Scottish Luxuries

Written by  Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

EUROPE ScotlandOn water, on rails, in historic manor houses or smart city hotels, Scotland knows how to do luxury travel.
While the Royal Scotsman is well-known to high-end travelers as one of the world’s grandest train trips, the Hebridian Princess (www.hebridean.co.uk) may be less familiar to clients seeking a luxury Scottish vacation. A cruise on board this 50-passenger ship is like being the guest at a floating house party at a posh country house.
But this house party’s scenery changes constantly and each day brings a different shore experience - the ghost town on rarely visited St Kilda, an airport with a white-sand beach for a runway, prehistoric sites, castles, the fabled isle of Iona, and one of Britain’s most famous gardens at Inverewe. Service is impeccable - seamless, cordial and good-humored. Staterooms are spacious and public areas intimate and welcoming. No wonder when Queen Elizabeth II plans a family cruise she charters the Hebridean Princess.

Your clients can also be pampered on an inland cruise, traveling the Caledonia Canal and Loch Ness through Scotland’s Great Glen with European Waterways (www.gobarging.com). The dramatic Highlands rise steeply on either bank of this series of four interconnected lochs as the Scottish Highlander glides sedately between Inverness and Fort William. The eight-passenger luxury hotel barge cruises this scenic route year-round.


Beginning this June, the hotel barge Spirit of Scotland cruises the same route, accommodating 12 passengers. Added to its many luxuries is a heated spa pool. Passengers on either will savor local specialties like quail, wild salmon and Aberdeen Angus Beef, and shore excursions will include whisky distilleries, historic sites and castle tours.
Most travelers begin their trips to Scotland in its capital, Edinburgh, an elegant and lively city topped by a castle that stands high atop a stone crag. Reserve castle entrance in advance so clients can avoid the inevitable lines. Do the same for tours of historic Holyrood House, the royal palace below at the opposite end of The Royal Mile. Suggest lunch at the lovely tea room in the castle, or in one of the pubs along the Royal Mile.


Spacious Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh’s (www.sheratonedinburgh.co.uk) guest rooms look out at the castle, as does the hotel’s outstanding restaurant, One Square, where your clients can dine on superb Scottish dishes – Loch Etive sea trout, venison Wellington with wild mushrooms or local mussels and cockles cooked in cider.


Service at the Sheraton is exceptional, but clients who prefer a more boutique experience will appreciate knowing about the four rooms above one of the city’s most sought-after Michelin-starred restaurants, Paul Kitching’s 21212 (www.21212restaurant.co.uk). These large lushly decorated rooms overlook gardens or the city of Edinburgh, and each has a dedicated lounge area. The included breakfast is what you might expect from a restaurant of this renown. You’ll need to reserve well in advance for an intimate dinner in the sumptuous linens-and-leather 21212. The menu changes weekly, and each fixed-price five-course dinner includes choices of three starters, three main dishes and three desserts, plus a soup and a cheese course, all flawlessly presented.


In Glasgow, Britain’s only UNESCO City of Music, clients interested in the arts will want to stop to see the works of Charles Rennie Macintosh, credited with beginning the Art Nouveau movement. Although his premier work, the Glasgow School of Art, was badly damaged by fire and has still not re-opened for tours, entire rooms of his and colleagues’ work are shown at the outstanding (and free) Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.


Clients can have tea or lunch at Macintosh’s famous Willow Tea Rooms, only a five-minute walk from Blythswood Square Hotel (www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare). The hotel’s spa won instant honors as the best new spa in the UK when it opened, so reserve a spot when you book one of the smartly furnished hotel rooms. Blythswood Square is a short walk from Royal Glasgow Concert Hall, and in the grid of downtown streets that surround it your clients can find several of the 700-odd pubs Glasgow is known for.

More Travel Options
It would be a shame for luxury-loving clients to miss a stay in at least one of Scotland’s country manor houses that have become hotels. On the shores of a loch near Oban (and a good add-on to a cruise on the Hebridean Princess, which sails from Oban), Isle of Eriska Hotel (www.eriska-hotel.co.uk) is a classic Scottish baronial mansion surrounded by perfectly groomed lawns, trees, and its own golf course, on a 300-acre private island.


Leisure time at Eriska can be as active as a day’s kayaking in nearby Loch Erne or as sedate as a game of croquet, finished by relaxing in the hotel’s full-service spa. After sumptuous dinners created from locally sourced ingredients, guests can retire to the porch for coffee and watch for the badgers to come for their nightly romp on the terrace.


Closer to Glasgow (a private car will meet guests at Glasgow’s airport), Cameron House (www.cameronhouse.co.uk) sits on the “bonnie banks” of Loch Lomond. Like the Isle of Eriska, Cameron House has its own waterside golf course. Rooms are spectacular, incorporating the manor house’s fine architectural and decorative details and collections. Five restaurants range from Edinburgh chef Martin Wishart’s Michelin-starred tasting menus to a casual seafood restaurant at the water’s edge. Cameron Grill combines luxury with a relaxed atmosphere that welcomes children with a special menu (advise clients to sample the nightly Salmon Bar, loaded with the finest smoked and cured loch salmon).


Along with multiple activities for adult guests, including falconry, archery, tennis and mountain biking, Cameron House is especially well equipped to welcome families. Sports and other programs for youngsters include rugby clinics, pool parties, supervised swimming, cooking lessons, a Kids’ Club, in-room babysitting and day care for children as young as
six weeks.


European Waterways is also catering to this growing market for family travel, offering a “kids go free” promotion in Scotland this summer. Up to three children under age 18 can cruise the Caledonian Canal free on the Spirit of Scotland, and family-friendly excursions and meal options will appeal to children of all ages.


It’s not just luxury travel that caters to families in Scotland. ScotRail (www.scotrail.co.uk), which operates train service throughout the country, has a budget-saving Kids Go Free program that allows up to two children, aged 5-15, free off-peak travel with each adult. An added bonus with the Kids Go Free ticket is free admission for one child to top attractions all over Scotland. Included in the offer are boat trips on Loch Lomond, the Edinburgh Zoo, Deep Sea World, and Scotland’s largest inhabited castle.


With deals like these, coupled with Norwegian Air’s low-cost flights direct to Edinburgh from Hartford, CT (BDL) and Newburgh, NY (SWF) beginning this month, even budget travelers can afford to bring the whole family to Scotland (www.norwegian.com). Look for more information on Scotland at www.visitscotland.com

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