Autumn Rainbows, Ardnamurchan and Moidart, Scottish Highlands

Any trip to the Scottish Highlands for us begins shortly after we leave our house and this trip didn’t disappoint.   Although the weather could have been kinder, the scenic journey along the A84 via Callander and the A85 via Crianlarich was very enjoyable and the haunting and dramatic views along the A82 via Glencoe are always impressive in any conditions.

Just after Onich, we crossed Loch Linnhe via the Corran Ferry to Ardgour.  A short crossing, but this cut around 20 mins or so from our journey time compared to the Fort William route; always worth considering if you’re comfortable with ferries.

We were heading for Garmoran Square, a development of four luxury self-catering apartments situated in Mingarry, Moidart in the picturesque west coast of the Scottish Highlands and north of the Isle of Mull.  Each apartment has a historical link to the area and you can find out more during your stay if you take time to delve into the well-stocked book shelves.

Moidart is best known as Bonnie Prince Charlie country as he arrived in Kinlochmoidart in August 1745 landing at Castle Tioram on route from France setting sail up Loch Shiel from Dalilea.  Worth reading up on the history before you arrive as you’ll immediately fall in love with these stories and the folklore the area has to offer.

Mingarry is a small crofting township with several public dwellings as well as a mixture of traditional crofts, some private houses and Mingarry Park, which we will tell you about later.

Garmoran Square is at the gateway to Ardnamurchan, just 1 hour from Fort William, Ben Nevis and Nevis Range in the north east and just over an hour to Ardnamurchan Point in the west.   It is also within easy reach of Mull, Skye and the small Isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum during the summer season – although worth pointing a boat or ferry is needed for these visits!

Garmoran Square opened in 2006 and is built on croft land to the side of Susan and Kenneth MacDonald’s home.  Their concept was to build a luxury treat to allow people to share the beauty and history of this area.   In our view they’ve certainly achieved this – watch Susan tell you about it here.

Although Garmoran Square is rural it’s only a 5 minutes’ drive from a baker, grocers, tearoom, hotel, pubs and restaurants.   We were aware early November is the beginning  of the low / winter season, so some places had limited opening hours, but it didn’t really affect our stay at all and just meant we spent more time outdoors.  There’s nothing better than trekking through the Scottish Countryside, pouring yourself and enjoying a nice cup of coffee / homemade soup before your return leg.

We were staying in the Tioram apartment (pronounced cheerum) at the southeast corner of the development overlooking Ben Resipole.   The three main apartments are well orientated to maximise the sun in the afternoon and evening and to enjoy the early morning sunrise over Ben Resipole.

Susan met us on arrival, which is always a nice touch, and we immediately felt at home with her.  She gave us a brief tour of Tioram, essential tips on the heating controls and some advice on places to visit and walk in the area.   She was welcoming and warm; and it was clear that she had a passion for the area and was proud of what she and Kenneth had achieved at Garmoran Square.

Tioram is a 3 bedroom five star ground floor apartment, sleeping 6 with 2 double and 1 twin rooms all with en suite.  The large lounge has floor to ceiling windows with outstanding views of Ben Resipole to the south.  Three large settees make this an ideal space to settle down or gather with friends if there are more of you.

The kitchen  / diner is bright and modern and in our view one of the best kitted out in terms of crockery, cooking implements and gadgets; it’s a perfect space for cooking and socialising at the same time not to mention the view to be enjoyed through the full length windows.

Watch the video here.

The apartment also had good internet coverage with decent download speeds for an area like this.   We unpacked quickly and easily as there was of plenty hanging space and drawers in the main bedroom.

It was also no trouble at all for us to plug in our Outlander Hybrid and Susan made sure this was possible giving us access to her small outbuilding next to the car park.

Your first night at a new place isn’t always the best, but here we felt at home and relaxed immediately.  We settled down with a box set (this time Suits Season 4) and enjoyed our customary Scottish gins.  This time we were trying Kirkjuvagr’s new Storm Strength and Arbikie’s Kirsty’s Gin.  Both went down very well – but be careful with the storm strength.

Although tempting, who doesn’t enjoy an open fire, we never needed to use the log burner during our stay as the underfloor heating throughout the apartment was more than enough, keeping us warm and toasty.

We had a very peaceful first night sleep in a very comfortable and cosy super king size bed – perhaps the gin helped a little.

We woke early to get our Autumn in Ardnamurchan adventure underway!    A key plus point for any place we stay is how good the shower is and Tioram didn’t disappoint– a great refreshing start to our day.  Our bathroom was modern, bright with a ceiling velux window and nicely finished with floor to ceiling tiles.

On a map this part of Scotland may appear vast, but in terms of distance it really isn’t.  However, given the single track roads places can take a little time to reach – not a problem mind you given the stunning scenery on route.

Being centrally located is essential to ensure you maximise your time at different places – Garmoran Square is perfect for this and an ideal base to explore this area.   Moidart and Ardnamurchan are renowned for their spectacular scenery with some of the best beaches on the west coast and the area offers wildlife in abundance.

First up on the Saturday was a visit to the Singing Sands, near Kentra.  The early morning forecast wasn’t the best, but, although cold, we ended up enjoying some lovely spells of sunshine.

The start of the walk was a 10 minute drive from Garmoran Square, the walk to the Singing Sands, there and back, was along tracks next to Kentra Bay and then through forestry plantation before emerging at the white sands.   It was low tide and Kentra Bay was a large expanse of mudflat with small fragments of salt marsh, sand dune and machair.

