Monday, 27 January 2014

Winter Wonderland in Aviemore and the Cairngorms

Reindeer, Whisky Tours, and Snowy Mountains!

A short break in Aviemore gave me a great insight into the snowy, windswept and unspoiled Scottish Highlands, and I certainly would have stayed longer, if not just to see it in summer too...!

Following a brief stopover in atmospheric Edinburgh, Richard and I drove up to Aviemore and passed some absolutely stunning scenery on the way. I couldn't believe how naturally beautiful the sparse landscape was, and how much it resembled parts of Iceland. With swathes of snow gathered on the mountains, and gleaming lochs reflecting the wintry light of day, I wanted to stop to admire the view for most of the way, so we just had to carry on or we would never get there...

Cairngorms National Park

Home to an enormous range of wildlife including rare wildcat, red squirrells and eagles, this national park is both diverse and vast. There are endless walks and hikes available and the scenery is spectacular. The weather can be unpredictable so it is important to be well-equipped with warm clothes and waterproofs - there is a lot of rain and when it comes, it's only fun if you're waterproof!

Us and our Scottish friends (and their adorable softie of a sheepdog), took a walk at the Chalamain Gap in Glenmore. We wanted to see the rocky 'Sugar Bowl' but didn't quite make it that far as light was fading and we had reindeer to see! 

Wild reindeer are easy to spot on the hillsides in winter, and walks are punctuated with stunning views of lochs, valleys and steep hillsides. There are lots of activities readily available within the national park in various locations close to Aviemore, including skiing, climbing, quad-biking and horse-riding.

Cairngorm Mountain is one of Scotland's main ski resorts, and has around 23 individual pistes and 12 ski lifts. It offers beautiful views, including Loch Avon and the forests and glens below. The ski resort is very popular and it is best to book or get up early to avoid disappointment on weekends and school holidays. After a cold and sunny day following bad weather closure, we took one look at the queue for the ski and passes, and drove straight back down the mountain. The Lecht made a good alternative along with the rolling hills and mountain scenes on the way, although it was so icy, my skis probably went sideways more than forwards! 

Dalwhinney Whisky Distillery

As the UK's highest whisky distillery, Dalwhinney receives a harsh climate with very cold winters. The extremely warm spell had us experiencing a balmy 6 degrees, but it is not uncommon for it to reach -20.

The tour was excellent, with very knowledgeable staff explaining the processes of production including the use of the mountain meltwater, and the complex ageing process. The tour guide took us briskly around the distillery showing us the various stages of production in practice and the tasting at the end combines a truffle chocolate with a sample of Dalwhinnie whiskey, an excellent combination which enhances all sorts of flavours in the whisky and the chocolate! The free glass at the end is a lovely little bonus. 

Accommodation - Aviemore

For affordable and clean hotel rooms The High Range Lodge is fantastic. The owners are really helpful and the ensuite rooms are very well equipped. There are also basic little self-catering lodges. 

The Hilton just outside the town, near the ski slopes is a wonderful option for mid-high range budgets. There are some large lodges available to hire, as well as the main hotel.

The Hilton has a bar and restaurant, as well as the atmospheric Woodshed bar with its crackling fire, amazing hot chocolate and of course a wee dram or two of whisky...

If you know what Aviemore and the Cairngorms have to offer in summer, please share in the comments! 

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