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Seeped in history and surrounded by breathtaking beauty, the royals’ favourite corner of Scotland is chock-full of delights
Despite living in Scotland, I have never explored Aberdeenshire. How can this be? As we arrive at The Boat Inn, which is perched beside the River Dee in the sleepy village of Aboyne, it’s clear that this is something special. With individually decorated, elegant rooms – ours is a tasteful dusky deep blue – it’s the perfect haven to cosy up in after a day’s exploring.
Kicking off with the splendours of Balmoral Castle, we follow in the royals’ footsteps across the beautifully kept gardens and the riverside estate. It’s fascinating to see Garden Cottage, where Queen Victoria loved to take breakfast (the castle was bought for her by Prince Albert in 1852). The photographic collection in the castle’s ballroom offers a fascinating glimpse into royal life, while the gift shop brims with royal-approved delights – from whisky and gin to tweedy accessories.
A mere hop down the winding country lane brings us to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery. Nestling at the foot of the Cairngorms mountains, it was awarded its first royal warrant by Prince Albert, who reckoned their whisky was the best he’d ever tasted. As our engaging guide explains, the various steps involved in creating it have barely changed in 200 years. We round off our visit with a fascinating tasting session of four stunning single malts.
The surrounding lush and undulating landscape is breathtaking, but it’s not all the county has to offer. Heading for the city lights, we’re wowed by Aberdeen Art Gallery with its wide collection, including works by the pre-Raphaelites, French impressionists and many Scottish painters. From here we head for Greyhope Bay Centre, where excellent coffee and baking is served in a converted shipping container perched on the windswept coast. While no bottlenose dolphins come out to play for us, locals assure us that they are regular visitors, frolicking after the boats in the bay.
Each morning we tuck into The Boat Inn’s sumptuous breakfasts. We enjoy fluffy bannock pancakes with locally produced bacon, as well as juicy mushrooms and spinach with toasted sourdough and – naturally – a perfectly cooked full Scottish. With the focus on Aberdeenshire produce, dinner here is special, too. We love our starters of fresh heritage tomatoes, simply presented on focaccia with a dash of chive and garlic pesto. Meanwhile, my tender smoked pigeon breast is set off with a fresh hedgerow salad.
We follow with buttery pan-roasted hake, served with new potatoes and a crunchy beet and radish salad, and North Sea haddock, its batter perfectly crisp, accompanied by moreish chips. Too full for dessert? Yes, definitely. Minutes later I’m swooning over a polenta cake, seeped in orange and raspberry.
Luckily, our spacious yet utterly cosy room is just a few steps away at the other side of the 300-year-old inn. Luxe touches include plump armchairs, sheepskin throws and generous tea and coffee selections. Our sleek en-suite features a huge double shower, Jack-and-Jill basins and full-size, sweetly scented Scottish products.
Fine cotton linens and a vast pillowy duvet ensure a blissful night’s sleep. Add in our evening strolls along the riverside, and our explorations further afield to the coastal towns of Stonehaven and Montrose, and we’ve fallen in love with this corner of Scotland. Our first taste of Aberdeenshire definitely won’t be our last.