It’s the de facto home of single malts. We’re not sure Speyside and its environs, along the northeast coast of Scotland, need much more in the way of an introduction, or a recommendation. Granted, it may not be Royal Deeside, with its gilded Balmoral-Braemar associations, picture-ready crags and sweet-box towns; nor does it trade in the austere landscapes of the far north. But this swath of the Scottish Highlands offers – aside from the origin sites of more than three dozen of the world’s finest single-malt spirits, almost all of which can be enjoyed in situ – a rich history, much beauty and convivial welcomes; not least among them the nine‑bedroom retreat that is Glenmorangie House (see “Inside Glenmorangie’s Dazzling New Distillery”)

Dunrobin Castle, the family seat of the Earls of Sutherland, was inspired by Versailles
Dunrobin Castle, the family seat of the Earls of Sutherland, was inspired by Versailles

If a base at the centre of the single-malt action is the order of the day, The Craigellachie Hotel, which sits right at the navel of the Speyside Valley‚ has been the Highlands escape of choice for a certain (au fait) Londoner since Piers Adam bought and renovated it in 2013. Book ahead at its excellent gastropub, The Copper Dog, overseen by Will Halsall, whose city bona fides (Le Caprice, The Ivy) inform the menu, which has been updated for the 2021 season with super-fresh seafood and plenty of vegetarian options. If instead you are willing to venture up towards, and stay along, the North Coast 500 route (it’s only about an hour’s drive, and a lovely one at that), Lundies House, in the teeny village of Tongue, merits the journey. Part of the Wildland portfolio of accommodation, it encapsulates the style-meets-sustainability ethos that Anders Holch Povlsen’s conservation project has become known for. The food is “new Nordic”, the rooms are Scandi-chic, and the views out of time.

The Wild Wood bedroom at Glenmorangie House
The Wild Wood bedroom at Glenmorangie House © Benjamin McMahon
The morning room at Glenmorangie House
The morning room at Glenmorangie House © Benjamin McMahon
A European eagle owl at Dunrobin Castle
A European eagle owl at Dunrobin Castle

The stretch of coastline between the Cromarty Firth and Helmsdale delivers world-class golf and photo-ready beaches in fairly equal measure. Devotees of the sport will already be familiar with Royal Dornoch, the low-key rustic club that boasts a championship course of the stuff links dreams are made of. A day membership, bookable via email or phone, affords visitors clubhouse access for the day and a full round; neophytes can opt to play the less formidable Struie course.

Oysters at the Copper Dog, Craigellachie Hotel
Oysters at the Copper Dog, Craigellachie Hotel

For those who prefer white sands and bracing sea breezes, Dornoch’s own beach more than measures up; but to the north, Brora Beach can truly compete with some of the best in the Highlands’ western islands: white sands, clear shallow seas, and the occasional dolphin or minke whale sighting.

There is a glorious meeting of formal European garden and wild Moray Firth coastline at Dunrobin Castle, the family seat of the Earls of Sutherland and the northernmost of Scotland’s great houses. Designed by Sir Charles Barry and inspired by Versailles, the extensive site merges two patrician parterres, water features and a croquet lawn with a garden that provides houseplants and cut flowers for the castle’s displays – along with a few exotics, among them a fairly famous copse of South American rhubarb whose leaves can grow to 8ft in length.

A view across the Dornoch Firth
A view across the Dornoch Firth © Benjamin McMahon

HOTELS

Lundies House Tongue, Lairg IV27 4XF; wildland.scot; from £455 per night including breakfast and dinner for two

The Craigellachie Hotel Victoria Street, Craigellachie, Aberlour AB38 9SR; craigellachiehotel.co.uk; doubles from £165

RESTAURANTS

The Copper Dog The Craigellachie Hotel (as above); dinner for two from around £90

The Storehouse Foulis Ferry, Evanton, Dingwall IV16 9UX; thestorehouse.scot; dinner for two from around £60

PLACES

Royal Dornoch Golf Road, Dornoch IV25 3LW; royaldornoch.com; championship course green fees from £125

Dunrobin Castle & Gardens Golspie KW10 6SF; dunrobincastle.co.uk; adults £12.50, children £7.50

And for a long Saturday lunch, a sundowner or to stock up the kitchen back home with all manner of local delicacies, a stop at The Storehouse on the shore of Cromarty Firth is de rigueur. The self-serve restaurant is both low-key and sophisticated, with ample outdoor seating (good for admiring the nice views over to the Black Isle) and a menu that changes daily but invariably features same-day-fresh seafood; the farm shop carries goodies from meat and game to vinegars and preserves to cheeses and even gelato; and none of it is sourced from more than about 20 miles away.

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