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Scotland 2018 Snapshot

And now it’s time for my Scotland snapshot post! I’ve rounded up some of the highlights (and one lowlight) and random moments from our trip to Glasgow and Speyside this past summer.

Trip Details

Chris and I flew Iceland air round-trip from IAD – GLA on July 3rd through the 9th. We stayed one night at the Radisson Blu Glasgow before taking a rental car up to Speyside for three nights. We stayed at The Station Hotel in Rothes, and then returned to Glasgow for one night (and stayed at the Radisson Blu again) to attend TRNSMT Fest.

Wish List

This is a new section of the snapshot posts! I usually make a little wish list before each trip of extra things I try to make sure we eat, see, or do outside of our main activities, and I thought it would be fun to share the list in this post.

  • photograph the Craigellachie bridge (drone photo)
  • eat shortbread & go to the Walkers shop
  • have afternoon tea
  • eat sticky toffee pudding
  • eat at The Mash Tun (haggis nachos!)
  • see Balvenie Castle
  • see/photograph highland cows
  • go to the top of the Lighthouse for views of Glasgow

We managed to do all of the Speyside items on my list except afternoon tea – it just didn’t end up fitting into our schedule. I also didn’t take a drone photo of the Craigellachie bridge since there were always people around and I didn’t want to disturb anyone, but we did take non-aerial photos of it. And then the one thing I wanted to do in Glasgow, go to the top of the Lighthouse, ended up being closed. Boo. But seeing highland cows again was really at the top of my list and I did get to do that, so yay!

Best Moment

Chris’s favorite moment was the Balvenie tasting. My favorite moment was a tie between playing with the highland cows and dancing to The Killers at TRNSMT Fest. But despite our wildly different highlights, we always manage to have a great time together. 🙂

Worst Moment

I’m a pretty big rule-follower and people-pleaser AND I really try hard to represent Americans well when we travel, so I felt pretty sheepish when I was chased away from Balvenie Castle for flying my drone there. I really didn’t think I was disturbing anyone since there were no visitors, but there is a private residence fairly close to the castle so I imagine they don’t want a drone overhead. I wasn’t filming the residence at all and didn’t even fly over it, but I understand. Womp womp. Hopefully my photo isn’t plastered anywhere with “Bad American” written on it. I did get a pretty photo at least (see Favorite Photos below).

Funniest Moment

There was a very enthusiastic (tipsy and/or high?) Scottish woman at TRNSMT Fest who put her arm around my waist a few times to dance with me during The Killers. She also kept grabbing our arms to joyfully pump them in the air to the music. Neither of us are used to a stranger entering our personal space like that! Chris was a little traumatized by it, but I found her fun and hilarious. And I thought I videoed a bit of us dancing, but my iPhone lens must have been switched to the wrong side. All I have is this blurry snapshot showing half of her face:

Best Meal

We loved our Mexican small plates dinner at Topolabamba in Glasgow (that was Chris’s favorite meal), but the best thing I ate was the sticky toffee pudding at The Station Hotel restaurant, Toots. We ended up eating it more than once and I don’t even feel bad about it. That little cup of toffee sauce is liquid joy.

Something We Learned

We learned all about the cooper’s job in the whisky making process. I had no idea that the bourbon and sherry casks used for the aging stage were disassembled, modified, and reassembled before using them to age the whisky. It was fascinating to watch them at work.

We’re Thankful We Packed

Light. We needed plenty of room in our suitcases on the way back to bring home several souvenir bottles of whisky, so it was good that we packed as few things as possible.

Pro tip: I always pack one of these packable totes in my suitcase in case I need the extra space for carrying souvenirs home. In this situation, I put some stuff from my suitcase into the tote as a carry-on so that we could put whisky bottles (liquids) in the suitcase as checked baggage.

We Didn’t Need To Bring

Rain gear! We had amazing weather the entire time and never needed our rain jackets.

