The Scottish Rail rolls east, passing flocks of fluffy white sheep. We throw out guesses of how many we’ve passed (500? 1,000?) - an unwinnable game. Somehow, the passing hills are illuminated by the muted grey sky, creating an Emerald city-like green glow. We take a sip of whisky (that’s whisky, not whiskey, and certainly not scotch) from a test-tube size dram, both because it’s weirdly cold outside for being spring and because that’s what you do here. Scotland is all about feeling cozy and, even when the rest of the world is wearing shorts, we’re 100% here for it.
Our first trip to Scotland is in April for a long weekend getaway from the antithetical desert of Valencia. Immediately, we’re awestruck by the beauty of the lush, dew-glistened landscape after leaving the dry, brown, albeit sunny, Spanish coast. After a quick stop in Glasgow (certainly worth more than a quick stop), we continue to the capital city.
Edinburgh has been on our Travel Wishlist for awhile, and although it can get quite full with tourists, it offers amazing history, culture and a beautiful cobbled old town. We stroll up the Royal Mile, popping into a Scottish wool shop to pick up a cozy Tartan blanket, all the way to Edinburgh Castle before grabbing a pint and a loaded jacket potato in a cozy pub. Just outside the city center, Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano and cluster of hills, beckons when we wake up to sunshine the next morning. After climbing to the top, we’re rewarded with panoramic city and Firth of Forth views. There is absolutely no better way to earn the full Scottish breakfast, buttery biscuit and all.
One of Scotland's best gifts to visitors is the free admission to any of its incredible museums, such as the National Gallery and National Museum. We highly recommend an evening walking tour to learn about the scandals, legends and ghosts that have, over centuries, been woven into the fabric of the city’s rich history. The copious amount of rain helps to make the Botanical Gardens worth a stop as well. For a memorable dinner (or a cozy refined brunch), pop in The Little Chartroom, a wee restaurant that will make you rethink your preconception of Scottish cuisine. While a pint in a local pub is absolutely mandatory, the taproom at Brew Dog, a now-famous brewery that originated just up the coast in Aberdeen, is a fun and lively spot to canoodle with local professionals who stop in for an after work beer.
We return to Valencia with the complete knowledge that visiting Scotland and only experiencing the city is not the full picture of what this country is all about. So, when we’re invited to celebrate the marriage of our wonderful friends two years later, at a castle (yes, an actual castle) in the Scottish countryside, we reply with an immediate Ay.
On our second trip, we brave the left side of the road, carefully navigating roundabouts from the Edinburgh airport to the nearby Royal Burgh of Culross. We’re here to visit a mate who we met when filming Househunters International a couple years back. Strolling the original cobbled streets, past historic white-harled houses with slate rooftops we learn that the tiny burgh (population somewhere around 400) is nearly perfectly preserved as it was in the 16th and 17th centuries. On the edge of the River Forth, it’s incredibly picturesque and defines the term “quaint.” Culross also happens to be one of the main filming locations for Outlander, if you’re into that.
After lunch and a few laughs, we make our way to the castle where the wedding will take place, just south of Aberdeen. This region is known for castles, turns out, and they seem to be everywhere. On the slightly foggy (okay, hungover) day after the wedding, we drive to the seaside Dunnottar Castle. Located on a rocky peninsula with trails winding up to the ancient ruins dating back to the 4th century, it is nothing short of magnificent. We don’t have time to check out other castles in the area, but if we did, we’d highly consider stops at Craigievar Castle, Castle Fraser, Tolquhon Castle, and Fyvie Castle, to name a few.
Instead, we hop in the car and continue driving through the countryside - pure magic, with narrow lanes passing through tunnels of trees and tiny villages filled with stone houses. We tuck into a beautiful little countryside B&B, and after a soak in the clawfoot tub and a shortbread cookie or two, we fall asleep to the sound of rain on the slate roof.
When in Scotland, one must drink whisky, and after a little veggie hash and bubbles and squeak, we stop by The Glenturret Distillery for a tour. Even if you’re not a drinker, the history and process of producing and distilling whisky here is fascinating - a cornerstone of the culture. Distilleries can be found all over the country and most offer inexpensive or free tours and tastings.
As we pack our suitcases, we agree that this wee country is the perfect travel destination. Across one small area, it offers a bit of everything - cool cities with great restaurants, culture, history, as well as beautiful countryside with green landscapes, quaint villages and wonderful people. There’s a good chance that we might be in love. And that’s not just the whisky talking.
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