It’s the picture-perfect location with the royal seal of approval.
Royal Deeside has long been the Royal Family’s Scottish home from home a place where the Queen Mother famously liked to relax and get away from it all.
But though these days the Windsors only make the long trip to Balmoral Castle every summer, an off-season break to the area can prove a tonic in the winter too.
Nestled among the region’s famous peaks and troughs, my family were staying in the town of Banchory.
With the Cairngorms National Park, whisky distilleries and the Royals’ holiday home all within driving distance (more on that later), it’s a great springboard for discovery.
The boutique hotel of Tor Na Coille is on the outskirts of the town and has recently been refurbished, seamlessly combining the old with the new.
Every room and suite in this grand granite mansion has been individually designed with the hotel set magnificently in its own gardens and parkland. And while this country house hotel enjoys VisitScotland’s 3-star rating, the welcoming staff and spacious rooms leave you wondering if the hotel has been short-changed by the tourism board at all.
Tor Na Coille has a busy restaurant run by head chef Robert Ramsay, serving varied and delicious local fare.
My pick of scallops and steak was as good as I’ve had in Scotland’s gastronomical capitals of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Indeed, it seems many of the diners are locals and not residents a sure fire sign the kitchen staff are doing something right.
Banchory itself is a smallish town with a High Street thankfully devoid of the retail giants that overshadow so many other town centres across the country.
Of course, tourists don’t flock here in their droves to shop.
Instead, it’s to sample the breath-taking vistas that dominate the landscape of Royal Deeside.In autumn and spring there’s an explosion of colour as the seasons turn.
And in winter there’s an almost haunting aspect as the countryside is left bare of leaves and foilage.
Unsurprisingly, it snows a lot here and temperatures often dip below zero in the winter. Of course, that comes with a bonus a thriving ski scene.
So a trip to The Cairngorms National Park is a must for the more adventurous. The vast park contains three ski centres but for me Glenshee is well worth the 50-minute drive from Banchory.
Lying on the A93 near Braemar, Glenshee is the largest ski and snowboarding area in Scotland and home to the notorious ‘Tiger’ one of the most challenging black runs around.
Although some of the runs are tricky, there are many for the beginner too.
If you prefer a slower pace to your leisure activities, the park also has plenty of walking options, both difficult Munros and tranquil trails.
But if you are planning on tackling one of the numerous mountains scattered around the region, it’s essential to go prepared.
But, be warned, the changeable weather can be lethal.
And please, please, please take an up-to-date sat-nav with you. I speak from bitter experience. On our way back to our Banchory base-camp our old sat-nav took us over the notorious Fettercairn road in the middle of a snowstorm at night.
That drive quickly turned into a white knuckle rollercoaster ride we weren’t expecting and one that still gives me nightmares.
Let’s just say we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the welcoming sight of the town’s lights sprawling in front of us.
And the car is still recovering from having to heave us up the steep hill for miles in second-gear!
With all the adrenaline of the previous day’s transport chaos, we opted for another much more relaxing way of getting around the next morning.
The Royal Deeside Railway at the Milton of Crathes is an old line that has been lovingly restored by local enthusiasts and is simply perfect for kids of all ages. The standard gauge steam and diesel-hauled heritage railway, which runs around the River Dee, has even had a visit from the Queen. Speaking of Her Majesty, Balmoral the Royal Family’s Deeside holiday home is a must-see.
The grounds and gardens are closed to the public when they are in residence but winter guided tours are available and well worth a trip. You are also able to walk freely around the estate unescorted.
But with all the walking in the cold, I was soon in need of a stiff dram. Fortunately, the Royal Lochnagar Distillery is on hand on the edge of the Balmoral Estate.
Visitors can take a tour of the small distillery, which offers a fascinating glimpse into the manufature of our national drink. And, naturally, there’s an opportunity to sample the fine single malts produced there.
The distillery’s relationship with the Royal Family goes back to Queen Victoria’s reign.
She and Prince Albert famously shared a few drams with Lochnagar’s owners after they moved into the area. They were impressed and bestowed a royal seal of approval that lasts to this day.
Indeed, it’s easy to see why the Royal Family has been coming here for so long.
If it’s majesty and splendour you want, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Royal Deeside.
I certainly found it a trip fit for a king.
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