Trip Regrets

I wish we could have squeezed in a few more days to see more of the Scottish countryside.

Reasons To Go Back

We always want to go back to Scotland! No specific reasons needed, but we do have Isle of Skye, Campbeltown, and the highlands on our short list.

Favorite Photos

 

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Moving Pictures: Scotland 2018

In addition to all of the photos from Speyside and Glasgow, I also put together a short little video of our trip. It was my second time filming video footage with the DJI Mavic Pro! (Other clips are from the GoPro and my point-and-shoot.) Hope you like it!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for reading and for your support!

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Hotel Love: The Station Hotel

Choosing which of the many whisky distilleries to visit in Speyside might be a difficult task, but selecting a hotel for our whisky trail experience ended up being fairly easy and painless. There are several towns along the trail that make a good base for distillery-hopping, so my advice is to narrow down the distilleries you plan to visit and then see what accommodations are central to your selections, or at least close to one of them. Everything is pretty much within a 10 or 15-minute drive in between stops, so you won’t end up spending too much time in the car either way.

Chris selected eight whisky distilleries in the region to visit and we decided to stay at The Station Hotel in Rothes, which is in walking distance of Glen Grant (one of the eight on our list).

Our room is pictured below on the second floor above the front entrance and the restaurant, Toots. Normally that location would be a deal-breaker for me due to the noise potential, but the Glenrothes suite was so beautiful and comfortable I didn’t want to move to another room, and it ended up being quiet enough and super comfortable.

The super spacious Glenrothes suite offers a wonderful view of the centre of Rothes town, although when we visited in mid-summer we kept the shades drawn most of the time to help with the sun and heat. The room warmed up rather quickly! The first night we did have a little trouble sleeping with the windows open due to the street noise, but the second night I cranked up my white noise machine and drowned out the sound of the lorries passing by. And let’s be honest, a day of whisky tasting probably also helped with the sleeping.

With a clawfoot tub, marble tile, natural light, and a towel warmer, I couldn’t love the spacious, spotless bathroom more. Fluffy robes and beautiful toiletries rounded out the list of reasons this might have been my most favorite hotel bathroom ever.

And of course, a proper trailside hotel offers Speyside whisky upon arrival.

If you don’t get your fill on the trail or if there’s a whisky brand you would like to try, the bar & bistro on the ground level, Toots, has an impressive selection of spirits and a cozy atmosphere in which to have a wee dram. Not pictured, The Spirit Safe on the same floor is another option for drams and cocktails.

And while Speyside is all about the whisky, we thoroughly enjoyed our dining options at the hotel as well. I tried Welsh rarebit for the first time (yum!), and Toots offers an amazing sticky toffee pudding that we may or may not have eaten more than once.

Our three nights at The Station Hotel provided just what we needed at the end of our long days touring Speyside’s distilleries, and we would absolutely stay there again! And we would order the sticky toffee pudding again (and again). In fact, if you don’t stay at the hotel, it’s worth popping by just for dessert.

Note: The hotel did not sponsor this post – we just really enjoyed our stay!

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Following the Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside – Part Two

On Day Three of our Speyside adventures, the four distilleries on our agenda make up somewhat of a superlatives list: most beautiful, most iconic, most modern, and most adorable (you’ll see what I mean). We started the day by simply moseying down the street a few meters from our hotel to the Glen Grant distillery. We read online that the distillery is also home to a beautiful Victorian garden, so we arrived about 45 minutes before the start of our tour in order to get some fresh air and enjoy the outdoors.

It turned out that the “small path” that “winds its way up the garden” (per the website) is actually several acres of land and the path extends about a mile into the garden. It is indeed beautiful, but the garden is much bigger than I anticipated! It’s more like a park. If you want to see and enjoy the better part of it, you’ll need more than an hour. We started off at a very leisurely stroll and ended up practically jogging back to the visitors’ centre to show up on time for our tour.

