A Victorian City’s Top Address
If Leonard Bernstein found One Devonshire Gardens “inspirational” and “pure theater,” imagine the effect it has on the average unsuspecting guest. You must ring the front doorbell upon arrival, but it is the last time you’ll raise a finger here. Three exquisitely refurbished Victorian town houses dating to the late 1800s have been connected to create a chic jewel box whose superb service and much-touted restaurant may tempt one to see not a whit of Glasgow beyond these gorgeous walls. Critics have cited Glasgow as being the greatest surviving example of a Victorian city, and here is prime proof.
Millionaire guests will feel right at home; everyone else will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven, cosset- ted by a genuinely thoughtful staff from the front door onward. Its quiet location in the leafy, fashionable West End area of town makes it feel just removed enough to add to its exclusive atmosphere; the sumptuously decorated rooms, many of them with plushly draped, rich mahogany four-poster beds and crackling fireplaces, also help.
On a par with the best that Paris or London has to offer, accommodations in Glasgow took a quantum leap forward with the opening of this privately owned boutique hotel in 1986. Reason enough for a trip to the city.
Local Rebel and Master of Modern Design
Glasgow’s greatest architect-designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868- 1928), earned Scotland’s second city its reputation as a hub of creativity, but his name recognition was at an Art Lover—designed for a competition in 1901—was finally built in Bellahouston Park, southwest of the city. His undisputed masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, has become a place of pilgrimage: when completed in 1899 it was heralded as Europe’s finest example of Modernism.
His restaurants and tearooms about town were also renowned: visit the Willow Tearooms, the only example still standing. Mackintosh ultimately became better known for his furniture designs than for his architecture—some of the furniture at the Willow may be reproduction, but the atmosphere is authentic: ask to be seated in the Salon de Luxe, an Art Nouveau fantasy.
Viewing his designs in their original settings helps Mackintosh fans understand the aesthetic and social context that shaped his ideas.
His inimitable style remains vividly alive throughout town, from designs found on the wrought-iron gates of a private garage to decorative motifs used on restaurant menus and a low ebb until 1996, when his House for the ubiquitous stylized rose that has become a kind of Glasgow logo.
A Grand Hotel on Wheels
From the kilted piper who greets you as you board the restored vintage train to the magnificent scenery that rolls by your mahogany-paneled parlor car, there is no finer way to view the Scottish Highlands. Traveling through mountains and glens in romantic Edwardian elegance on little-used railway lines, stopping along the way to visit magnificent homes and private castles, this train is renowned as one of the world’s most exclusive.
Your five-star vantage point is like an elegant country house on wheels, with seamless service and cabins fitted out in rich wood with Scottish-motif marquetry. The kitchen produces excellent meals reflecting the local bounty, from full Scottish breakfasts to dinners featuring loch prawns, smoked salmon, or rack of lamb. The wine selection is surpassed only by the whisky tastings—you’ll not be driving home tonight.
A Traditional Frenzy of Good Fun at Year’s End
This is the national holiday throughout Scotland, celebrated with special fervor in Edinburgh. It is the year’s ceilidh, the Big Event, when parties go on in houses, pubs, and village halls. In Edinburgh, it is also Europe’s greatest street party with song and dance morning. Its strongest tradition, inextricably carrying through the night and well into the linked to the good time enjoyed by all, is the consumption of great quantities of spirits (let’s remember where Scotch whisky originated) that pushes an already boisterous holiday over the top.
The famous Scottish dish the world loves to hate, haggis (a loosely packed mutton and oatmeal sausage boiled in a sheep’s stomach), plays a major role in the evening’s hours-long meal, often accompanied by dancing and the soulful wail of bagpipes. The meaning of “Hogmanay” has long been locked in controversy. It is said that it derives from either the Anglo-Saxon Haleg Monath (Holy Month) or the ancient Gaelic Oge Maidne (New Morning).
In some towns, Hogmanay is still called Cake Day because children used to go from door to door collecting gifts of cake and confections. What has survived the centuries is the Scots’ determination that the New Year begin on a happy note.
