This year we celebrated our 10-year anniversary and we were lucky that it lined up with the kids’ fall break and Lukasz’s parents being in town to watch them so that we could take a trip to celebrate just the two of us. We debated long and hard about where to go, and after tossing around several beach ideas we scratched those for something much different. We had a destination wedding in Vermont and thought it might be nice to recreate the feel of that with a trip to Scotland! Besides, beaches are easy with kids- rainy weather not so much and we knew there would be a fair amount of that in Scotland. So plans were made and off we went to celebrate 10 years of wedded bliss!
We got off to a bit of a rocky start when our flight from Geneva was delayed 3 hours. Then things took a turn for the worse when we arrived to find they had given away our rental car because of the delay and there was not a single automatic left at any of the car companies aside from a giant 8 passenger van. Also, we were driving 3 1/2 hours to our hotel. In the dark. And the rain. ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD!!! Cue lots of stress and hoping that the trip could only get better from here!
Fortunately, my husband managed the drive like a champ (along with my co-piloting skills to ensure he didn’t run the giant car off the road into a ditch) and we arrived at the lovely Loch Ness Lodge to a warm welcome, a gorgeous room with jacuzzi bath, and a carafe of sherry that was much appreciated after that drive! I booked the lodge through iescape, an online British company specializing in “boutique hotels and hip hideaways” and we splurged on a premium room since it was a special occasion. The hotel has recently changed ownership from a small family run operation to a larger company and while we certainly enjoyed our stay, it was missing a bit of the personal touches I’d read about in the reviews when it was under control of the previous owner. For example, the manager of the lodge could not really advise us on anything to do in the area or answer any of the questions we had…in fact, she directed us to the tourist info center in the nearby town but admitted she wasn’t even sure if there was one there (thankfully there was and they were super helpful). Aside from a few little things like this, we really enjoyed our stay here and would recommend the Loch Ness Lodge as a great place for a romantic getaway. There was one family staying there with older kids, but due to the intimate feel of the place, I don’t think I would have felt comfortable there with our young kids.
Day 1- Loch Ness, Glen Affric, Inverness
Our first full day in the Highlands was our actual anniversary, so we had a low key day planned. After a gourmet breakfast at the lodge, we walked along the shore of Loch Ness a bit before heading for a hike in the nearby Glen Affric, one of the most beautiful glens in Scotland, filled with over 30 miles of ancient pinewoods. The narrow, single lane track leading to the parking lot makes it slow going, but it’s worth it for the magnificent scenery.
When we got back to the hotel we had a bit of pampering with the hotel’s complimentary afternoon tea, then massages and spa time. It was wonderful! And that chocolate cake was most definitely the best I have ever eaten…and I’m not even a chocolate cake kind of person. Still dreaming about it!!!
The hotel surprised us with a bottle of Prosecco and chocolate covered strawberries, so we had such a nice celebration! We took a taxi into Inverness (remember the giant van?!) for a special dinner at Rocpool and it was fantastic. Amazing, inventive food and wonderful service made for a very memorable evening. After dinner we went to a couple of pubs to enjoy live music and a cocktail to end the night. So fun!
Day 2-Isle of Skye
On Saturday we had big plans to hit the road early for the Isle of Skye because we had lunch reservations at the famous Three Chimneys restaurant, said to be one of the best restaurants in Scotland! However, we had called the car rental company the day before and lucky for us, the one automatic car they had in Inverness was being returned on Saturday so we could make the switch to a normal sized vehicle. The only problem was that it wasn’t going to be back until close to 11 am so we sadly had to cancel our lunch reservation.
At any rate we were happy to get around those narrow roads in a regular car, so we picked it up and headed out for the Isle of Skye. The drive itself was so picturesque that we had to stop a few times just for photos!
First stop, Urquhart Castle. We didn’t go in, just stopped by for a closer look.
Had to document our first highland cow sighting! Also happy with the smaller car situation…even though this was just after a stretch of road we nicknamed “pheasant alley” for the crazy pheasants that were seemingly on suicide missions heading straight for the tires of our car! Thankfully we managed to avoid them, but many other pheasants weren’t so lucky.
Our first official stop was the beautiful Eilean Donan castle. The castle is situated on a tidal island where three sea lochs meet and is one of the most visited castles in Scotland. We took a quick tour of the inside, which was interesting but surprisingly small as far as castles go. The most impressive was certainly the views from the outside of the castle.
After we made our way onto the Isle of Skye, we had to stop for the most photogenic group of Highland cows. I was a little excited. 😉
Next up was another Isle of Skye highlight, the Fairy Pools. The fairy pools are a series of waterfalls and pools of water located at the foot of the Black Cuillins mountains near Glenbrittle. The walk to the pools is short and we spent about an hour here walking and taking photos. Although the walk is short, it’s categorized as medium in difficulty because you have to cross the river on stepping stones in several places. Because of this, it’s not ideal for young children. We saw a family with two young toddlers who managed to get to the first pool and back, but everyone looked pretty miserable. We felt simultaneously sympathetic for the family and relieved that we weren’t there with our own kiddos!
The welcoming committee!
The Talisker whiskey distillery is very close to the fairy pools so after our walk, we had just enough time to stop by for a small sample and to buy some gifts. We spotted a sign for fresh oysters around the corner, so we made our way there for a dinner of the freshest oysters plus some chips. Yum!
Then it was time for the long drive back to our hotel to end the day with a carafe of sherry. I could get used to that evening routine! This was the most time we had in the car and it was a lot- about 7 hours including our detour to swap cars. Totally worth it.
Day 3- Glencoe and the Trossachs
On Sunday it was sadly time for us to say goodbye to the Loch Ness Lodge and make our way towards Edinburgh. But first, we planned to spend the day exploring Glencoe, which is about two hours from Loch Ness. Only about 15 or 20 minutes into the drive we had to make a stop for the beautiful fall scene we spotted from the road. So pretty!
When we got to Glencoe, it was beautiful but also raining which put a damper on our hiking plans. We drove around a bit and attempted to walk in the drizzle until it turned into a downpour of sideways rain and we decided maybe we’d have lunch and see if the rain would let up some.
There’s only really one restaurant on the main drag of the village of Glencoe and the fish and chips there were delicious. Who knew the food in Scotland was so good?!
After lunch we headed out again and while the rain had let up both before and after the mountains, just where we wanted to hike was still a steady downpour. We again drove around a bit and then just bit the bullet and hiked a part of the Devil’s Staircase trail in the rain. It wasn’t too bad by this point, but enough that after about 45 minutes we were pretty soaked and cold so we called it a day!
We continued on our drive and once we were past the higher mountains, the sun came out and there was a double rainbow. Further on there was a parking lot with a pretty view and a hot chocolate stand, which was definitely welcome after our hiking adventure! Plus tons of scenic views along the way. So even though it was another two hours to Edinburgh, the time flew by as we admired the scenery.
We knew we’d be driving along the edge of the Trossachs National Park, which I’d read was beautiful, so we made a quick stop at one of the lakes. There’s lots of camping here and it would be a great place to spend some time at, especially in warmer weather!
We finally made it back to Edinburgh where we dropped off our car at the airport and then headed into the city. The Highlands are absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend a week or two just exploring the region. We managed to pack quite a bit into three days and were happy that we saw so much of this beautiful region. Edinburgh itinerary and tips coming up next!
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