Though it’s perhaps the most iconic distillery in Speyside, we chose not to tour Glenfiddich in exchange for eating lunch at the Malt Barn restaurant. Home to the largest pouring collection of Glenfiddich whiskies in the world, Chris ordered a whisky flight alongside our meals and I thoroughly enjoyed a Diet Coke.

We narrowly added The Macallan experience to our itinerary, because the new visitors’ centre only opened a month before we arrived and they weren’t taking online bookings until about two weeks before our trip. The state-of-the-art centre, also a production facility, is obviously the most modern distillery in the region. Our tour immersed us in the world of whisky with swiveling displays and flashy visual effects, and ended with a guided tasting at a sleek bar and lounge. Visiting The Macallan is a completely unique experience compared to the traditional distilleries and I quite prefer the old-school operations, but I appreciated seeing something different.

Last but not least, we made our way to Cardhu, the distillery I was most looking forward to the whole trip. Fun fact for you: Cardhu is the first distillery to be officially pioneered by a woman. But that’s not why I was excited to visit. You’ll see!

We actually arrived a little late and missed the first few minutes of our booked tour – note that four distilleries might be too much to squeeze into one day. We were offered the option to catch up to the tour group, or skip to the tasting straightaway. Since we had learned pretty much all we could learn about the whisky process, we opted to go straight to a tasting, and actually I opted out. I had reached my limit of even tiny whisky sips.

I patiently waited while Chris enjoyed the samples, because the reason I wanted to visit Cardhu was our next activity: find the cows that we heard live near the distillery! I asked at the visitor’s centre desk if there are cows nearby and if so, where we might find them. It turns out they were just steps down the road! We walked over to the farm and spent kind of a ridiculous amount of time there cooing over the coos, taking photos of these guys, and offering them pre-approved ginger biscuits.

Perhaps not as squeal-worthy as highland cows, I did yelp for Chris to pull over when we happened upon this cooperage while driving around. The geometry, colors, and textures of the barrels simply begged to be photographed. I took the Mavic up for a quick flight here, too, after business hours so no one was around.

Our dinner consisted of takeaway pizza near our hotel because that’s what sounded good at the time, but I don’t seem to have photographic record of it.

The next morning (Sunday), we got back on the road toward Glasgow to attend TRNSMT Fest, but not without stopping for photo ops a few times on the way. I didn’t find out about nearby Ballindalloch Castle until it was too late to plan it into our schedule, but we got to see the cute bridge and guard post – at least I think that’s what it is.

And that ends our time in Speyside! If you are a whisky lover, I highly recommend getting yourself to the Malt Whisky Trail as soon as possible. You’ll have such a good time! Please do feel free to let me know if you have any questions about planning your own trip to this region of Scotland. Cheers!

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Following the Malt Whisky Trail in Speyside: Part One

After spending a day in Glasgow, Chris and I set off the next morning on a road trip to Speyside in order to visit the distilleries along the Malt Whisky Trail. Chris has become a huge fan of whisky and we had tons of fun touring the distilleries on Islay a few years ago, so we decided to spend three days in this region on our quick five day-trip.

Note that while I’m not a whisky drinker, I do like to participate in the tastings, and I enjoy learning about the process and the culture. And I’m always happy to have any excuse to travel anywhere. Plus I’m designated driver if needed!

After just under four hours on the road we arrived in the Speyside area, and first things first, we stopped for food. Most notably, we followed up our lunch with whisky ice cream at Balvenie Street Ice Cream in Dufftown. Now this is a whisky I can get excited about! The sweet option, rather than fruity or peaty, hit the spot. Chris probably would have enjoyed the peaty version, but he let me pick since he would be enjoying many whisky varieties soon.

Before I dive into our itinerary, I thought I should explain how we planned our Speyside visit. From what I understand, distilleries in Scotland generally require whisky tastings to be paired with an educational experience such as a tour, so if you want to try the whisky at a distillery you need to sign up for their tour. In some cases you might be able to try a small sample in a distillery’s shop, but we did see some guests without tour reservations who were turned away.

