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Travel: Why the Granite City of Aberdeen is a rock star destination

© SYSTEMDunnottar Castle, Stonehaven.
Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven.

Known for its granite and golf, I soon discovered Aberdeen is also the place to go for a gastro experience.

In fact, this north-east coastal city has so much going for it, making it well worth the two-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in Glasgow.

When Aberdeen-bound, one pit-stop that should be on your route is Stonehaven. It’s a beautiful town with the majestic Dunnottar Castle sitting proudly on its own rocky headland.

Stonehaven is also home to a highly-recommended and award-winning fish and chip shop, The Bay, which, as its name suggests, sits on the waterside. I dined al fresco on a “small” portion of scampi and chips, served with a side of homemade coleslaw on the benches outside the Men’s Shed project two doors down. I’d heard about the metal art sculptures along Stonehaven beach, so was delighted to spot the “seal” before continuing on to Aberdeen.

© SYSTEM
Norwood Hall.

I’d also heard from friends and colleagues about Norwood Hall Hotel and how this luxury four-star hotel is a popular choice for weddings, christenings and functions, so expectations were high during my two-night stay here.

My Norwood experience began as I drove through the front gates and up the beautiful tree-lined driveway towards the 1881 building. As I parked, wedding guests in their summer attire milled about the gardens – I later discovered the hotel hosted 22 weddings in July alone.

Greeted with a warm welcome (it certainly was as the log fire was burning) by front office manager Vicky, I then climbed the hotel’s beautiful twin staircase to my room which boasted a four-poster bed, plush seating area, a fireplace and a huge bathroom with roll-top bath.

As much as I would have liked to relax in this decadence, I had no time as I was booked on a chocolate-making workshop at Cocoa Ooze. This Aberdeen chocolatier was established by Jamie Hutcheon and has run public workshops at a few different locations for 10 years.

After we donned our purple aprons, we discovered the secrets of chocolate-making and went straight into creating a ganache, which we flavoured, before filling truffle-style hollow shells of dark, milk or white chocolate. Next, the dipping, then adding the toppings – rock salt, cocoa powder and candy, to name a few.

Led by chocolatiers Sarah and Amanda, the engaging two-hour workshop flew by as we made chocolate creations in the kitchen. We left with our truffles tied in little gift bags, and not one but two bars of chocolate – also sealed – which was fortunate as I was heading back to Norwood’s Tapestry Restaurant for dinner.

Following a quick turn-around, I was soon dining at the bay window table of the Tapestry. With tapestry adorning its walls, the restaurant serves up a fine dining experience – and sensational food.

I enjoyed grilled asparagus with soft poached hen’s egg and crispy Parma ham, topped with hollandaise, to start, and followed by wild mushroom risotto with baby leeks, Parmesan and watercress. Chocolate delice with a shard of honeycomb was a third-course treat.

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The beautiful interior of Norwood Hall

Next morning, I headed out to Commercial Quay for a boat trip. Not any old boat trip, it was a dolphin-spotting tour.

Run by Ricky Greenhowe, the boat sets sail three times a day at weekends and gives locals and tourists a chance to venture out the harbour and in to the open water – where you are almost guaranteed to see the pointy-nosed beauties.

However, on the day we booked, the trip was cancelled as the pontoon had been damaged – it’s on my must-do list for the next Aberdeen visit.

But all was not lost as I enjoyed a beach walk along the esplanade en-route to a stunning restaurant at the mouth of Aberdeen Harbour, called The Silver Darling.

And out of the panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows – as I tucked into my trio of oysters and halibut main – I spotted a dolphin, catching the waves of a passing cargo ship. Seals also put on a performance as I dined at this perfectly-located seafood restaurant.

If booking a staycation this year, Aberdeen is your city break or coastal getaway with luxury four-star places to stay and dine.


P.S.

The wallpaper adorning the walls of Norwood Hall dates back to 1881. The little handle on the bedroom traditionally rung one of the bellboy’s bells, and still hangs on the wall of a secret room.