 Wildlife was limited along the route to water birds, although we’re sure we spotted a mountain hare, searching for food.  The section through the forestry plantation was pleasant but somewhat spoiled by the 6ft high close boarded perimeter fence left over from Channel 4’s failed social experiment Eden.   Hopefully Channel 4 and the estate return it to its natural look sooner rather than later.

The walk was worth it when we emerged from the trees to cross the small dunes and head onto the singing sands.  We had the entire beach to ourselves.

At low tide the sands stretch right across the bay and normally allow plenty of scope for exploring along the coastline to the right.  Sadly, we were midway between low and high tide and, although we tried, we couldn’t quite get around to the northern beach which formed part of the Eden ‘set’.

To make the sands sing we had to shuffle across with either bare feet or shoes – given the temperatures we chose the latter.   The noise is made by the grains of sand rubbing together.   The grains are completely round and seemingly had the right level of humidity to generate the low frequency sound.   Despite repeated attempts, sadly, we never heard any ‘singing’.

That said, sliding your feet along a beach that is littered with signs like this makes you more than a little careful about what you’re doing with your feet.

The weather was mixed, but all in all it was a very pleasant walk with stunning scenery at the end and even a rainbow making an appearance for us.    Impressively we had a 4g signal at Singing Sands, which even allowed a brief catch up on our Social Media, unfairly worrying our families, by sharing pics of the explosive signs.

Our trip to Sana Bay, Portuairk and Ardnamurchan Point the next day was perfect; the Scottish weather had played an absolute blinder for us.

One of the good things about this area is that within seconds of setting off on a trip you are immediately surrounded by breath taking scenery and wildlife including birds of prey, mountain goats, deer, otter and seals.

Just make sure you keep your eyes on the road as you never know what’s around the corner!

The 30 mile journey along the windy, narrow single track road from Salen was nothing short of stunning; the sun was shining, the blue skies were clear and Loch Sunart waters were glistening.  It was one of the most idyllic and scenic drives we have ever taken and took so much longer than planned as we kept stopping for the photo opportunities and glimpses of majestic stags and their hinds in the distance.

We also stopped off on route at Kilchoan to scout out the ferry terminal for a future trip back over to explore Mull.

We parked up at Portuairk and set off on foot towards Ardnamurchan Point and a visit MacNeil Bay; a beautiful sandy beach with views out to the lighthouse.

We had a lot planned that day, so never took the detour to the lighthouse; that was on our radar for a stopover later.

After leaving MacNeil Bay we headed back to Portuairk and had a very special, if not slightly nervous, close encounter with these two lads.

It was the end of the rutting season, so hormones would have been running high, but as we approached they thankfully scarpered off into the hills and we returned to Portuairk.

In the afternoon we drove to Ardnamurchan Point.  As the most westerly point on the British mainland, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849.    The Lighthouse itself stands 36m high, and its top is 55m above sea level.

As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Ted and Peigi the two lighthouse keeper’s dogs who guided us on our way to the lighthouse viewing points.

The lighthouse was closed for the season, so we couldn’t climb the 152 steps, plus two ladders to the top.  We did spend some time at the viewpoints near to the bright red foghorn on the rocks below the lighthouse and at the inside viewing area beneath the front of the foghorn platform.

Ted and Peigi had our hearts in our mouths as they bounded across the rocks on the edge of some dangerous / steep drops into the rough seas below.  Ted even had some time to pose for a photo – you can see he’s done that pose many times before.

The views were great and we could see the island of Rum to the north, with the Cuillins of Skye beyond.

Final stop for the day was Sanna Bay.  Dominated by beautiful white, shell sand and turquoise sea, the bay is well-known for its magnificent beach and scenery.

Although it was late in the day, we had superb views of the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck and the sun was beginning to set to the west. This led to some incredible views and photo opportunities.

Sanna Bay is so mesmerising, and its sheer remoteness makes it a special place to visit.

We headed back to Garmoran Square along the single-track road towards Salen.  The falling light gave the journey a different ambiance along with some brief encounters with low flying bats and mountain goats. 

It had been a long day, so we decided to treat ourselves at the nearby Mingarry Park.  This recently awarded AA rosette restaurant was a 3-minute walk from Garmoran Square and a bonus to have so close to us; more importantly it meant we could both enjoy a nice Sauvignon Blanc with our meal.

We ordered Steamed Cockles and Smoked Mallaig Mussels and a Mushroom Bridie to start and mains of Sous-vide Moidart Venison Loin and Pan Seared Sea Bass.

One of us even managed a wee clootie dumpling for dessert!

The food, especially the venison loin, was excellent; even better the restaurant was practically on the doorstep of Garmoran Square.   Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring Ardnamurchan , followed by a delicious meal after which we headed back for a few more episodes of Suits and a glass or two of gin!

In fact, we were so tired from the day, and given the forecast wasn’t the kindest our laziness rolled over to noon the next day.  We spent the morning relaxing and enjoying the cosiness of the apartment, freshly brewed coffee, toasted muffins and crispy bacon and reading up on the history of the area.

We did venture out later to explore Castle Tioram for a few hours – this was a must given we were staying at its namesake.   The ruined Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) is sited on the rocky tidal island Eilean Tioram (the Dry Island) where the waters of Loch Moidart & the River Shiel meet.

The castle is closed to visitors, but we were still able to visit the island at low tide and managed to get some pictures.

We didn’t really have enough time to fully explore and the weather wasn’t the best.   Castle Tioram is first on our list to visit again when we next return and we’ve already started to read up on its fascinating history.

Our journey home was an experience in itself.

