Speyside has long been home to a huge number of whisky distilleries, with its sweeping hills and glens offering the perfect landscape to hide illicit distilling practices years ago. These days, the brown tourist signs for the Malt Whisky Trail, established in the 1950s, mark the route to discover and visit these well known names - from Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet to Balvenie. Many of these distilleries are dotted along the roadside with others still hidden away, the pagodas of their former maltings glimpsed at the end of winding roads.
Another hidden gem, and an ideal spot for exploring the Speyside region, is The Dowans Hotel. Set back off the main road into Aberlour, the hotel was originally built in 1888 as a home for John F Cumming, the grandson of the couple who established the Cardhu Distillery. Now the Dowans is owned by the Murray family, who took it on in 2012.
Budget or boutique?
With only 16 individually designed en-suite rooms, this is a stylish yet cosy boutique offering.
The family enlisted the services of Chelsea Mclaine Interiors to update the hotel, while keeping its Victorian charm. Expect statement wallpaper and soft furnishings in the bar and restaurants while each room, named after a distillery, has its own personal style. My executive club room, Speyburn, had dark grey walls punctuated by shades of pink and purple berry tones in the pillows, curtains and throw. A small seating area made the most of the room's view - out over the landscaped garden and trees, to the hills beyond. The en suite, which mirrored the dark grey of the bedroom walls, had a stand alone tub and large walk in shower.
Wining and dining
The hotel’s restaurant, the ‘57 (named after the fact that The Dowans sits 57 degrees parallel north of the earth's equator) serves breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, and the menu has fresh, locally sourced ingredients such as venison from the Ballindalloch Estate, fish from nearby Portsoy and lobster from Lossiemouth. Our evening meal started with plump seared scallops followed by a main of monkfish tempura and a dessert of orange blossom pavlova. Breakfast is also served here, with a menu of eggs benedict, full fry ups and pancakes, which are Scotch drop scones rather than a big American stack and all the better for it. Veggie options are also available, and dietary requirements can be accommodated on request.
It wouldn’t be Speyside without a well stocked whisky bar, and The Dowans’ is a sight to behold. The Still Room bar offers an expertly-curated selection of over 500 whiskies from the region and beyond, presented in the library style room. Mbar has a selection of craft beers and spirits and, if the weather is nice (as it was during our stay) guests are welcome to enjoy the peace and quiet of the garden and terrace.
Worth getting out of bed for
Speyside is home to more than 50 whisky (and some gin) distilleries, with the Malt Whisky Trail being the easiest route to finding most of them. The Glenlivet has recently reopened following an extensive renovation. The Glen Grant has beautiful gardens and the Glenfiddich’s terrace is ideal for sunny days. It’s worth checking the visiting regulations of each distillery, and their opening times.
The Strathspey Railway is a fun day out for all the family and the heritage Keith and Dufftown railway offers a handy link between distilleries. Balvenie Castle, built in the 1200s, is one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland and an ideal spot for history buffs. For keen outdoor enthusiasts, Ben Rinnes offers a decent walk and lovely vantage point. Finally, Speyside is renowned for its fishing.
Every room has tea and coffee making facilities with shortbread, a flat-screen television, free wifi and complimentary Scottish Fine Soaps toiletries.
Set high above the picturesque Spey Valley, overlooking the village of Aberlour and the River Spey below, The Dowans Hotel offers a rare opportunity for guests to relax and enjoy the elegance of a fine Highland hotel. Built over 100 years ago, it is now converted to a first class hotel.
Double rooms priced at £190 for B&B per night. The Dowans Hotel, Dowans Road, Aberlour AB38 9LS, 01340 871488
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