A Plethora of Scottish Culture
Every August this conservative city morphs into center stage for a world-class extravaganza of music, drama, dance, and alternative entertainment. Having recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the Edinburgh International Festival has long been drawing first-rank names and talents. Gamering as much attention is the Fringe, the festival’s amateur offshoot, where you can expect the unexpected from more than 650 diamond-in-the-rough troupes from all over the world, performing in 150-plus venues, from beer halls to school gyms.
The Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world, with no artistic vetting, and therefore open to anyone with a wish to perform. The nighttime performance of the Military Tattoo (the name comes from the closing-time cry “doe den tap toe” in Low Country inns during the 17th and 18th centuries, meaning “turn off the taps”) is possibly the world’s most outstanding military spectacle, augmented by its dramatic setting on a castle esplanade. The pipe-and-drum music and display of gymnastic skill may not be high art, but it’s great entertainment.
And if all this is not enough, the annual Edinburgh Film Festival (now the longest continually running film festival in the world) and Jazz and Blues Festivals add to the cultural logjam. Tickets for the principal performances should be bought in advance, but with such abundant choices, one can show up empty-handed and still be guaranteed a wonderful time, especially if you’re still around for the last night’s spectacular fireworks.
Impregnable and Most Famous Icon of Scotland
One of Europe’s loveliest capitals owes much of its character and good looks to its showcase landmark, Edinburgh Castle. Most of the city’s history is clustered in and around the medieval castle and the Royal Mile, the west-east pedestrian thoroughfare from Castle Hill to High Street, that links it to Holyrood Palace, once occupied by Mary Stuart and royal residence to the present queen and Prince Philip for one week every year.
Edinburgh Castle sits atop the collapsed crater of an extinct volcano, its earliest traces dating to the tiny 12th-century Chapel of St. Margaret, the oldest structure in Edinburgh. The sprawling castle has played many roles: fortress, military garrison, state prison. But its highlight was as royal palace, and today the Honors of Scotland (the Scottish crown jewels) are displayed here. The oldest regalia in Europe, they include the Scottish crown, scepter, and sword of state. In the palace, the royal chambers used until the king permanently moved to England in 1603 can also be visited (Mary,
Queen of Scots, gave birth here to James VI of Scotland, who would rule England as James I). The Royal Mile and its offshoots were confined by the old city walls, so many tenements grew vertically; the back streets and winding passageways in this section of the Old Town are still redolent of the Middle Ages. Across the chasm that separates the high Old Town from the lower New Town sits the classic Caledonian Hotel, known for its own royal accommodations and views of the castle, most romantic when brightly illuminated at night. Dripping in Edwardian splendor, any rooms at “the Caley” with views of the medieval skyline and Gothic spires of the Royal Mile are something special. Its longtime friendly rival, the Balmoral Hotel, sits gracefully at the opposite end of mile-long Princes Street, Edinburgh’s shop- lined Fifth Avenue.
The Most Distinguished of Them All
You won’t find a room at the inn in Scotland’s Balmoral Castle, but great consolation can be found in the regal treatment lavished upon guests of its eponymous hotel. The Balmoral is a palatial old railway hotel—with no official royal connection despite its name —built in 1902 at the east end of Princes Street, Edinburgh’s premier retail strip. It has recently made a dazzling comeback in its bid for supremacy as the capital’s hotel of choice.
The city’s most elegant landmark, with kilted doormen at its entrance, is as much a tourist attraction as the city’s other icon, Edinburgh Castle. It draws guest-wannabes who daydream their way through afternoon tea or sample the bounty of Scotland’s best distilleries in the high-ceilinged Palm Court Bar and leave with a taste of the high life, Scottish style.
Outside, the mile-long Princes Street awaits, the city’s main boulevard for designer everything, including Jenner’s, the world’s oldest department store, opened in 1838.
