What do Kate Moss and Queen Victoria have in common? No, it’s not a tendency to scowl in public. In fact, it’s that both icons – born 155 years apart – found themselves falling in love with idyllic Scottish haven Speyside, a pure-hearted land that’s proved an irresistible destination for centuries, thanks in large part to the unique treasures it offers – especially in terms of locally sourced food and drink.
Sitting in the lovely and rolling Scottish Highlands, Speyside is part of Strathspey (try pronouncing that after two fingers of Scotch), the area spanning from Grantown-on-Spey to the mouth of the river at Spey Bay. It’s a place fit for a queen, literally – Queen Vic used to frequent the northern valleys back in the 19th century, putting it on the map for tourists keen to find out how somewhere had managed to miraculously put a smile on the face of she who was so famously “not amused.” Meanwhile, supermodel Moss more recently drew attention to the location when she held her 40th birthday party (or one of them, at least) at the delightful Craigellachie Hotel. Fortunately the Victorian building managed to escape any damage that might have happened during one of Kate’s legendary bashes, and is proving an increasingly popular getaway for city dwellers who want a country escape that still offers plenty of fun. The place has also had the honor of hosting princes William and Harry.
At the Craigellachie, in the Moray village, notorious party animals Kate and Harry will no doubt have taken full advantage of the vast array of alcohol on offer. Famously, the hotel boasts the second largest whisky collection in the world – with a staggering selection of 100 different single malts. In fact, they could have the largest collection if they so desired, but remain insistent that they keep focused on quality rather than quantity. Basically, their experts believe it’s not worth having “filler” whiskies just to beat the record. Anyway, the second biggest selection isn’t bad, and anyone serious about whisky will be like a kid in a candy store here.
Even novices who think single malt is a hair-loss condition will be helpfully guided towards the most palatable and easily accessible drinks to start your learning experience. And for an education as topnotch as the booze, you can also do a tour of a distillery, of which you have a choice of two: Glenlivet and Balvenie. Both are excellent and include great activities to learn more about something taken very seriously in the country.
However, though the whisky is certainly what has put the area on the map, the venue has plenty more to offer in terms of culinary excellence. The inviting Copper Dog pub, nestled underneath the Craigellachie Hotel, has attracted some of the most talented chefs in Scotland to put together a traditional but forward-thinking menu that will satisfy a wide range of guests. So popular has it been that a new branch is soon to open in London too. Here, you’ll want to bring a big, big appetite.
Of course, no trip to Scotland would be official without a taste of haggis. And at the Copper Dog, the much-discussed specialty – minced sheep innards, if we want to get right down to it – is hard to beat. Creamy, indulgent – and melt-in-your-mouth – it is so delicious you soon put aside any concerns about what the dish is made of and just give yourself fully over to the mouthwatering experience. Much of the ingredients have been sourced from within a 20-mile radius, so everything has an authentic feel – and a story behind it.
Other Scottish staples such as neeps and tatties are also cooked to perfection, meaning there is, fortunately, plenty of food on offer to soak up the whisky you’ll inevitably be trying (after all, with 100 types to get through, this is not a task for the faint-hearted).
As well as keeping the stomach happy, the Copper Dog is also an entertaining place to spend your evening. The managers regularly secure the best acts in the region for live music Thursday through Saturday, giving the place a folksy, warm-hearted community feel. Often by the end of the night, former strangers all have their arms around each other, having a group singalong. The staff too are extremely friendly, and will bring you your food and drink via room service, in the restaurant area of the Copper Dog or in a special room upstairs designed for afternoon tea where you can relax and gaze out on the stunning views of the highland countryside.
Venturing outside of the Craigellachie Hotel may seem a chore, but it’s well worth it. Fish lovers might want to explore the rivers and catch their own dinner – Speyside is known as an angler’s paradise, with the River Spey famous for salmon, sea trout and brown trout fishing. A day out in the cold will only make returning to your hotel all the more rewarding as you cuddle up in front of the roasting fire with a blanket.
It’s not hard to see why the place caught the eye of an entrepreneur who was bowled over by its potential. Five years ago, the hotel was bought by Piers Adam, the man behind some of London’s hottest venues such as Whisky Mist and Maliki – which perhaps explains why a seemingly unlikely area has ended up attracting the likes of Kate Moss and the princes.
But with unrivaled views, food so delicious you’ll want to break out into a highland fling, and whisky for days, you won’t be disappointed if you follow in their footsteps.
Inverness Airport (hial.co.uk/inverness-airport) and Aberdeen International Airport (aberdeenairport.com) offer a variety of flights to and from destinations around Britain and continental Europe, including flights to several London-area airports. Both are about an hour from Speyside. ScotRail (scotrail.co.uk) trains stop in the towns of Aviemore, Keith and Elgin.
While there is some rail and bus service, this is a thinly populated rural area. Those wishing to explore further afield may want an organized tour or a rental car.
Where to Stay
Craigellachie Hotel – £150 (about $183) a night.
What to Do
The Glenlivet Classic Distillery Tour is £10 (about $12.20) per person. The Balvenie tour is £40; for an additional £30 you can bottle your own.