As the UK emerges from lockdown, travel and social restrictions are starting to be lifted across the country – and with overseas holidays still some way off, jaunts across the British Isles are likely to be the order of the day this summer. Travel to and from Scotland is now unrestricted, and having re-opened many of their facilities last month, hotels will start being able to host guests in full next Monday. So for those looking to combine a trip north of the border with a distillery visit or two this summer, we’ve put together the best Scottish hotels for whisky lovers – all within striking distance of the country’s top distilleries, which are now also re-opening their doors for visits.
Glenapp Castle, Ballantrae, Ayrshire
Ayrshire, stretching along Scotland’s southwestern coastline, is not whisky heartland. But for visitors coming from south of the border, it offers a beguiling diversion on the way to Speyside, the Highlands or, indeed, the islands – and the chance of a less predictable distillery visit to boot.
Sweeping up the long, tree-lined drive to the turreted facade of Glenapp Castle, guests are immediately cocooned in their own tranquil enclave. The castle sits within 110 acres of private estate and local woodland, affording opportunities for rambling walks and enchanting views out to the volcanic outcrop of Ailsa Craig and, on a clear day, the Isle of Arran.
Situated on the latter, the young sister distilleries of Lochranza and Lagg can be reached from the hotel by boat, for two small-scale, contrasting visits. For the more intrepid (or indulgent), Islay, with its distilleries of greater renown, is a two-hour boat ride away (or half an hour by helicopter). Closer to hand is Scotland’s most southerly distillery, Bladnoch, in picturesque Dumfries and Galloway.
Back at the hotel, 36 acres of carefully tended grounds include the Italian garden, designed in the early 20th century by the famed Gertrude Jekyll, and the walled garden, which supplies much of the hotel’s kitchen produce, from jam at breakfast to vegetables at dinner. The latter can be enjoyed surrounded by the lush vegetation of the expansive glasshouse or in the more austere oak-panelled dining room.
The hotel offers just 17 bedrooms, as well as the newly launched Endeavour, a self-contained penthouse apartment that takes up the castle’s entire top floor, with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, lounge, dining room, sauna, library and games room, plus full butler service and private chef.
Active guests can choose from an abundance of outdoor activities, be it archery, clay-pigeon shooting, stargazing, foraging, beekeeping, falconry displays or even a four-night Hebridean Sea Safari exploring the wildlife of the remote Scottish islands. A tour of Jura, Islay, Eilean Mòr and Gigha – and, with luck, views of basking sharks, dolphins and minke whales – comes in comfort, with a private chef and luxury glamping tents set up in remote locations.
From £415 per night, glenappcastle.com
The Craigellachie Hotel, Craigellachie, Speyside
The River Spey is the pulmonary artery of the Scotch industry, pumping water into the country’s largest whisky-making region. Along its banks, at the heart of Speyside, is the village of Craigellachie, which lends its name to both a single-malt distillery and a hotel.
The Craigellachie used to be a ghostly and ghastly pile, its redeeming features being a well-stocked whisky bar and views down the glen, across the sought-after fishing beats of the Spey and into the Easter Elchies estate, home to The Macallan Distillery. It was a place to stay if there was nowhere else to stay.
Then, in 2013, it was bought by hospitality entrepreneur Piers Adam, the man behind London celebrity hangout Mahiki. Today, the hotel is built around two bars: Copper Dog, a pub-style spot with great ales and food to match, the sort of place where you might find locals resting their weary dogs halfway through a country walk; and The Quaich, a bar offering more than 900 whiskies, in addition to wide-ranging views.
The hotel’s 26 bedrooms feature classically designed bathrooms and mattresses topped with Johnstons of Elgin cashmere. Similarly luxe dog beds are available on request.
The Craigellachie is an excellent option for whisky lovers keen to explore Speyside: some of the area’s most notable distilleries are within a short taxi ride, meaning that nobody has to be the designated driver, and everyone can indulge in equal
From £120 per night, craigellachiehotel.co.uk
Fife Arms, Braemar, Aberdeenshire
In the heart of Cairngorms National Park, a 90-minute drive from Aberdeen, the village of Braemar is best known for the annual Gathering, arguably the most popular of the Highland Games. It also offers easy access to Scotland’s ski slopes and, of course, its whisky distilleries.
At the centre of the village is The Fife Arms. A four-year renovation by Swiss couple Iwan and Manuela Wirth transformed this former coaching inn into a sumptuous retreat. Drawing on their Hauser & Wirth gallery empire, the pair have decked out The Fife Arms with more than 14,000 artworks and antiques, including pieces by such luminaries as Pablo Picasso and Lucian Freud, as well as Prince Charles.
Speaking of the royals, who attend the Highland Games each year, Balmoral Castle is just nine miles away, while the small Royal Lochnagar distillery is only one mile further. Many other distilleries are also within easy reach.
Back at the hotel, in The Flying Stag pub/diner, you can sample a selection of great drams, while a taxidermy stag sporting a pair of ptarmigan wings gazes down on you. For a refined cocktail, Elsa’s is an Art Deco bar inspired by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who was a regular visitor to Braemar.
New for 2021 is Bertie’s Whisky Bar, named after King Edward VII, who was also known as “Bertie”. The bar – actually, more of a whisky library – offers 365 whiskies, all arranged by flavour profile, such as Fragrant, Fruity, Rich and Smoky, as opposed to alphabetically or by age. Whisky sommeliers are on hand to help you choose the right dram, and four-dram whisky tasting flights are also available.
