WITH MORE THAN 40 distilleries dotted around its valleys, Scotland’s Speyside region is a whisky lover’s paradiseâhome to some of the most famous names in Scotch whisky, such as The Glenlivet, Maccallan, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes and Glenfarclas. Aficionados have long made pilgrimages to this corner of northeast Scotland for a taste of these sweet, light, amber whiskies.
But there is more to the region than just copper stills and the water of life. With a swathe of golf courses, wild, sandy beaches, spectacular scenery, world-class fly-fishing and historic monuments, it’s an ideal escape from the demands of city life.
Running through the region is the River Spey, famous for salmon fishing. And by following its banksâby car and on footâvisitors can reel in the wild beauty of an area squared by the coastal seaboard of the Moray Firth to the north and the Cairngorm Mountains to the south. Here’s our guide to savoring a long weekend in the Highlands, with a dram in hand.
7 p.m. Land at Inverness Airport. Renting a car is by far the best way to navigate the back roads of whisky’s Golden Triangle. Despite being flanked by mountains on one side and the coast on the other, the area is fertile and surprisingly flatâthink fields of barley rather than shadowy glens. If you are traveling in spring or summer, don’t worry about getting there in the eveningâthe sun doesn’t set until after 10 p.m.
7:30 p.m. Drive 18 kilometers east along the A96 to the coastal village of Nairn. This Victorian spa town was a favorite vacation spot of Charlie Chaplin and is a good place to drink in Scotland’s clean air, wilderness and unpolluted northern light. You won’t have time to enjoy a round of golf at the town’s Nairn Golf Club (
) but be sure to fit in a stroll along the sandy dunes of its East Beach before heading south to Grantown-on-Spey, then up the A95 to Aberlour.
9 p.m. There are a few grand Victorian hotels in Speyside, but for the whisky-lover there is no better place to stay than in one of the five well-appointed rooms above theMash Tun whisky bar in Aberlour (double room Â£113 per night, 8 Broomfield Square, mashtun-aberlour.com). With views over the Spey, this former station bar is a cozy place to hole up for the weekend. Call ahead and arrange for a light supper of soup and a baguette to be served in the bar when you arrive
10:30 p.m. Enjoy a night cap in the Whisky Bar. Try a whisky from your birth year; the bar has more than 46 single-cask whiskies from Glenfarclasâone for every year between 1952 and 1997.
9:30 a.m. After a hearty Scottish breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, head south on the A95 for the picturesque 20-minute journey to the Glenlivet Distillery (
). Founded by George Smith in 1824 at Upper Drummin Farm, it now produces one of the best-selling malt whiskies in the U.S. Park behind the distillery and put on your walking boots.
10 a.m. Take a stroll along the George Smith Smugglers Trail and let the beauty of Speyside open up before you. The trail is a gentle, signposted 6-kilometer route that runs from the back of the distillery and follows the River Livet past the former home of Smith to the remains of Drumin Castle, where you can take in the view from this ancient spot.
1 p.m. Grab a quick lunch in the distillery’s coffee shop and have a browse around the shop before you join the tour of your choice.
1:30 p.m. The distillery offers a free tour that lasts around 45 minutesâno need to bookâand includes a visit to the warehouse and the mash tuns, where the whisky is produced and distilled, and a free dram at the end. Drivers can opt for a miniature instead. Aficionados may wish to take the Glenlivet Spirit of the Malt Tour (Â£30 per person), an in-depth, three-hour experience that includes a tutored tasting of more than seven different variations of The Glenlivet, as well as a dram poured straight from the cask in the warehouse. If you go for this option, be sure to choose a designated driver in advance.
3 p.m. Head back up the Spey to Craigellachie, the village where the Spey and Fiddich rivers meet. Stop off at Craigellachie Bridge for a breathtaking view of the Spey. Just a short drive up the hill is the Macallan distillery
). Rich, sherried and honeyed, The Macallan is one of the world’s most popular whiskies. The distillery runs a series of small tours, the last of which is at 3 p.m. These range from Â£10 to Â£20 and booking is advised. Naturally, they end with a warming dram or two.