The tours ranged from £5-50 pounds per person, and lasted anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours. Most distilleries required advanced booking, so Chris picked which ones he wanted to visit (seven of them, plus one we added at the last minute) and we made reservations two months before our trip. It does take a little work to arrange the schedule depending on the number of distilleries on your list, so if you’re planning to visit Speyside for a similar experience, don’t wait until the last minute to book! Even as early as we booked, tours were already filling up and our plan ended up being a little less efficient than it could have been with a bit more lead time.

Our first tour of the weekend was at Balvenie, arguably the most in-depth tour offered in the region. The soup-to-nuts tour and guided tasting lasted around three hours, and it ended up being our favorite of the trip so we started off on a very high note! My favorite part was definitely the time we spent in the cooperage where the coopers assemble the barrels in which the whisky is aged. Balvenie is one of the few distilleries in the world that has a cooperage onsite (most operations outsource the barrel making) and it was our first time seeing the process.

The Balvenie tour also offered one of the most generous and informational tastings of all the distilleries we visited. We tasted seven samples, including a 30-year-old, the oldest whisky we’ve had the opportunity to try so far!

After our tour, we popped over to Balvenie Castle to explore and take some photos and video with the Mavic. We didn’t see any other visitors on the property (one of the main drone rules in most places is not to fly over crowds or within a certain distance of people in general), so I took the opportunity to fly for a few minutes and record some really cool video footage. Unfortunately I was shooed away by a staff member because there is a residence across from the castle (that I wasn’t filming at all) so for privacy reasons she didn’t want me to fly there. Oops!

I had also hoped to take an aerial photo of the Craigellachie bridge, but there were a few people nearby so I didn’t do any flying there. We stopped by a few times actually, and always saw people on the bridge or on the beach below. It’s a popular spot!

Tired from our travels, tour, and tasting, we returned to our hotel in Rothes, The Station Hotel,  for dinner – more on our accommodations in an upcoming post.

The next morning we started Day Two with a tour at Aberlour (whisky drinking at 10am is perfectly acceptable in Speyside) where the highlight was a fun guessing game during the tasting. Our guide gave everyone in the group four unmarked samples and asked us to smell them and match them to the casks we smelled earlier on the tour. Guess who was the first to get them all right? The non-whisky drinker on the tour: me! The nose knows.

For lunch Chris and I ate at the super cozy and iconic Mash Tun whisky bar where we tried haggis in nachos-form. It was tasty! Afterward we headed over to the famous Walkers Shortbread shop to buy and eat as much shortbread as we could. Note that the shop (not pictured) is next to the manufacturing operation in Aberlour, but there isn’t a tour of the factory which is kind of a bummer. The shop does have an extensive selection of shortbread including several products that are unavailable back in the States though.

Bellies full from lunch and shortbread, we headed to Strathisla which was a late addition to our itinerary so we didn’t have a tour booked, but we were able to do a small tasting in their beautiful visitors’ centre. Even if you don’t have a tour booked here, it’s worth stopping by to see the famous and picturesque twin pagodas.

We ended our day with a tour and tasting at Glenfarclas, our first Glen (which translates to “valley”) of the trip. Look at those skies – how lucky were we with this weather?! And before you wonder if I was toured-out at this point, oddly the visits were different enough that I wasn’t bored with learning about whisky. I’m not sure what Chris’s threshold is, but eight distillery visits (five full tours) ended up being a good amount for me.

Not only for the convenience but also for the delicious food, at the end of Day Two we ate dinner at our hotel again, which is rare for us. We normally like to try as many different places as possible, but the restaurant at The Station Hotel is fantastic.

Since this post seems long enough already I’m going to stop here – stay tuned for the second half of the story! It’s a jam-packed Day Three with the remaining four out of eight distilleries.

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