The Fife Arms is not just full of personality, but of comforting, homely touches as well – it’s a place where visitors can both relax and be inspired, all at once.
From £250 per night, thefifearms.com
Skibo Castle at The Carnegie Club, Dornoch
Not so much a hotel as a home-from-home for those who are lucky enough to be members, Skibo Castle is the centrepiece of the exclusive Carnegie Club. Set in an 8,000-acre estate that takes in lochs, moors and a golf course, Skibo sits on the northern side of Dornoch Firth, north of Inverness, with distilleries such as Balblair and Glenmorangie within easy reach.
With just 21 rooms, Skibo Castle is the former residence of renowned philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Keen to have a home in his native Scotland, Carnegie bought the property in 1898, then spent a fortune renovating it to the lavish splendour it still boasts today.
A stay here is an intimate affair. At dinner, served at a large table with name settings, guests are encouraged to mingle. Traditional Scottish dancing ensues, whisky is shared, and new friends are made.
The Carnegie isn’t a cheap club to join: an initial one-off fee of £30,000 is followed by an annual membership charge of around £9,000. Then there is the nightly rate in excess of £1,000. However, there’s no bill to sign off when leaving, and if you’re after the ultimate in luxury when visiting Scotland’s distilleries, you can’t go wrong here, not least because a 30-minute drive south is The Dalmore, home to some of the oldest, rarest and most expensiv Scotch available.
From £1,000 per night, carnegieclub.co.uk
Dowans Hotel, Aberlour, Speyside
Built in 1888, this majestic Victorian mansion with far-reaching views out across the Spey Valley was originally the home of John F Cumming, grandson of famous whisky heroine Helen Cumming.
Converted into a hotel in 1971, it has since been restored by the Murray family, who purchased it in 2012. Sleek, contemporary Scottish decor runs throughout the property, whose 16 rooms range from cosy singles and elegant doubles to luxurious suites fitted with free-standing bathtubs.
Two restaurants serve contemporary takes on wholesome Scottish cuisine prepared with seasonal, sustainable and locally sourced produce, while The Still (one of the Dowans’ two bars) features a 500-bottle wall of whisky. This collection is as attractive to the connoisseur as it is accessible to the novice, and the expert team can conduct bespoke tastings tailored to the individual guests’ knowledge and preferences.
Whisky lovers will also want to explore Speyside’s many distilleries, the closest being Aberlour, GlenAllachie and, of course, The Macallan, an award-winning architectural marvel that can be spotted from across the valley.
Other activities on hand include golf, fishing and hiking; the hotel sits next to the Speyside Way, a popular trail that meanders alongside the River Spey from Buckie down to Aviemore.
The Murray family is due to open Hotel 1881 in Archiestown, Speyside, later this year.
From £190 per night, dowanshotel.com
If, somehow, you weren’t aware of The Gleneagles’ reputation as a five-star retreat, you’d certainly realise it upon turning into the estate’s grand driveway. Renowned for its three championship golf courses, the 850-acre estate is dubbed the ‘Glorious Playground’ for its unending suite of activities – from shooting, fishing and horse riding, to tennis, croquet, zip lining and falconry. There’s also a fully equipped luxury spa. The two-Michelin-starred Andrew Fairlie is one of six restaurants on site, while drinking options include the decadent American Bar and cigar-and-whisky patio The Blue Bar.
Gleneagles is not just a hotel, it’s an experience – and it offers plenty for the whisky enthusiast. You can take a plush velvet seat in the elegant Century Bar and choose from an extensive list of Scotch and world whiskies. Or swing by The Still Room, the hotel’s whisky store, which stocks more than 200 rare and independent single malts; recent gems on its shelves have included a 39-year-old Port Ellen and a 24-year-old Springbank single cask.
And if there wasn’t enough to keep you occupied on the grounds, there are several distilleries nearby that are well worth a visit. Deanston, Strathearn and the historic Glenturret – which claims to be Scotland’s oldest working distillery – can be reached by car in less than half an hour, while Glengoyne, Daftmill, Aberfeldy, Edradour and Blair Athol are all within a 60-minute drive.
Fun fact: the hotel used to be owned by Diageo, the world’s largest producer of Scotch whisky. Gleneagles is also set to open the Gleneagles Townhouse in Edinburgh later this year.
From £425 per night, gleneagles.com
Glenegedale House, Islay
Arrive on Islay by plane and, across from the airport, you can’t fail to spot a charming, white-walled farmhouse, its manicured lawnoften occupied by grazing sheep. Built in the late 18th century, Glenegedale has had many uses – from a florist’s, to a dairy and café – though perhaps its most notable historic claim was as the location where the first Land Rover was launched in the 1940s.
Since 2013, the house has been in the hands of husband-andwife team Graeme and Emma Clark, who transformed it into a top-class, intimate B&B. Four contemporary rooms feature everything you need for a Scottish island getaway: the huge, comfy beds and homemade cakes set the tone, but it’s the home-cooked breakfasts (including the world-famous Glenegedale porridge) and warm, award-winning hospitality that keep guests returning time and again.
Graeme and Emma can arrange special tours and tastings at any distillery on the island or, if you fancy a cosy night in, set up a tutored tasting in front of the fire. The house is always stocked with a range of Islay malts, as well as more than 100 Scottish gins. You’ll never want to leave.
From £110 per night, glenegedalehouse.co.uk