As you head to Fort William the scenery along the A86 through the village of Glenuig and onto Lochailort is nothing short of spectacular and not to be missed, neither is the ‘magical’ Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The famous Glenfinnan viaduct carries the railway to Glenfinnan Station across a 1,000 ft span, 100 ft above the ground. The Jacobite steam train runs from here to Fort William and Mallaig in summer months with regular trains available the rest of the year.   The viaduct is built from mass concrete, and has 21 semi-circular spans of 50 feet.  It is the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland at 416 yards, and crosses the River Finnan at a height of 100 feet.   The viaduct is word famous and features in the Harry Potter movies.

We parked up just off the A830 and headed towards the viaduct.  The path has been much improved in recent years; passing beneath the arches of the viaduct before continuing to climb on the far side.

As we gained more height the clouds cleared, and the sun emerged giving us dramatic and ‘magical’ views looking down on the viaduct – made more special by the appearance of another rainbow.

We also had an impressive view of the Glenfinnan Monument, but that’s a whole new history lesson for another time.

The final leg of our journey home via Glencoe was equally as dramatic as the sun began to set.

Garmoran Square was perfect for us and we highly recommend these luxury apartments to anyone looking to explore the Ardnamurchan and Moidart peninsula.

With so much history and scenery Susan and Kenneth have created a perfect base for you to return each day to relax, recharge and reflect on your adventures.

Before we left we had a wee peek at the other three apartments and have to say they are all finished to the same high standard – so much so we hope to visit again very soon.

Mains of Taymouth & Highland Safaris – Luxury in Perthshire

We’ve done our fair share of travelling in recent years across Scotland, however, Kenmore wasn’t a place that we’ve visited before.

It’s was great to get an opportunity to try somewhere new; even better that it was only 1 ½ hrs from our home and had so much to do, see and explore.    The journey up from Lanarkshire via Crieff was very scenic and got our weekend off to a great start.

Kenmore is a village at the mouth of the 14 mile long Loch Tay and is a great base for activities on and around the Loch itself, such as sailing, canoeing and water-skiing.

We were staying at Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course for 2 nights.  The estate to the north of the village, is a 4 & 5 star award winning luxury self-catering resort, nestled on the edge of Loch Tay, comprising holiday cottages, houses, villa’s and apartments.

The estate has a range of luxury pet friendly lodges / cottages with hot tubs and private gardens and impressive facilities, including Golf Course, Riding Stables, Courtyard Bar & Restaurant and Boat Hire.  It also boasts decent 3g and 4g coverage – perfect for travel and food bloggers!

We arrived on a Friday and it was a great day in terms of weather with clear blue skies and bursts of sunshine.  We arrived early to enjoy as much of the area as we could, stopping off at the Courtyard Bar to refuel with coffee and homemade scones with jam, before we ventured up nearby Drummond Hill.   Walk Highlands, is our ‘go to’ website for Scottish walks, but Drummond Hill must be one of the most challenging grade 1s we’ve ever done – thankfully the views at the top are totally worth it.

The walk took a couple of hours and gave us a real appetite for lunch at the Courtyard Bar.  The food came very quickly, service was first class and hit the spot perfectly – all reasonably priced too.  We even managed to wash it all down with a couple of Scottish Gins, Edinburgh Gin and the Botanist this time round.

Our cottage was ready early around 3.30pm when we got the call from reception, but we were out enjoying the autumn colours and the banks of the Tay munching on the moreish gin and tonic fudge we’d bought earlier in the Courtyard Delicatessen.

We returned around 4.30pm and checked in at reception where we got a very warm welcome from the team and keys to ‘The Bothy’.

Situated in the northern corner of the resort is a 19th Century traditional courtyard; consisting of several different sizes of luxury cottages.  We were staying in the 5 star ‘The Bothy’.  This cottage is perfect for a romantic couples’ getaway and offered a level of privacy you perhaps wouldn’t have expected for such a large resort.   Perfect, especially if you wanted to enjoy the hot tub in your own private garden to the rear!

An open plan living space, wood burning stove and galleried en-suite bedroom made this a very cosy and intimate place to chill, relax and enjoy, the now customary box set (Ozark this time) and Scottish gin (Makar) we brought with us.   The bedroom was furnished with king-size bed, stylish bathroom with separate bath and shower with body jets, and under floor heating.

We had a lazy first night and were brave enough to use the hot tub while enjoying our gin and the remaining fudge.

Saturday’s weather wasn’t as good as Friday, but that never stopped us getting out and about.   We had planned a visit to Highland Safaris for a red deer experience and then a trip into the mountains to see the amazing Perthshire scenery.

We met up with Tony at the Red Deer Centre who gave us a very passionate, and informative talk about wild red deer. It would be unfair to share his stories as we couldn’t do it justice or provide the actions – go along and you’ll see what we mean! It was good fun though, interactive and interesting and ended with us hand feeding the Centre’s herd of tame Red Deer.  We also met the Centre’s Barn Owl who was keen to show us her flying skills; overall, we had a great time learning the secrets of this majestic bird.

Before setting out on our Mountain Safari we stopped off for some lunch at the onsite café.  It was absolutely jumping (to use a good old Scottish description for being busy!) and we had quite a short window before we set off in our Land Rover with Alistair.   The café staff were first class and managed to serve up some wholesome homemade soup and sandwiches in plenty of time – so much so that we had time for a coffee and some very tasty home baking.

We set off with Alistair in our land rover just after 1.30pm; he was so passionate about what he did for a living and the area he worked in – such a lucky person!   Again, it wouldn’t be fair to tell his stories, but they were informative and interesting covering legends and folklore, the Schiehallion mountain, the Jacobite rebellion, military roads built by General Wade, curious facts about the ice age and to top that the origins of the Guinness Book of Records!

