action stay kitted out with monochrome patterns and flashes of neon. Take in the bustle of the Royal Mile, an atmospheric 17th-century cobbled street leading up from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to the imposing ramparts of Edinburgh Castle.
A stone’s throw from Princes Street’s bustling shops (and just above the gleaming copper stills of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery), the Rutland Hotel puts a contemporary twist on Scottish design. Boutique B&Bs Millers64 and Ardmor House are a short stroll from the Water of Leith, a tranquil stream flowing from the Gallery of Modern Art to a buzzing strip of waterfront restaurants and the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Head to Waverley station for more of the country’s fabulous city breaks: Glasgow’s merchant streets and charming hidden lanes are less than an hour away by train.
From the Highlands’ honey and heather notes to the briny, peaty malts of the Isles, there’s a taste of Scotland in every nip of whisky. Winding through the lush valley of the River Spey, the Malt Whisky Trail takes in behind-the scenes tours, a historic distillery and hands-on barrel-crafting sessions.
Out on Islay, a small west-coast island, rugged bays and sheltered inlets house eight distilleries. One of the oldest in Scotland, Bowmore smokes its malt in peat-fired kilns, infusing them with flavours of smoke, salt and seaweed.
But you needn’t travel that far from the city: Glenkinchie Distillery runs daily shuttles from Edinburgh, and Glengoyne and Auchentoshan are both an easy drive from Glasgow. Or if it’s a dreich, drizzly night, cosy up in old-school whisky pubs The Pot Still (Glasgow) or The Bow Bar (Edinburgh) for a soul-warming dram.
Thirsty for more? Check out this handy distillery guide.
Scotland’s windswept islands make breathtaking getaways for the adventurous: miles of white-sand beaches and crystalline waters are just a ferry ride away. Stretching from the mainland to the same latitudes as Norway, Orkney is an archipelago of 70 islands and skerries (rocky islets) and a haven for wildlife with a fascinating neolithic heritage.
On Shetland, you can explore Viking longhouses, towering cliffs and heather-clad hills. Lerwick, the vibrant cultural heart of this cluster of islands, is the jumping-off point to nature reserves and award-winning beaches.
In Barra, mediaeval Kisimul Castle sits on a rocky islet in the bay. Ferries run here from Oban, but for a suitably dramatic entrance book a flight to one of the most unusual airports in the world: at high tide, the runway on the beach disappears beneath the waves.
But with more than 700 others to explore, the best way to catch all the highlights is on an island-hopping tour.
Flamboyant Highland cows and tiny ponies may be Scotland's most iconic wildlife, but the country is also home to majestic birds of prey and thriving marine life. Time a visit for the red deer’s autumnal ruts: ranger-led trips in Wester Ross are the best way to witness the dramatic roaring and clashing of antlers.
Stay at the Pool House, an exotically decorated loch-facing retreat where guests can watch seals from the sitting room. More easily accessible from Edinburgh, Perthshire offers deer-spotting and owl encounters with kilted rangers on 4x4 off-road safaris.
From high crags to moors, the unspoilt Highlands provide a range of habitats and sanctuaries: look out for golden eagles, otters and wildcats. During the breeding season, Cape Wrath is home to a colony of puffins. Charter a boat for a chance to spot dolphins and minke, orca and sperm whales. Still looking for the elusive haggis? Kelvingrove Museum has a fairly convincing taxidermied specimen.