It’s the basics that matter when you’re staying in a hotel – and Macdonald Aviemore Resort handles them superbly.
Bed and breakfast there belies its humdrum connotations, as our family’s rooms in the Highland hotel majored on extremely comfortable beds. The breakfast, meanwhile, was faultless and perfectly cooked.
The well-spaced resort is a reinvention of the 1960s concrete monstrosity that previously occupied the sprawling site, centrally located just off the town’s main street.
It now comprises three hotels and 19 woodland lodges, an activity centre and outdoor children’s play area, cinema, gift shop plaza and conference centre. Heading outside into the sunshine, the snow-covered hills beckoned – and skiing and snowboarding would have been an option at CairnGorm Mountain ten miles away.
However, we wanted to sample activities closer to hand, especially since the resort’s website gave the impression that a range were available on site. The hotel receptionist seemed strangely unsure about where we should go, and sent us on a wild goose chase to a (closed) snowboard hire hut. The resort’s automated phone system provided no option to get further information. It turned out the activities advertised are run by a separate company in Grantown-on-Spey, 15 miles away, so we cut our losses and went to the tourist information centre in Aviemore, where helpful staff provided leaflets and information about what was on offer locally.
It turned out to be a weekend of wheels. We first headed for Aviemore Kart Raceway, just north of the town – a new 550-metre outdoor track which opened last August. The circuit was perfect for our youngsters, with lower-powered karts available for eight to 14-year-olds. They can still reach more than 30mph, and at kart scale, it feels a whole lot faster.
Donning racing suits, helmets and gloves, and after a short safety video, we were on track within minutes, negotiating sweeping bends, hairpins and seeing how fast we dared go on the long straight. Our initially-reluctant eight-year-old daughter was so taken with the experience she returned for both a second session, and again the next day.
We then switched to the Rothiemurchus Estate, south of Aviemore, which offers a range of pursuits from pony trekking for three-year-olds to 4x4 driving for the over-17s. Our 12-year-old son opted for the Segways – off-road versions with giant tyres.
This was another new experience for all of us. Rather than the pointless-looking gizmos I’d thought they looked before, I became instantly impressed by the sophistication of the Segways, their computer-controlled wheels working independently of each other as they responded to the aircraft-like joystick control of the steering column.
Starting off by whizzing round a field and having our manoeuvring skills tested on a slalom course, we were soon off, taken into the wilds, ascending steep, boggy tracks. The 50-minute session was over in a flash and I will definitely be returning for more.
From electrically-powered graceful motion on two wheels to the growl of petrol engines on four, we then crossed the road to try another first – quad bikes. As initially as sceptical about them as Segways, I found these oversized mobility scooters with attitude also surprisingly easy and fun to drive. A crash helmet, gloves and pair of wellies are all you need. No gears, just cycle-style handlebar brakes and a throttle controlled by your thumb.
On our return to the resort, the activity centre’s U-shaped swimming pool was, unsurprisingly, a hit with our children, with its flume and wave machine. Being directly connected to our hotel was another bonus.
However, we were surprised that children have to vacate the pool as early as 6:30pm – it stays open until 8pm – and the towels they were given were only really large enough for much younger kids. On our second visit there were no towels at all and we had to wait until after our swim to get them. Staff seemed frustrated that not enough were provided to cater for both hotel guests and visitors.
In two days, we hardly scratched the surface of what the resort had to offer, but its away-from-it-all feel yet central location made it a great base to sample the area’s delights.
Macdonald Aviemore Resort, PH22 1PN (0344 879 9152, www.MacdonaldHotels.co.uk/Aviemore). See website for rates and offers. Aviemore Kart Raceway, Granish, PH22 1QD (01479 812079, www.aviemorekartraceway.co.uk), £8-12 for ten minutes; Rothiemurchus Estate, PH22 1QH (01479 812345, www.rothiemurchus.net), Segways, £21 for 30 minutes or £35 for 50 minutes, Quad Bike Trekking, £49 per hour. Other activities include clay shooting, archery and fishing.