After an interesting climb through the mountain tracks we were almost 2,500ft up in the Perthshire hills.  The weather could have been a little kinder for us, however, this is a year-round attraction and we still had a great time and managed to enjoy the autumn heather moors, spot a large stag protecting his hinds and even had a sighting of the elusive mountain hare.   We had a cosy stopover in a mountain bothy with some tea, coffee, Kenmore Shortbread and a dram of Dewars Whisky.

Highland Safaris are celebrating twenty five years of success this year which has seen it grow its business from one Land Rover taking small groups up into the hills, to its present level as one of Scotland’s premier five star rated visitor attractions, enabling visitors from home and abroad to successfully engage with Scotland’s wildlife, history and heritage.

We will certainly be back to visit again soon and to experience another season to see how the scenery has changed.  Overall a fab day out – looking forward to trying their new Loch Tay Safari also.

We had already tried the Courtyard Bar the day before, so thought we would try out the Restaurant on the Saturday evening.  This part of the resort is a great place to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and service.   It serves breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner daily whether it be inside relaxing on the couches by the cosy fire or outside on the extensive sun deck area.

We had a great table near the log burning fire.   The staff were very attentive, friendly and helpful and made you feel right at home.  The restaurant also had a real buzz about it with a good mix of guests, couples and groups.  There’s no better way to describe a restaurant experience that showing of the wonderful food we munched our way through – so here’s the pics!

Pan seared scallops, black pudding, chorizo and balsamic glaze

Pan roasted duck breast with rosti potatoes, baby vegetables and a star anise jus

Pan seared guinea fowl supreme with a rosemary mash, savoy cabbage and a wild mushroom jus

Dark chocolate and orange pot with crème fraiche and chocolate crumb

We only had a short stay in this area of Perthshire and we loved what we saw and did.

Mains of Taymouth Country Estate & Golf Course is a great base to explore the Perthshire area and has a range of facilities on site to make your stay more relaxing and enjoyable.   We would highly recommend it for anyone wanting to chill, relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery and wildlife Scotland has to offer.

Don’t forget to try the Gin & Tonic fudge!

The Bahía Del Duque, Costa Adeje, Tenerife – Luxury Guaranteed

Bahía del Duque is a Leading Hotel of the World (LHW) and it easily lives up to that status.

It is situated in the most exclusive end of Costa Adeje and is a laid out as a mock 19th century Spanish / Canarian village with direct access onto Playa Del Duque. The ‘village’ has five pools, streets, squares, church towers and stunning architecture filled with a mix of palms, dragon trees, flame trees, jacarandas, fruit trees and cactus.

Bahía del Duque is located on a large estate of approximately 100,000sqm. This project by renowned architect Andrés Piñeiro, recreates a Villa, with nineteen low-rise independent houses.

What makes Bahía del Duque stand out is that it really doesn’t feel like a large hotel, but more of a homely Spanish village all on its own and in some areas, has scenes straight out of a fairy tale.

Our check in was seamless, a little automated to be honest, but efficient and speedy – it did what it said on the tin as they say! The staff, in their traditional dress, were excellent throughout the hotel and across all departments – nothing was ever a problem and they put you at ease from the moment you arrived.

One of the very few criticisms we did have of the hotel was the reception area which was very hot; it would have been nice to have an air-conditioned area for guests to relax and ‘chill’. Perhaps something to think of in the future, especially for guests waiting to be picked up for their journey home.

We were in a Deluxe Seaview room, on a half board basis, and we managed to land one with a sun terrace and decent views of the sea through the ‘village’ rooftops.

Since our last stay in 2012 the rooms have undergone refurbishment and they have more of a modern feel about them than before.

A nice touch was the bottle of fizz chilling for our arrival – needless to say it disappeared very quickly along with the chocolate dipped strawberries.

Having the sun on our terrace from mid-afternoon meant we could retire to our room, enjoy a bite to eat from the room service menu and then relax with a large gin on the incredibly comfortable sun loungers.

Bahia del Duque stood out for us during our last trip for its gastronomic dining experience and this is what we came back for.  This is where Las Aguas stepped up to the plate – pun intended! Worth noting that across all restaurants (except Sensu Kazan) guests on half board could choose ‘inclusive’ dishes, but for some dishes there were supplements to pay.

Las Aguas is the flagship restaurant of Bahía del Duque. Located within the area of Las Villas, in a unique and exclusive setting, it was created by the interior designer Pascua Ortega. Las Aguas serves traditional Canarian cuisine using the most avant-garde techniques developed by its chef Braulio Simancas.

Fresh fish, local meats, market produce and the chef’s own market garden provided a menu full of flavours and textures. Las Aguas is one of our favourites restaurants, so on our first night we chose the 13-course tasting menu.

Celebrating traditional, Canarian tradition and culture it was simply outstanding. From start to finish the dishes were fresh, intense and exciting and the experience was very well priced. The entire evening felt special and exclusive with the most attentive staff we have had for a long time.  Overall Las Aguas provided a first class start to our stay and set the bar for others restaurants to follow.

A special mention for the dessert of white chocolate soup, passion fruit, mint and cardamom – this dessert is delicious and remains one of our firm favourites; highly recommended and worth visiting Lad Aguas for that alone!

We dined again here on our final evening and chose the traditional a la carte menu as the tasting menu on offer was the same as our earlier visit.  Although, another enjoyable evening, it didn’t quite live up to our first night and it would have been nice to have an alternative tasting menu or wider selection of a la carte dishes for guests visiting the restaurant more than once during their stay. That said, the larger portion of white chocolate soup went down a treat.

