If one destination is a must for 2020 it has to be the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands.

An hour and a half by car from Aberdeen airport this region of great natural beauty is steeped in British regal history. Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle, close to the small town of Ballater, for Queen Victoria in 1852. Together they set about rebuilding a new castle which was completed in 1856.

Set in 50,000 gorgeous acres Balmoral has been the annual fixture for the British royal family’s late summer vacation with Queen Elizabeth, and other royals, regular attendees at the Braemar Games. This is held every first weekend of September and is a highly charged and fun event.

The River Dee snakes it’s way through a dramatic landscape of pine forested, rocky, heather-clad hills and glens backed by snow-capped mountains. A hikers paradise with numerous riverside trails and thickly forested climbs as well as outstanding salmon-fishing and bird-watching.

Today’s discerning traveller is greatly influenced by which hotel when making choices about where to go. We are frequently asked which are the best hotels within a particular country or region and up until a year ago there was no hotel worthy of recommendation in the Cairngorms.

This has thankfully changed due to the purchase of a run down Victorian coaching inn in the village of Braemar by a contemporary art gallerist power couple who have completely transformed the property.

The somewhat foreboding grey-stone inn which sits alongside the rushing Clunie River, a tributary of the Dee, remained closed for several years while undergoing renovation. This provided for the reduction in the number of guest accommodations to create more suites; the entire demolition of the rear to create a small spa and private dining areas around a courtyard; the addition of a gift boutique and reappointment of the village dining pub. Early 2019 saw the long-awaited opening of what has now become a much talked about boutique hotel. And the crowd keep coming.

The interior styling is high Victoriana which reflects the original period. Think heavy framed prints and paintings hung on period patterned wallpapers; lots of tartan and velvet fabrics; lace curtains; swags and tails; free- standing copper baths; large wooden chests and wardrobes ; rugs on wooden floors; heavily-carved fireplaces; pottery, bric a brac and dried flowers everywhere.

And then a twist. Aside from an eclectic collection of important artworks, which includes a Picasso, a Richter and a Freud, specific contemporary artists were invited to make works integrated into the property through special commissions. For example the entire sitting- room ceiling painting and the colourful stainless steel, glass and plastic chandelier which hangs within the galleried staircase above the concierge desk.

This Victorian scheme, juxtaposed with contemporary art, may not be to everyone’s taste and we admittedly didn’t immediately take to it. However, as you become immersed in the region and its history, and allow the warmth of a great GM and passionate team of staff to work their magic, you kind of settle in to it all.

A highly accomplished kitchen with the emphasis on the wood-fired oven is complemented by an excellent wine list. The excellent barman can make a great cocktail. With their top driver meeting you at the airport, a great guide taking you to the many exquisite beauty spots of the national park, a good massage and excellent dining, you can be guaranteed a great time.

Come in September and we will reserve seats at the Braemar Gathering on the stand adjacent to the Royal Enclosure, close to HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

With new hotel and dining options there is even more good reason to come and spend several days enjoying this utterly ravishing corner of NE Scotland. It would be a pity, however, not to combine a visit with at least one other (perhaps coastal) region of this diverse and exquisitely beautiful Northern European country.

Put Scotland on your 2020 travel schedule and the Nota Bene team will curate something unforgettable.

For now, let us take this opportunity of wishing our loyal clients and followers a very happy new year filled with exciting and memorable travels.

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