Monday, August 12, 2013

My First Scottish Adventure: First Glimpse

Read last week's post about my 2005 arrival in the Highlands: Landing and Driving
Scottish Countryside - photo by MK
The first day really was an amazing discovery. I found that I wanted to see everything all at once, so I had to slow down, take a breath and make the most of every moment. The first castle I pulled off the motorway to view was Blaire Castle. To be honest I did this because it was the first castle I could access easily off the main road, without causing a vehicle pile up, and I wasn't up for getting lost before I even reached the Highlands and my hotel.

Blair Castle - photo by MK
Blair Castle, the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, is located in the picturesque area of Perthshire located on the route to Inverness. Learn more about Blaire Castle on their website.  

Photo Credit: Blair Castle website
A lot of time was not spent as there were quite a few tourists (which I tend to try to avoid), but I did take a bit of a walk around the grounds and then headed back to the car to make the drive north to the hotel.

The Hotel
Tigh na Sgiath - Photo by MK
Tigh na Sgiath! Try saying that five times fast - I gave up after two times. Any way it's said, this is a fabulous place to stay in the Highlands. Located near Aviemore and the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail, this country house hotel was once the home of the Lipton Tea family. Built in 1902, the elegant mansion is set in its own fabulous grounds in the heart of the Cairngorm National Park.

Tigh na Sgiath is also home to two amazing hosts, one of whom is hands down one of the best chefs, Elaine MacDonald-Coulter. I can't compare her food to every single restaurant in the world, but I have eaten at some very fine restaurants with some of the best chefs in the US, and nothing compared. I ate every meal except one lunch in the hotel's restaurant. Breakfast was something to look forward to with a selection of fresh fruits, pastries, and cereals to a full Scottish breakfast of Unsmoked Bacon, Pork Sausage, local Venison Sausage, Tomato, Black Pudding, Haggis, Mushrooms, Potato Scone, Baked Beans and a Free Range Egg of your choice. I wasn't going to visit Scotland without trying the Haggis - delicious!

Photo Credit: Tigh na Sgiath
Then there was dinner. I wasn't used to the late hours for meals in Europe, so I took the earliest time every evening, 7pm. I would come down the stairs and be welcomed to sit down for canapes and drinks. I don't drink alcohol but I certainly enjoyed the conversation with the other guests. I was the youngest guest there which I loved. The stories I heard were delightful - one couple spoke of their past visit and fascination with Montana, and some about their time served with the Highland Regiment and their workout treks up Ben Nevis. They even encouraged me on when I was first going to sample the haggis.

Photo Credit: Tigh na Sgiath
Once we were seated in the dining room, true ecstasy began with the offering of bread and it only continued to get better. From Aberdeen Angus and Highland Venison to Roasted Quail and Breast of Barbary Duck, everything Chef Elaine touched was magic. Of course I wasn't going to forgo dessert, and every night delighted in something new from cheesecakes and puddings to chocolate profiteroles (which I had twice). The service was impeccable, the dining room elegant and tasteful, the cuisine magnificent. It was full every night and I completely understand why.

The grounds were also lovely, and nearby I discovered a wonderful place to walk along a river through the forest. Quiet, relaxing and a peaceful getaway. The hotel is a close drive to Grantown-on-Spey, yet nestled in the quiet of the country. 

Both Iain and Elaine, who have no idea I'm writing about them, are exceptional hosts, and their hotel is on my itinerary for the next visit.

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