With a beautiful view over the Hotel’s swimming pool and central plaza La Brasserie offered us a refined menu by prestigious Belgian chef Pierre Résimont. Developed further by chef Yoseba Llarena local and seasonal products made up an impressive menu of Gallic cuisine. We kept it simple and started with a Beef carpaccio cooked at low temperature, with tuna froth and then shared a lovely and simple Chateaubriand with Béarnaise sauce on the side. Sometimes simplicity and quality food is all you need for a special evening.

We were excited by the new offering since our last visit. Sensu Kazan, a partner restaurant for Bahia Del Duque, offered a menu of Japanese haute cuisine dishes, a Sushi Bar and a Robatayaki Grill.

We visited on our third night and although the food was excellent, fresh and authentic, we would have to say they really missed a trick in creating an atmosphere, capturing our senses and making it a memorable evening. Other than Sushi Bars, we haven’t eaten in many Japanese restaurants and it would have been nice to have been guided through what seemed to be an impressive menu.  Thankfully, the trusty Iphone was on hand to offer suitable translations. If they can get the customer engagement / experience right and to the same standards as the main hotel Sensu Kazan will become a worthy addition to the gourmet offering at the hotel. Not being part of the half board basis, they could perhaps consider the price point, as being very similar to Las Aguas, it certainly didn’t offer the same value for money.

Another new restaurant since our last visit, Sea, which means fire in Euskera (the Basque language), offered another gastronomic experience.

With expert chefs hard at work in an open kitchen they worked their magic with smoky aromas helping us on a journey into Basque cuisine.

We also dined in La Trattoria, which serves Italian cuisine, La Hacienda a mexican and Alisios Market Food.  All of them provided different atmospheres and options depending on your preferences each evening and importantly impressive menus and choices.

A buffet breakfast is served in El Bernegal restaurant with an excellent selection of cold, hot dishes and Nespresso coffee. When we chose to eat in the morning, led to a very different experience with the ‘family’ side of the resort clearing showing through during busier peak times. We ate here every morning just after 10am and it was very nice, but we did miss having the option of the more relaxing a la carte breakfast experience we have enjoyed at other hotels recently. A la carte breakfasts were available for guests staying in Casas Ducales and Las Villas accommodation, but that’s another level of luxury, sadly out of our price range!

El Bernegal offers themed buffets and show cooking in the evening where you could taste the best international cuisine.  We tried here one evening as we were dining early and were pleasantly surprised with the quality and presentation of dishes. Buffets tends to be more functional than a real dining experience and are not our preferred option however El Bernegal certainly provided a quality option for those guests with young children, or those perhaps looking for a less formal experience.

The Thalassotherapy circuit / spa is well worth a visit where a two-metre waterfall invites to enjoy hydromassage jets, bubble beds and the therapeutic benefits of sea water which is apparently taken directly from the Atlantic Ocean. We spent an entire day here during our second week and had one of our most relaxing experiences for a long time. This area is complemented by a hammam, saunas, a cold water pool and an outdoor solarium with shaded relaxation areas. The cold water pool certainly isn’t for the faint hearted!

This was our third time at Bahia Del Duque and our first since venturing into the food and travel world. This resort covers all the bases in terms of what we look for in a break, relaxation, luxury and a gourmet / gastronomic experience up there with the best!

The Bahia Del Duque, at this time of year anyway (August), didn’t give us the full couple’s experience we’ve enjoyed in the past, but it will also be a special place for us as it was probably the hotel that got us hooked on luxury and gourmet travel. No doubt we will be back in the future!

Riverside Cottage, Boreland, Annandale and Eskdale – Not just for driving through!

We’ve driven through Annandale and Eskdale hundreds of times, usually passing through on the M74 Motorway heading off on or returning from our travels.  This time we decided to explore the area and base ourselves for four days at the ‘new to the market’ Riverside Cottage.

To be honest we had left things late in booking our break and stumbled upon Riverside Cottage by chance – how lucky were we? Occupying an impressive riverside location in the small rural village of Boreland 7 miles north of Lockerbie this two-bedroom cottage benefits from stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The property features an open plan kitchen/dining/living area and a fabulous and tranquil sunroom which opened out onto a patio area.

The cottage’s location is not only a great base for visiting local attractions, cycling and walking it is also perfect if you just want to relax, unwind and enjoy the peace and quiet of south west Scotland. We manged to fit in a bit off everything.

We always look for that little bit extra and comfortable self-catering luxury accommodation set in a quiet, rural location. To get this at a riverside location was special. It’s been a busy few months for us so the cottage was perfect to relax, enjoy some fresh air, recharge our batteries and cosy down in the evening with a few gins and a box set!

The cottage is set off the main public road, and accessed via a private road which also leads to the owner’s house. Although Kate and Max are right next door, you wouldn’t know it.  The cottage has been carefully planned and everything is orientated to provide you with privacy and sense of being on your own.

The living area offers wonderful views of the outside and is warm and comfortable with a wood burning stove, two sofas and a window seat looking out over the river. The kitchen area is again spacious, light and cosy and offers views of the river and surrounding countryside.  Everything was brand new and nothing has been forgotten. There is more than enough crockery, cutlery and every utensil you could ever need!

A bonus for anyone staying here is having Kate right next door. She also runs a catering business and offers guests delicious home cooked meals which are ready just to pop in the oven or heat up.

Although, we’re pretty handy in the kitchen, we gave Kate’s food a try and loved it.  Having a home cooked meal waiting for you when you return from a long day out was fantastic – we would highly recommend the Moroccan Chicken Tagine; very tasty indeed!

The sunroom offers a peaceful space to chill out, put your feet up, read a book perhaps or just enjoy the views. We did all of them, including spilling out onto the patio one day when the sun was very kind to us.

