It can pay off to wake up for sunrise in Scotland. The sky above the Scottish countryside radiates a glowing sherbert pink, a color that compliments the rolling green hills of grazing sheep below it.
The only thing that may rival the beauty of Scotland’s landscape is its whisky. Scotland is home to more than 120 active whisky distilleries, a handful of them being historic, world-renowned operations that have been turning out liquid gold for centuries.
Take in the sun rises, the distilleries, and everything in between on a road trip through the country. It’ll be one of the most romantic of your life, whether or not you’re a big spirits person.
Where to Start
Fly into one of Scotland’s two international airports: Glasgow Airport or Edinburgh Airport. If you choose the latter, stay at The Balmoral a luxury hotel opened in 1902. In Gaelic, Balmoral translates to “majestic dwelling” and you’ll see how it got its name from the moment you walk through the front doors.
The Balmoral—with its Michelin-starred Number One restaurant, lobby bar stocked with 400-plus whiskies, and well-appointed gym and spa—has hosted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Paul McCartney. For those flying into Glasgow, recover from your jetlag at the iconic Hotel du Vin & Bistro Glasgow.
The 5-star boutique property, discreetly situated in a row of townhouses that date back to the 1870s, is also a celebrity favorite. Hotel du Vin’s afternoon tea is not to be missed, if only to give you an introduction to the magic of clotted cream and scones.
Both cities will offer opportunities to ease into your whisky exploration via elegant hotel bars, classic pubs (like The Pot Still in Glasgow) to world-class cocktail spots (try Panda & Sons in Edinburgh).
Where to Drive
Scotland has five major whisky-producing regions that are known for their own specialties. Drive from the city through verdant farmland and forested hillsides to one of the most famous of those regions: Speyside (referring to whiskies made along the River Spey).
Speyside isn’t the only region worth driving to, but it is home to more than half of Scotland’s distilleries, making it one of the most efficient destinations to visit. Stop and tour distilleries like The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and The Macallan—who just completed a jaw-dropping $180 million new distillery and visitor experience. The general tour for £15 ($19) gives visitors the opportunity to sample four whiskies, plus a take-home whisky glass.
Spread your time in Speyside longer by staying in the heart of it at The Craigellachie Hotel, a 26-room property established in 1893. It’s Quaich Bar stocks more than 900 whiskies.
Where to Fly (or Ferry)
Your trip continues in Islay (pronounced eye-la), the Scottish island where the world’s smokiest whiskies are made. Flights over here are so short, the fasten seatbelt sign will never shut off during the trip. Alternatively, travelers can take a ferry to the island.
When you arrive on Islay, it’s like discovering a misty forgotten moonscape. Sheep seem to dramatically outnumber the island’s residents (about 3,000 people), giving you a sense that you have the place to yourself. Rent a car at D & N Mackenzie right next to the airport, then go check in at the newly-opened The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links, the island’s only luxury accommodation.
There are eight distilleries on Islay to investigate, most notably Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, and Lagavulin. For a non-alcoholic experience, visit the Islay Woolen Mill, the family owned and operated fabric manufacturer that provides Hollywood with its high-quality textiles for generations (including all of the tartan for Braveheart). Here you can pick up tweed jackets, cashmere scarves, and tartan kilts.