If two distilleries in one day feels like too much, head down the hill to Victoria Street to the Craigellachie Hotel for afternoon tea (Â£8.95, thecraigellachiehotel.com), served in their drawing room overlooking the Spey. Afterward, if you still have time to spare, take the five-minute drive to the Speyside Cooperage on the A941 to learn about the wooden casks that are used to store whisky.
5 p.m. Drive back to Aberlour and leave the car at the Mash Tun. Then enjoy the early-evening light by taking a 45-minute stroll up the banks of the Spey, returning to Craigellachie. By this time you will have earned your supper.
6:30 p.m. Start your evening with a visit to the Craigellachie Hotel’s famous Whisky Quaich bar, home to more than 750 whiskies. Ask the barman to pour you something rare.
7:30 p.m. Cross the road to the Highlander Inn (
). Popular with whisky writers and local distillers, its bar will be busy on a Saturday night. Soak up the local atmosphere and enjoy an unpretentious supper of Scotland’s most famous dish: haggis, neeps and tatties, a savory pudding of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, with potatoes and turnips, served with a drizzle of creamy sauce.
10:30 p.m. Take a five-minute taxi ride back to the Mash Tun, stopping off in the bar for a quick nightcap before the fresh air and whisky send you into a deep sleep.
10 a.m. Allow yourself a gentle start after yesterday’s excesses. After savoring a cooked breakfast at the Mash Tun, enjoy a stroll around the village. Aberlour is home to Walker’s shortbread, and their shop on the high street is a great place to stock up on Speyside’s other famous export.
11 a.m. Hop in the car and drive north along the A941 to the medieval city of Elgin, with its magnificent ruined cathedral. Make sure to bring your wallet as our destination is cashmere specialists Johnstons of Elgin. Here you can while away a few hours trying on cashmere knitwear from v-necks to luxury hot-water-bottle covers before enjoying a light lunch in their cafe. After lunch, head into town and visit Gordon & Macphail’s famous whisky shop (58 South St.; gordonandmacphail.com
). As well as more than 1,000 whiskies, and 800 wines, it stocks local cheeses and hams, and always has a selection of malt whiskies on hand to taste.
2 p.m. Head west out of Elgin to the Benromach Distillery. Mothballed in the early 1980s, the distillery was bought by Gordon & Macphail in 1994. After a refurbishment, the result is a small, boutique distillery that makes for an interesting contrast to the scale of Glenlivet. In the summer months, the distillery offers tours and daily tastings of its smooth, medium-bodied floral whisky.
4 p.m. Continuing west past Nairn, on the banks of the Moray Firth stands Fort George, an impressive example of 18th-century military engineering. This enormous garrison, still a working army barracks but open to visitors, was built by King George II to control uprisings in the Highlands in the aftermath of the 1746 Battle of Culloden. Take a stroll around its boundary walls and breathe in a bit of history.
7 p.m. Return to Aberlour and the Mash Tun for a hearty dinner of local fare, including roast salmon or Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak.
10 a.m. After breakfasting and checking out of the Mash Tun, it’s a short drive to one of the most interesting distillery tours of the weekend. Aberlour Distillery sits in a spectacular glen where the rivers Lour and Spey meet. This small, picturesque distillery offers a series of tours, including the Founder’s Tour (Â£30 per person; book in advance). This includes a tutored tasting of five Aberlour whiskies paired with locally produced chocolate and the opportunity to hand-fill your very own bottle of cask-strength whisky (Â£65).
1 p.m. If you fancy ending the weekend with some fine dining, take a 15-minute drive over to Dufftown to La Faisanderie (2 Balvenie St.; lafaisanderie.co.uk
), where chef Eric Obry is earning himself a reputation for fine French cooking with local ingredients.
4 p.m. Take a stroll around the wide streets of Dufftown before popping into the Malt Barn Bar at the Glenfiddich distillery for one final dram. Then it’s back to the airportâallow an hour and 15 minutes for the driveâand home, hopefully with some liquid souvenirs in hand.
—Email Will at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @Will_Lyons