The bathroom has a large walk-in shower, built in WC and wash hand basin and benefits from under floor heating.? A key plus point for any place we stay is how good the shower is and Riverside is up there in terms of quality and power – a great refreshing start to your day.

Out and about we would recommend stopping off at Brodies Restaurant in Moffat – offering a coffee lounge environment throughout the day and a relaxed restaurant, wine bar in the evening – it was perfect for us.  Sunday lunch was particularly impressive with a real fine dining feel about it.

We have only just started to get to know Dumfries and Galloway and to appreciate its diverse landscape, fascinating  history, amazing wildlife and outdoor activities. There were a couple of short, circular, local walks right from the doorstep of the cottage which take 30 to 60 minutes, but we never had time to give them a try.  We did tackle several nearby walks only a short 10 to 15 minute drive away including Eskrigg Reserve, Castle Loch on the outskirts of Lochmaben and Dyke Farm Nature reserve. All were perfect to unwind, enjoy the scenery and explore the wildlife.

A little further afield we had an amazing encounter on the Annandale Way. Shortly after setting off from Annan on the east bank we spotted a ripple in the water.  For the next 15 minutes, we sat and watched an otter overturning rocks and munching on the fruits of his labour! He knew we were there, but didn’t have a care in the world – this was a real highlight for us. Sadly, our camera was still back in the car, but a ‘heath robinson’ set up with an iPhone and binoculars captured some memories – sadly video too big too upload!

After all this outdoor activity, there was no better way to end the day than to fall asleep (with the window open) to the relaxing sound of the river. Boasting wonderful views surrounding countryside, the main bedroom offers comfortable accommodation, with a king size bed.  Even more impressive was waking up and looking out the large picturesque window to see horses galloping through the fields.

This is a new venture for Kate and Max and they have just finished the renovation and are putting the finishing touches to the outside, including the final coat of paint, which will make a real difference. The inside finish and outdoor space is very impressive and certainly on par with many five-star accommodation cottages we have stayed in across the UK.

Kate and Max should be proud with what they have achieved so far.

Overall, Riverside Cottage was perfect for us and we’ll certainly be visiting again, hopefully by then the tourist board will have visited and given Kate and Max the accreditation they deserve!

Kirkjuvagr, Orkney Gin

Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin was created by husband and wife team Stephen and Aly Kemp. Orkney Distilling Limited was started in February last year and they developed their first product, Kirkjuvagr Orkney Gin in the months following and released to the market in August 2016.

“Reflecting the boldness of our Norse ancestors, the clarity of our seas and the purity of our air, Kirkjuvagr is a hand-crafted Orkney gin for the modern, discerning gin enthusiast.”

Kirkjuvagr is pronounced {kirk-u-vaar}. It is the thousand year old Norse name for the Gin’s town of origin, Kirkwall and the name alone immediately connects you to the Orcadian way of life and the botanicals story below takes you even further into its 1000 year old history. The brand also immediately conjures up the Norse / Viking heritage and delivers a striking bottle to capture your imagination.

As with all gins there is an array of botanicals, but the key one for Kirkjuvagr is the calamondin. These little citrus fruits are intense once dried and offer a unique and vibrant citrus edge to the spirit that explodes the moment you add a twist of orange peel to your drink. Kirkjuvagr also contains Orcadian grown Ramanas Rose, Burnet Rose, Bere Barley, Aronia, Borage flower, and Angelica to name a few.

The Angelica was grown from seed overlooking Kirkwall Bay (The word  Kirkjuvagr literally means ‘Church in the Bay’, and so the growing location is very symbolic of the brand). The seed came from the village of Pierowall on the island of Westray.  Westray was a landing point for sailors coming from the North due to its position on Orkney’s North-Western periphery. For them to be able to use this within their distillation is fantastic, and offers an important connection to their 1000 year old Viking heritage.

So how does it taste? Well, that really is the important question and we must say that it went down very well indeed. It genuinely gave you a feel of the sea, with a refreshing and crisp feel about it.  Sherbert and lemons provided the sweetness and a touch of saltiness brought out the sea. We did try it with the recommended orange peel to bring out the calamondin fruit and it was great, but we also had a few with lemon peel and some thyme which was equally as refreshing.  Just use your imagination and who knows where it will take you!

Kirkjuvagr has set the bar for other gins to follow and we’ll certainly be looking out for it on our travels across Scotland.

Elba Palace Golf & Vital Hotel (Update), Caleta de Fuste, Fuerteventura

Our first visit to Elba Palace felt like arriving home, so we didn’t know what to expect on our second.  Imagine arriving to a house full of friends – greeting you with a glass of fizz and hugs – that’s exactly what we received from Pilar and her team.

A first class welcome again, immediately putting you into holiday territory!

Our suite was fantastic with an amazing sun terrace to enjoy from late morning – sadly the sun itself was posted missing for much of the early part of our stay.  The suite was similar to our last visit and also had a good size wooden balcony which caught the early morning sun.

Our stay was another lazy one, and our previous blog from our August 2016 trip pretty much says it all.  A few updates though:

  • The hotel is still perfect for those looking for peace and quiet – a real jewel of a hotel and in our opinion the best in this area;
  • The guaranteed year round sunshine promise is up for debate as March was very different to our August stay;
  • Pilar George still knows how to run a hotel, making guests feel special and pitching in when needed;
  • A major plus point at the Elba Palace is that you can dine whenever you want. This is still the case as there’s no need to book or difficulty in getting a table in the St Andrews restaurant;

  • At this time of year it is too chilly to dine in the outdoor courtyard in the evening Although a more lively atmosphere, dining inside is not as intimate / romantic as the outdoor courtyard;

  • We explored more of the island this time round and it is worth repeating that Elba Palace food and drink prices remain very reasonable and can be enjoyed in much more pleasant surroundings than nearby resorts;

  • We reserved judgement on Caleta De Fuste during our last visit as there was some major beach reconstruction work underway. This is largely finished now and the resort does look much better;

  • Wi-Fi at the hotel has improved and is much faster;
  • There were definitely more golfers than before and guests slightly more mature!

