On arrival at Edinburgh or Glasgow airport, you may well see a colorful poster headed “Scotland: The best little country in the world.” These days, there is a noticeable resurgence of Caledonian self-esteem. And at the end of a recent trip, we reflected that this newfound confidence is entirely justified.
For so small a country, Scotland boasts an astonishing variety of landscapes. In a short drive, you can go from a pastoral setting of small villages and neatly tilled fields to the vast and empty wilds of the Highlands, where craggy, heather-clad mountains are scoured by rushing peat-stained streams. Just as quickly, you can emerge from a foreboding forest to find a rugged seacoast lined by improbable white-sand beaches. The weather will change even more rapidly, switching from downpour to vibrant blue sky in a matter of minutes, often with an accompanying rainbow. Although fine weather can never be guaranteed, the best months for a visit are May- September, with the long summer evenings of late June and early July being especially memorable.
Nowadays, Scotland offers numerous delightful places to stay. Indeed, we were amazed at the quantity of new country house hotels that have opened since our previous visit. Moreover, we discovered a host of splendid restaurants that compare with the best in the world. The transformation of Scottish cuisine is little short of miraculous. Inspired by the country’s excellent produce, first-class livestock and some of the finest seafood in the world, chefs are now turning out dishes that are sophisticated, imaginative and utterly delicious.
The Scottish great outdoors has always been a magnet for Americans, thanks to world-class shooting and deer hunting. (Alas, the country’s salmon rivers are sadly diminished.) And then, of course, there are innumerable golf links to be discovered in the land where the game was invented. Scotland’s cultural heritage is ever more accessible, and it would be possible to spend several months in the Highlands and still not visit every castle, historic site, notable garden and whisky distillery that is nowadays open and welcoming visitors.
Our route took us on a sweeping drive from the Lowlands south of Edinburgh, up into the eastern Highlands and then across to the stunning northwest coast. All along the way, we were greeted with effusive hospitality. The national poet Robert Burns once wrote, “In heaven itself, I’ll ask no more than just a Highland welcome.” At the end of our two-week incognito trip, we had come to endorse his sentiment entirely.