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Cheers to the delights of Speyside

By Paul Breen

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The Craigellachie Hotel
The Craigellachie Hotel

The Craigellachie Hotel

IT is only 45 minutes from Inverness, but Speyside is an area often overlooked by Highland folk as a destination as they head up and down the A9.

The five-day Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which begins on the long weekend April 28 appears to attract more interest from abroad and south of the border than it does from its near neighbours

The festival is in its 12th year and is again spreading its wings to try appeal this year to an even bigger range of visitors.

Although whisky is the central theme, the businesses involved striving to get over the message that it is not just for lovers of the "water of life".

A wide range of events are being laid on at venues all over Speyside to attract adults of all ages and interests and families. The programme includes a large number of food, music and outdoor activities to try to persuade people to sample the area – and its world famous product if they want – before the summer season arrives.

Even the surprise for the organisers of a clash with the with the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton may work in its favour given the extension to the long weekend – and maybe royal watchers will raise an extra glass.


Spectacular hotel is a dram fine choice

OUR base for the weekend on Speyside was the charming 26-bedroom Craigellachie Hotel which is a spectaular site when first viewed from the A95.

The hotel’s main claim to fame is its cosy Quaich Bar which offers over 750 malts, from 10-year Macallans to the exclusive Black Bowmore. The price range is dramatic as well, from £2 for a blend to £275 a dram – and manager Kevin Smith explained it is not uncommon for whisky enthusiast guests to sample mid-range delights. A range of draught beers and an impressive selection of local bottled ales was also available.

The three-star Craigellachie, built in 1893, is a cosy and friendly hideaway on the edge of the village and central for forays around the whisky trail with Elgin, Rothes, Dufftown and Glenlivet all within a comfortable driving range of up to half an hour.

Decorated and furnished in country house style, the suites to the front of the hotel have scenic views of the River Spey and the famous Robert Telford Bridge built in 1814 and which is an impressive sight illuminated at night.

The junior suite we were allocated was extremely spacious with a sitting area with couch and armchairs, coffee-making facilities and the nice welcoming touch of a couple of Speyside miniatures, small bottles of wine and water and a selection of fresh fruit while classical background music played on the room’s hi-fi unit for our arrival.

The room, which ranges in price depending on the time of year from £95-£150 per night including breakfast (dinner is a £20 per head option), contained ample storage with period-style furniture and mod-cons such as an impressive flatscreen HD television. The bed was large and comfortable.

Smaller more compact standard double bedrooms facing the rear of the hotel are also available from £65-£125 per night.

Our two-night stay was very comfortable – apart from one 5am early wake-up call from an extremely noisy biker roaring up the A95 – and all the staff extremely friendly and helpful. The only problem encountered was with the shower in our bathroom which was not working and appeared to require some major plumbing and reconstruction work to fix. However, apologies and the offer of a room to shower or room change were readily made – but fortunately there was a perfectly adequate bath.

Dining in the hotel is also a very positive experience. The recently relocated dining room is airy and spacious and the service friendly, unobtrusive and efficient. The menu had a good range of choices and the wine list was reasonably priced for a restaurant.

My wife and I both opted for the smoked haddock scotch egg with curry mayonaise which was tasty and filling. My main course of Beef Wellington was sizeable, tender and cooked to perfection while my better half’s venision was also tender and succulent – and the portions managed to beat our desire for dessert.

Overall, both meals were impressive and delicious.

Breakfast again offered a varied choice of hot offerings as well as a cold buffet – but this was set in the smaller downstairs dining area which proved a bit problematic when, on Sunday, most guests appeared around the same time and space became at a premium. Perhaps a rethink is needed here.

Manager Kevin Smith outlined impressive plans for an upgrade of some of the rooms to raise the hotel to four-star standard which will make the Craigellachie more versatile while retaining the characteristics that make it a fine base for a break.

• As part of the Spirit of Speyside Festival, The Craigellachie plans to celebrate the Royal Wedding day on Friday, April 29, with a banquet and fireworks and its own Macallan-sponsored whisky dinner entitled "A Marriage of Whisky and Food".

On the Sunday, a jazz band will play as renowned whisky writer, author and regular Craigellache guest Hans Offringa talks about his book "Whisky and Jazz".


• Location - In Craigellachie, just off A95

• Distance: One hour from Inverness

• 26 en-suite period-furnished rooms

• Prices range from £95-£150 per room for junior suites with a view, including breakfast; Standard rooms £65-125 per room B&B. Dinner, B&B rate is additional £20 per person.

• Quaich Bar displays 750 whiskies from £2 to £275.

• For more details, call 01340 881204 or visit www.oxfordhotelsandinns.com/OurHotels/Craigellachie

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