Scotland: A Wee Bit of fun in an Enchanting Land

Edinburgh Castle in Scotland

The advantages of visiting Europe in the off season are fewer tourists, less money for accommodations and even less money for airfare.  Yes, the sidewalk eateries are closed and the weather is colder, but the journey can still be fulfilling. My recent trip to enchanting Scotland was entertaining, rewarding and full of local feeling and culture.  It had been 12 years since my last visit, but there were still new adventures of discovery.  

This time I based myself in Edinburgh, as the country is small and very accessible, either by car or train. I pre-purchased a Britrail Central Scotland Railpass, which was outstanding once I could figure out its boundaries in the Scotland system. It was only $70 USD for three days of standard class rail travel in seven days. Because the pass does not cover the entire country, I had to figure out how far I could go each day: some on line research and advice at the Edinburgh Waverly Station helped.  

The Rocco Forte Hotel Balmoral at the end of Princess Street is next to the station, the perfect location.  This is the exception as in many European cities being near the rail station is not the place to stay.  I loved the Balmoral with its modern but restrained design.  The room and bathroom were spacious, the staff outstanding and with many small gestures. There were no service carts in the hallways and my room was promptly made up while I was dining on the very generous breakfast. The only issue was the occasional street noise, even to my 6th Floor room.  It did not bother me, and this is a busy location.   
I am not a whisky drinker, but I had the whisky smoked salmon each morning at breakfast. I knew Scotland's reputation for this classic beverage so I decided this was the place to dig deeper into the whisky culture. The barmen at The Balmoral Whisky Bar were invaluable once I told them my tale.  My selection included Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition, Bowmore "Dorkest" and Auchantoshan 3 Wood.  I have much more appreciation of this timely Scottish export.  Of course, getting a few of those amazing hotel-made shortbread cookies, only sweetened the experience.  

The last two nights, I switched to the other end of Princes Street to The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria  Hotel. I had a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle, but the rest of the hotel fell a bit short. The room was much smaller than before, and the service and attention to detail were lacking.  Hallway lighting was stark, service carts were in the hallways and there were even a few red stains in the carpet in my room that had not been removed.  It was another historic property, but not as lovingly restored at the Balmoral. 

Of course, Edinburgh is always amazing and the city had lots of energy.  The "Royal Mile," which extends from the very modernistic Scottish Parliament Building to the ever present historic Edinburgh Castle, is entertaining as always. The city is full of pubs, museums and a variety of stylish restaurants.

One day it was off to Glasgow, about a one hour journey by frequent rail service. Glasgow is very different than Edinburgh, with historic roots in manufacturing and now bustling with shopping options on many pedestrian-only streets (as in the photo).  The architecture here is more mundane, but the energy is real.  It is definitely worth a visit.

Another day I visited historic and significant Stirling, again about a one hour trip from Edinburgh.  Stirling is significant in Scottish history -- many battles were fought around the castle (picture above) from the 1300's and again after it was rebuilt in the 1600's.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was a presence here and the Scottish Parliament actually met here for several decades.  The castle itself is what you would expect and was recently restored again.  Once I entered, colorful Scottish guides would give one hour history tours of the castle. This was well worth the walk up the hill. The town itself, at the bottom of the hill, was also worth a look.

Scotland's locals are friendly and helpful, the cities and towns full of character and history and the shops full of wonder and unusual goods.  Scotland it a perfect and comfortable, deep and fascinating destination for singles, couples and families.  Let us show you the way to a rich and rewarding travel experience.

For additional insights contact Hilton Smith