The Full Flavor of Scottish Hospitality amid, Highland Beauty
Scotland wasn’t united with England until 1707, and it has proudly held on to its individualistic character. It was also around that time that this large white-stucco inn on the filigree coastline of Argyll first started welcoming ferryboat passengers on their way to the Isle whiskies merits a mention, too. Eric’s wife, of Lismore and others, plying them with Betty, is one of Scotland’s premier chefs and haggis, whisky, and a warm fire. Fast-forward to today’s gracious welcome by The Airds’ amiable host, Eric Allen, occasionally caught in full Highland evening dress, who guarantees an excellent stay at his family-owned and-run inn.
The Airds has garnered countless accolades for its vista-rich location on the wildly beautiful Loch Linnhe, as well as its service, furnishings, and especially its kitchen and prodigious cellar, whose wine list runs fifty pages long. The impressive selection of Scotch single-malt and blended she has taught her talented son, Graeme, well. The Airds could be known solely as a top-notch foodie shrine if not for the panoply of day trips this area of the northern Highlands offers.
The castle town of Inverary (the ancient capital of Argyll) is one of Scotland’s most handsome—and twice as inviting with the nearby 90-acre lush Crarae Gardens thrown in. This is also the area for Scotland’s best lunch: stop in at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar (Clachan Farm in Caimdow), whose famous blue-ribbon oysters are so fresh they’ve never known ice. But save room for dinner—always at 8:00—the event of the day back at The Airds.
A Baronial Bastion of Ease and Luxury
I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot,” wrote Queen Victoria, no stranger to the allure of the Highlands, who stayed at Inverlochy Castle in 1873 shortly after its completion. Set amid magnificent scenery, it is a grand baronial castle hotel of limited formality, cozy with roaring fireplaces and overstuffed chairs, and set on 500 acres of private land on the shores of Loch Lochy. Its good taste and country opulence show up in a great profusion of flowers, fragrant toiletries reminiscent of grand luxe hotels, fresh herbs and just-picked vegetables from the walled gardens and local suppliers, and after dinner, a single-malt whisky from a neighboring distillery. To enjoy this singular combination, wayfarers come from all over the world, elated at their own good fortune at having found a room (there are just seventeen available) at one of Britain’s most special country retreats.
Against the backdrop of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Great Britain (4,406 feet), the castle is the ideal base from which to experience the magic of Scotland’s Highlands and offshore excursions.
“There is still something of an Odyssey up there, in among the islands and the silent Lochs,” wrote D. H. Lawrence, who visited the Highlands in 1926. “It is still out of the world, like the very beginning of Europe.” The same awe will most likely be experienced by visitors a century later.
Scenic Home of Scotland’s Mascot
Whether you believe in the Loch Ness monster or not, the sight of the beautiful glacier-gouged Loch Ness and the crumbling ruins of Urquhart Castle, atop its own promontory, is not to be missed.
Allegedly first spotted in A.D. 565 by St. Columba Nessitera rhombopteryx, better known as Nessie, has captured the world’s imagination and remains the main draw to the Highlands of Scotland, a beautifully scenic region that effortlessly holds its own in the nonmonster-related category.
With the loch measuring 24 miles in length and 755 feet deep, Nessie makes only rare appearances, and local folk aren’t particularly keen on tracking her down: an ancient legend predicts a violent end for the region if the monster is ever captured. Sophisticated underwater technology and sonar-rigged mini-submarines continue their search nonetheless, egged on by would-be sightings as recent as 1961, when thirty visitors reported seeing her just before an explosion that sank their craft, and 1973, when a local monk claimed a viewing. Scotland’s age-old love of whisky has also been mentioned as facilitating sightings.
For the multitudes who don’t spot the long necked animal or buy into the monster mania, Loch Ness can prove anticlimactic. But not if you take the less-trafficked road along the loch’s eastern shore, explore the striking Falls of Foyers or the peaceful glens west of the Loch Ness’s Visitor Center in Drumnadrochit, and—this is key—check into the Highland’s finest hotel/restaurant. Guests at the handsome 18th-century Dunain Park Hotel begin their day with an exceptional Scottish break fast, a mere prelude to the memorable local fare that makes dinners here a highlight of the Highlands.