Normally at this time of year we venture further afield than the Canaries – last year’s Jamaica trip feels so long ago! With a busy year ahead in 2017 though as well as looking after our bank balance for a few ‘big trips’ in 2018 Elba Palace certainly put up a very worthy performance – just a pity the weather didn’t do the same!

All in all, we had a very tranquil, relaxing and enjoyable stay in pleasant surroundings topped off with Elba Palace’s trade mark friendly, attentive and extremely courteous staff.  Special mention this time round to Priscila who looked after us very well throughout our stay – very attentive, pleasant and extremely customer focused.

Once again a big thank you to Pilar and her team for making our visit so special – hope to visit again some time in the future.

Greywalls Hotel & Chez Roux Restaurant, East Lothian

Greywalls Hotel is located on the edge of Muirfield championship golf course with views over East Lothian and the Firth of Forth in Scotland.

Overlooking the famous greens of the 9th & 18th holes, Greywalls has a reputation of being ‘a golfers paradise’. We weren’t there to enjoy the golf and the weather certainly wasn’t going to allow us to do that; instead we were there to sample the famous Chez Roux dining experience and enjoy the surroundings of this Scottish Edwardian Country House.

As soon as we stepped foot in the hotel you felt very much at ‘home’.

The surroundings were cozy and warm, staff were very friendly and helpful and nothing was too much bother.

Greywalls was built in 1901 and retains all the character from these times. There were several drawing rooms to allow a catch up, glass of prosecco (or two) and game of cards before getting ready for dinner. A few guests were taking advantage of afternoon tea, which was very tempting, but we had dinner to look forward to later.

Our rooms were nice and cosy and perfect for our overnight stay with all the amenities you would expect.

Before dinner we enjoyed canapes and drinks in one of the large wood panelled drawing rooms, which was a very nice and relaxing way to start the evening.

One of our parents is coeliac and Greywalls had absolutely no problem in adapting the dishes to ensure we all enjoyed the experience. A nice touch indeed.

Dinner was served in the original dining room seating up to 20 and sharing the same views as the main dining room overlooking the 10th tee at Muirfield championship golf course.  Albert Roux himself says Chez Roux offers “french classical cuisine with a flair and lightness, using local products as much as possible.”

The menu at Greywalls offers this in abundance with Orkney scallops, Alladale Estate deer, the more local North Berwick crab and guinea fowl from East Lothian to name but a few. It is certainly nice to see produce from all over Scotland being served in such a high quality restaurant.

We must say that the ‘Roasted Orkney Scallops’ and ‘Duck Liver Ballantine’ starters were first class and the ‘Poached Lemon Sole’ and ‘Perthshire Squab Pigeon’ mains outstanding.  Our images may not do them justice, but trust us the dishe tasted amazing!

Breakfast was also a very relaxing and pleasant experience with the usual choices you would expect from a five star Scottish Hotel.

We had plans to explore the walled gardens more, but sadly the weather didn’t allow it – maybe next time!

All in all, if you’re looking for an elegant, tranquil and peaceful fine dining experience Greywalls certainly offers this for you.  We absolutely loved our stay as did our parents who have been raving about it ever since!

(Some pics courtesy of Greywalls / ICMI Collection)

Edinburgh West End Luxury, The Chester Residence

We sometimes forget exactly what we have on our own doorstep here in Scotland, so we decided to spend time exploring our capital city of Edinburgh. Two days were never going to be enough so were keen to stay as central as we could.

The Chester Residence was the perfect choice. These award winning Georgian town house apartments in Edinburgh’s west end offer five star serviced apartments with full reception / concierge service and suites serviced daily.

All the luxury and service you would expect from a five star hotel, but with the freedom to come and go as if it was your very own apartment.

As there was only the two of us we chose the one bedroom apartments and managed to grab the Penthouse at Rothesay Place. The 100 steps to the top are worth it as you climb to your very own romantic city centre pad.

The Penthouse had a large roll top bathtub with tile television, huge walk-in double rain shower and a super king sized bed. We chose the penthouse for the large open plan living room / kitchen area.

The sloping ceilings were quirky and the fully fitted kitchen offered all the comforts of home including our very own Nespresso coffee machine which was a nice touch. If you didn’t fancy making breakfast , a nice touch was being able to order a continental breakfast delivered to your apartment.

Our bedroom faced out onto beautiful residential gardens which must have had such a fascinating history over the years. You also had a glimpse off the famous Edinburgh Castle from the bathroom over the adjacent townhouse rooftops.

The welcome we received when we arrived from Jill and her reception team was first class – topped off with a lovely Scottish welcome pack in our apartment.

Our stay included complimentary Wi-Fi, which was fast, a selection of Molten Brown toiletries, robes and slippers and complimentary water. A selection of DVDs was also available for us during your stay, but we never had time as we were out exploring.

We never had time to try it out, but the the IX Lounge and Bar on the ground floor looked excellent. In the evening, the lounge becomes an intimate bar with a selection of local beers, wines, spirits and cocktails.

The apartment’s location was excellent to take advantage of Edinburgh’s West End, just a short walk from Princes Street and the city’s main attractions, including the Edinburgh Gin Distillery and Mary King’s Close on the Royal mile. Have a look at our blogs from our visits – top attractions.

