Gazing up at snow-capped mountains, I wonder if we should have packed our winter woollies.
It’s an unexpected sight – the sun was shining when we left home, after all. But I suppose that’s the beauty of Aviemore. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive from Scotland’s central belt, yet it feels a world apart.
Nestled in the heart of Cairngorms National Park, the quaint little town is surrounded by stunning scenery, from secluded lochs and ancient forests to mountain trails and breathtaking golf courses.
It’s an ideal spot if you just want to escape the hustle and bustle of life – and pulling up to our digs for the weekend, we plan on doing exactly that.
The Macdonald Spey Valley Resort sits on the banks of the fast-flowing River Spey, which is just out front of our sprawling three-bed lodge.
Fitted with all mod cons – as well as a roaring log fire and a sauna – it’s the perfect place to kick back, relax and enjoy some quality family time.
And it’s so big, that we bring the grandparents along for the ride!
The kids are so exhausted from the drive and the blast of fresh country air that they are out for the count all night – a very unusual occurrence and, in a bed big enough to fit us all in, the hubby and I sprawl out like a pair of starfish and sleep soundly, too.
Next morning, we waken ourselves up with a dip in the pool at the resort’s leisure centre – and, with temperature issues during our visit, it’s certainly better than any alarm!
Then it’s time to explore and, thankfully, the sun is out.
Just a short drive away, we discover Highland Wildlife Park. Driving around the main reserve, we’re blown away by the sheer proximity of a family of deer, munching tree leaves. And the huge bison, who stand in front of the car blocking the road, so comfortable in their surroundings that they’re almost oblivious to their star attraction status.
The polar bears, especially the baby cub, are a jaw-dropping sight.
We watch snow monkeys being fed and listen to a talk about the wolves, who sit huddled together, staring intently at us through the fence. They’re clearly thinking about dinner, and it must be tea time because our bellies are beginning to rumble.
We celebrate the end of a fabulous family day with dinner back at the resort’s Scottish Steakhouse.
A meal out on a self-catering break is always a highlight and this one lives up to expectations.
Melt-in-the-mouth cuts of meat, creamy peppercorn sauce and chunky chips on the side with some fine wine and delicious desserts…and the service is impeccable.
Fit to burst, we wander the short distance back to the lodge and snuggle up for a few gins by the fire.
It takes a lot to waken my husband from his slumber but, on the last day, he’s up before the birds, desperate to tee off with his dad.
The Spey Valley championship golf course boasts a layout fit for the world’s best.
Former world No 1 Brooks Koepka won the Scottish Hydro Challenge here in 2013 during his rise to golfing superstardom and the Cairngorms provide a stunning backdrop.
Despite their best efforts, though, my nearest and dearest are unable to quite hit the heights of the four-time major winner.
After negotiating a pine forest, the Spey’s banks and a particularly troublesome lake during a performance as rocky as the surrounding hills, the clubhouse offers welcome respite and a well-earned pint.
Meanwhile, the children, gran and I venture into town for a visit to Macdonald’s other resort, where we whittle the hours away in the pool riding the huge flume, and the kids exert some energy running around in the soft play.
The afternoon is spent in true holiday fashion…slurping ice cream while picking up souvenirs from the gift shops.
As we head for home, I realise, we’ve packed a lot into a few days – but didn’t get round to skiing, the main attraction for most visitors.
Looking out over the hills, I already know what our next Aviemore adventure holds in store – and we’ll certainly need our winter warmers for that.
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