Scotland

Overview

From Andrew Harper

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.

Hotels

All recommended hotels in Scotland

Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom
Darroch Learg Hotel
Darroch Learg Hotel

Family-run country house hotel dating from 1888 in Royal Deeside near Balmoral Castle.

Argyll, United Kingdom
Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa and Island
Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa and Island

Manor house on a peaceful 300-acre private island (connected by bridge to the mainland) near the port town of Oban.

Ayrshire, United Kingdom
Glenapp Castle
Glenapp Castle

Secluded luxury hotel 90 minutes southwest of Glasgow, amid 30 acres of gardens and specimen woodlands on a sweeping hillside with views to the mountainous Isle of Arran.

Turnberry Resort, Scotland
Turnberry Resort, Scotland

Landmark 150-room Edwardian resort overlooking two famed 18-hole seaside links courses on the scenic Ayrshire coastline.

East Lothian, United Kingdom
Greywalls
Greywalls

Graceful stone manor house designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, converted to 23-room inn overlooking the ninth and 18th greens of the championship Muirfield golf course.

Edinburgh, United Kingdom
The Howard
The Howard

Intimate 18-room boutique hotel (no A/C) occupying three Georgian townhouses, a short stroll from lively George Street in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town.

The Caledonian, The Pompadour by Galvin © Waldorf Astoria
Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian

Sophisticated grande dame at the west end of Princes Street near Edinburgh Castle and the shops of George Street.

Isle of Skye, United Kingdom
Duisdale House Hotel
Duisdale House Hotel

Hospitable 18-room country hotel in a Victorian stone mansion perched on a hill with a commanding view of the Sound of Sleat.

Kinloch Lodge
Kinloch Lodge

Hospitable 15-room hotel contained within two appealing whitewashed buildings, one a 1680 hunting lodge, on the water’s edge at the base of pine-clad Kinloch Hill on the Isle of Skye.

Kingdom of Fife, United Kingdom
Old Course Hotel
Old Course Hotel

Refurbished contemporary 144-room hotel (35 suites) overlooking the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and 17th fairway of the famous St. Andrews Old Course, 90 minutes northeast of Edinburgh.

Dining

All recommended restaurants in Scotland

21212

This innovative restaurant is set in a restored Georgian townhouse. Chef Paul Kitching’s menu is always changing, but representative dishes include a risotto with an assiette of carrots, minted peas, mortadella, mozzarella and macadamias; beef filet with Brazil nuts, prunes and turnips; and pink trout with smoked haddock, horseradish and kippers.

3 Royal Terrace
Edinburgh, SC EH7 5AB
United Kingdom
US$77-US$109 (Prix Fixe)
Castle Terrace

Chef Dominic Jack has served in some of Europe’s top kitchens, including as a sous chef at Taillevent in Paris. The restaurant is a model of comfortable contemporary style. Jack makes full use of fine Scottish produce. Representative dishes might include a ravioli of fresh herbs and Highland crowdie cheese dressed in a light tomato sauce, monkfish wrapped in Ayrshire ham and served on a bed of rich brandade, and saddle of roe deer with celery, celeriac, apple and caramelized walnuts.

33/35 Castle Terrace
Edinburgh
United Kingdom
US$90
Ondine

Located just off the Royal Mile with wonderful views down Victoria Street, this restaurant takes full advantage of Scotland’s superb seafood. Chef Roy Brett’s menu includes dishes such as classic oak-smoked salmon with horseradish cream. Main courses might include lemon sole with brown shrimps and capers; and a fine entrecôte of beef with thin-cut fried potatoes and a Béarnaise sauce.

2 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh
United Kingdom
US$75
Restaurant Martin Wishart

Wishart brought Edinburgh its first Michelin star. Set in the docklands of Leith, this sophisticated restaurant has wood accents, muted colors and gentle lighting. Look for starters such as Kilbrannan langoustines with parsnips and white chocolate in a sauce of verjus and smoked butter; or a ceviche of halibut with mango and passion fruit. Main courses might include the rich roasted turbot with bone marrow, a galette of potatoes and artichokes, and a salad of lamb’s lettuce.

54 The Shore, Leith
Edinburgh
United Kingdom
Three-course à la carte menu, US$90; six-course tasting menu, US$95.
Restaurant Martin Wishart

Martin Wishart brought Edinburgh its first Michelin star. Set in the docklands of Leith, this sophisticated restaurant has wood accents, muted colors and gentle lighting. Look for starters such as Orkney scallops with a cep mushroom velouté, or a duck pastille with poached peach and a five-spice sauce. Main courses might include a glazed double fillet of Dover sole with artichokes and potato confit; and roasted grouse a l’Armagnac with pommes cocottes, girolle mushrooms and lardons.

54 The Shore Leith
Edinburgh EH6 6RA
United Kingdom
US$112
The Kitchin

In his waterfront restaurant, chef Tom Kitchin offers imaginative fare using seasonal produce in surprising combinations. Starters might include Orkney diver scallops with braised carrots and orange, or a rich game terrine served with prunes, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Among the main courses, look for dishes such as pan-fried turbot fillet with shellfish ravioli, crab and diced vegetables; or braised shank of Orkney beef served with marrow and potatoes.

78 Commercial Quay, Leith
Edinburgh EH6 6LX
United Kingdom
US$100
Wedgwood

At his low-key restaurant on the Royal Mile, chef and co-owner Paul Wedgwood brings together the feel of a French bistro and the superb produce of Scotland. Look for starters such as a terrine of rabbit and venison with golden raisins and a sweet corn ice cream, or lobster thermidor crème brûlée with Parmesan shortbread. Among the ever-changing mains, keep an eye out for filet of Scottish beef with seasonal vegetables, with a choice of truffled jus or a sauce of haggis, brandy and pepper.

Royal Mile 267 Canongate
Edinburgh EH8 8BQ
United Kingdom
US$60