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Living it up on the Highlands

From a train journey to a ship cruise, there is no lack of options to behold Scotland’s scenic Highlands and islands

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: Belmond Royal Scotsman offers itineraries ranging from two to seven nights departing from Edinburgh.

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: Stay at Scotland's most iconic hotels such as The Balmoral.

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: Take in the sights of the country on the Belmond Royal Scotsman.

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: Stirling castle in Scotland.

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THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: There is something for everyone in the 1920s American bar.

SCOTLAND was voted the world’s most beautiful country by readers of Rough Guides, which published its survey findings in September. The country’s windswept beaches, fathomless lochs, craggy mountains and brooding castles combine to create a heady mix of wild beauty. And it is this very beauty that draws travellers to Scotland, says Jane Yeo, European specialist at Lightfoot Travel. Still, while the scenery may be untamed, you don’t need to rough it out as there is no shortage of luxury travel options in Scotland.

Ms Yeo says: “There are so many ways to travel through Scotland, including enjoying scenic drives through the famous lochs, playing a round of golf in St Andrews, often referred to as the home of golf, and taking a luxury train ride along the coastline of the Silver Sands of Morar.”

Victoria Hogg, general manager, Scott Dunn Singapore, agrees: “There are many ways to see Scotland’s Highlands and islands. In our view, the best by far is to combine a journey on the Belmond Royal Scotsman, arguably the finest luxury train in the world, with a cruise aboard the small luxury expedition ship, Hebridean Princess.”

The train and ship, adds Ms Hogg, offer “simply outstanding personal service, fine dining and sumptuous comfort as you glide past glens, castles and heather-clad mountains in the Highlands, and explore the remote sea lochs, marine wildlife and island communities off Scotland’s West Coast”.

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Belmond Royal Scotsman offers itineraries ranging from two to seven nights departing from Edinburgh. Travelling past sweeping glens, towering peaks and black-mirrored lochs across the Scottish Highlands, the country house on wheels accommodates up to only 40 guests.

Authentic escape

“Authentic Scottish dishes complement the Highlands experience, and the observation car, with its open veranda and comfortable interior seating, provides the ideal spot to take in the passing landmarks such as the Kyle of Lochalsh and Cairngorms National Park, whilst sampling a wide choice of Scottish whiskies from the bar. It is a true authentic escape,” says Gary Franklin, regional managing director of trains and cruises at Belmond.

He adds: “The train offers guests the perfect venue to switch off, relax, and take time, whilst enjoying the impressive Scottish Highlands scenery through the picture windows.”

Belmond Royal Scotsman is the only luxury sleeper train in the UK and the first train in the Belmond collection with a dedicated Spa Carriage. At the spa, guests can be pampered with soothing massages and refreshing facials as the train chugs through Scotland’s spectacular scenery.

The train’s itineraries cover Scotland as well as other parts of Britain. Mr Franklin says that the Grand Tour of Great Britain is one of the train’s more popular journeys. “At least once a year the train sets off on a grand, eight-day adventure which begins and ends north of the (England-Scotland) border. The itinerary combines the top highlights of Scotland, England and Wales, from enchanting landscapes to vibrant cities. It is the go-to journey to experience the best of the Highlands and the English countryside.”

Mr Franklin says: “We see that Asian guests love the appeal of luxury rail holidays as the ultimate in slow travel – spending time with their family and friends as they put the distractions of their busy everyday lives to one side.”

He notes: “A rail journey gives guests time to sit back and watch the countryside unfold outside their window; to discover new countries, new cultures, and new food. They can take time to engage in conversation with their loved ones, fellow passengers and the staff on board who are only too happy to talk about their country.”

The icing on any luxurious Scotland holiday is a stay at the country’s most iconic hotels such as The Balmoral, and The Gleneagles Hotel.

Ms Hogg says: “Gleneagles is a fantastic option for golfers, with three championship courses. It’s also a wonderful option for families and couples with world-class dining, stellar service and a wide range of outdoor activities from falconry to off-road safaris. Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course played host to the Ryder Cup in 2014, and is possibly the best moorland course in the world!”

Gleneagles opened its doors in 1924. Since then, it has been one of Scotland’s most iconic hotels and sporting estates. Set beneath the Ochil Hills in the heart of Perthshire, it has been the must-go destination for travellers for nearly a century. Chris Kennedy, brand experience manager at Gleneagles, explains: “The 850-acre (340-hectare) estate epitomises the natural beauty for which Scotland is famed.”

Now under the ownership of Ennismore, Gleneagles has undergone a significant transformation. Mr Kennedy says: “Gleneagles is an authentically Scottish experience, a destination for unparalleled fun, outdoor pursuits and adventure in one of the most beautiful settings. The new design means there are even more spaces where guests can mingle, relax and better enjoy the dramatic views of the Perthshire countryside.

“There is nowhere that exemplifies the hotel’s style better than its restaurants and bars. There is something for everyone – from relaxed clubhouse lunches to cocktails in the 1920s American bar to Michelin-starred fine dining.”

Andrew Fairlie is the hotel’s two-Michelin starred restaurant, whose signature dish is its lobster smoked using whisky barrel chips.

Mr Kennedy adds that Asian guests love the hotel because of its connection to Scottish history, and the luxury shopping at the hotel and in Edinburgh. “There are lots of castles nearby to visit, and the famous town of St Andrews is close by too.”

For those looking at a luxe itinerary, Scott Dunn’s offering lasts 14 nights. This, says Ms Hogg, is the “perfect amount of time for those looking to include all of our recommended must-dos”. In terms of price, Scott Dunn creates its trips around each guest and his preferences. As the trips can be tailored for anything from a couple sharing a room at The Balmoral to a group of 20 taking over a castle, there is no set price.

Lightfoot’s Ms Yeo says: “For a self-drive holiday, we recommend hiring a Land Rover to discover the lochs of Scotland and experience the countryside in all its glory. The benefit of driving yourself is you can go where you want at your own pace.”

For those who prefer to be driven, she adds, Lightfoot can arrange for a driver as well as, if requested, a guide.

For the golf fanatic, there is nothing like playing a round or two in the birthplace of the sport. Ms Yeo says: “Scotland boasts a number of excellent championship golf courses, including Gleneagles. Here you can practise your swing at their Academy, and even have a private lesson with a PGA professional. Next up is Carnoustie, one of the toughest golfing destinations in the world, and then St Andrews.”

Scotland also boasts some of the world’s finest and most unique whiskies. Lightfoot, says Ms Yeo, offers private tours to some of the most venerable distilleries in the country. Among them is Glenturret which is Scotland’s oldest working distillery and dates back to 1775.

On the cost, she adds: “At Lightfoot Travel all of our holidays are tailor-made. However, as a guide, an eight-day trip around Scotland would cost approximately US$10,000 per person.” W

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