Normally when we travel to Edinburgh we use the train, but as we were heading to the office when we left we decided to drive. Reception, for a small charge, were able to arrange parking for us nearby in their private parking area. This was a great option for us and meant we could didn’t have to worry about feeding parking meters or worrying about getting a parking space.

Our apartment really was luxurious and a perfect base for anyone interested in spending their time in Edinburgh in style. Being able to explore the heart of the City and touch down throughout the day at the apartment was great.

The Chester Residence is an excellent option for those looking for a truly luxury experience in Edinburgh – we hope to be back sometime soon.  Thanks again to Jill and Siobhan for organising our stay and making our visit so enjoyable.

Edinburgh Gin, Connoisseur Tour

What better way to start our Edinburgh visit but with a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.  Only five minutes walk from our apartment and nestled beneath the stairs at Rutland Place, the Edinburgh Gin Distillery visitor centre offered us a unique chance to discover the gin experience in a real working distillery.

A small-batch distiller and multi-award winner, Edinburgh Gin has been at the heart of the gin renaissance from Scotland’s capital. The tours available include the Gin Discovery, Gin Connoisseurs and the Gin Making Experience with prices starting from £10. We chose the Gin Connoisseur Tour largely as it ended with your very own tasting session in your own ‘Gin Haven’.

Lasting about an hour we had the pleasure of listening to Laura explain the history of gin from the traditional ‘jenever’ spirit through to it becoming popular in the UK when William of Orange, occupied the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones and finally all the way up to present day and the Gins that we now know and love.

Laura was great and really friendly and informative, even handling a few curve ball questions from the inquisitive guests. It would be unfair to retell her story, but it was fascinating and included the distillery process and a hands (and nose) on experience of the vast selection of botanicals, many Scottish, that make their way into the different types of Edinburgh Gin.

Edinburgh Gin recipes are inspired by Edinburgh’s gin-making heritage and surrounding landscape and Laura takes you through this history with great passion. The tour ended with our very own tasting experience in our gin haven? where we tried out the core range, namely Edinburgh Gin, Cannonball Edinburgh Gin and Seaside Edinburgh Gin.

With expert advice from Laura she tantalised our taste buds and shared with us the best way to serve, garnish and mix your gin with various flavoured and plain premium tonic waters. We also sampled a few of the liqueur ranges which went down equally well. Included in the visit (for both of us) was our own 20cl bottle of Edinburgh Gin – now, sadly, no longer with us!

This was easily one of our most favourite attractions and here it was in our very own capital City.  If you are gin lovers this is an absolute must visit attraction and if not you will be after your visit!

(Some pictures courtesy of Edinburgh Gin Distillery)

The Range

EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – A juniper forward London Dry style gin, given a unique Scottish identity with its carefully balanced blend of 14 botanicals.

CANNONBALL EDINBURGH GIN (57% ABV) – Inspired by the famous One O’clock Gun, this navy strength libation has an intense flavour, defined by distinct juniper, citrus and szechuan pepper.

SEASIDE EDINBURGH GIN (43% ABV) – Distilled with foraged seaweed, scurvy grass and ground ivy from the Scottish coast, the unique gin boasts a sweet yet refreshing salinity.

Mary King’s Close, Edinburgh

Any stay in Edinburgh wouldn’t be authentic without experiencing some of the City’s wonderful and sometimes dark history.

Imagine a warren of streets frozen in time beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile where behind every twist and turn secrets lie waiting to be told. We had always been intrigued by Mary King’s Close, but had never had the time to visit previously.

Running perpendicular to the Royal Mile and now deep below the current City Chambers, Mary King’s Close and others were once the bustling heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, but are now sealed off and hidden from sight.

Mary King’s Close took its name from one Mary King, daughter of advocate Alexander King, who in the 17th century had owned several properties within the close.

The Real Mary King’s Close tour offers a social history considering the stories of the real people who lived, worked and died on these now underground streets.

Each tour is led by a costumed guide based on a one time resident of the close.

Agnes Chambers (aka Mel) was our guide and she was very enthusiastic, knowledgeable and witty. She quickly took us back in time to 1535 guiding us through a network of closes and houses which to this day still have the original smells and feel about them. Needless to say a walk through Prince Street Gardens (formerly The Nor Loch) now takes on a whole new meaning!

Agnes was a maid in the household of prominent merchant burgess, Alexander Cant in 1535. She told us about life in the town house on Craig’s Close, where there was a dramatic turn of events in the form of a MURDER!

We’ll leave it there as we wouldn’t want to spoil your visit, but needless to say it is pretty authentic and chilling to hear what happened in those days including how the plague was spread and ultimately ‘controlled’.

We heard about the trials and tribulations of everyday life, learnt why it was wise to avoid the streets at 7am and 10pm and discovered how all social classes lived together stacked on top of each other in tenements that are said to have been the world’s first skyscrapers.

The Real Mary King’s Close was a truly unique five star attraction, and is a must see on any trip to Edinburgh.

(All pictures courtesy of The Real Mary King’s Close)

Key Information

The Real Mary King’s Close is operated by Continuum Attractions.

Pre-booking is recommended; advance bookings can be made by calling 0131 225 0672, online at www.realmarykingsclose.com or in person at The Real Mary King’s Close.

The attraction is open throughout the year closing only on Christmas Day with tours departing every 15 minutes throughout the day.

November to March: 10am-5pm (Sun-Thurs) 10am-9pm (Fri-Sat) April to October: 10am-9pm

Due to the nature of the site under 5s are not permitted on the tour.