Where else but in Scotland would a whole month be dedicated to celebrating a national drink – no, not Irn-Bru – the other one with a kick and a worldwide following of connoisseurs?
In fact, make that a month and a half as we’re so eager to toast our (in my best Gaelic) ‘uisge beatha’ or ‘water of life’ that the celebrations have started early up in Speyside, home to more than 50 per cent of the nation’s malt whisky distilleries.
Until Monday, if your liver can stand it, the Spirit of Speyside Festival (spiritofspeyside.com) will host ceilidhs; tastings; dram fine walks; four-wheel drive smuggling tours; canoe excursions and steam (or should that be getting steaming?) train journeys.
Don’t worry if you’re missing out this weekend as it’s now so popular that they pour a healthy double measure of the same again come autumn. I highly recommend it – there is something for everyone.
Although chocolate pairings and cocktail-making sessions now help to stir more female attention, my appreciation in whisky was whetted when writing for an upmarket Scottish lifestyle magazine many moons ago.
Knowing something about malts was almost obligatory – although my first ever tasting event with the experts soon ended up a blur. Perhaps I should have used the spittoon more!
I have an especially soft spot for scenic Speyside and the Craigellachie Hotel in particular as this was where my husband and I spent our first weekend break together.
Our welcome drink was a quaich of whisky and we enjoyed relaxing in the atmospheric 120-year-old bar with its second-to-none range of malts.
Celebs Kate Moss, Sadie Frost and Noel Gallagher have more recently discovered the wonders of the hotel’s Copper Dog pub and restaurant and now word has spread to Dubai, where –surprise, surprise – a supposed exact replica has been opened. That modern metropolis cannae see green cheese.
Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t think that drinking whisky in the sun-baked UAE will provide quite the same heart-warming glow as clinking glasses in front of a log fire, surrounded by a pristine, pine-scented highland landscape… Though – for research purposes, you understand, I am quite prepared to drop by the next time I’m in Dubai to find out!
I urge you to follow your nose or the pagoda road signs of the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail during whatever season takes your fancy. It’s easiest to self-drive the circular route to distilleries from Aberlour and Dufftown to Elgin and Forres, although, of course, that inhibits the driver from any tasting till parked up for the night.
And don’t think it’s a holiday just for adults – (although the alcohol obviously is) – as there are many family-friendly attractions en route, including the Speyside Cooperage with its imaginative picnic tables in giant barrels.
During May’s Whisky Month (visitscotland.com), special events will take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as tours and tastings at distilleries nationwide, from historic old timers such as the enchanting Glen Grant in Rothes with its beautiful Victorian gardens to newly-opened stills like Ardnamurchan by scenic Loch Sunart.
Two of my favourites include Glenturret Distillery near Crieff and the Isle of Arran at Lochranza, where the calls of rutting stags can be heard in season echoing around the hills beyond the distillery doors.
The island most connoisseurs want to beat a path to is, of course, Islay, even if (or perhaps especially because) the peaty varieties of the many distilleries concentrated here (including Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) are pungent enough to knock your socks off.
The Feis Ile or Islay Festival of Music and Malt from 26 May may just provide the perfect excuse to cast anchor. And guess what – the celebrations roll right into June. Well, you never can get enough of a good thing. Slainté!
From June, Norwegian Air (www.norwegian.com/uk) will launch flights from Edinburgh to three US airports – Stewart International in New York State, Providence in Rhode Island and Bradley International in Connecticut. One-way flights cost from as little as £69, although there are extra charges for on-board food and drink and for checking in luggage.
If you’re on the hunt for an out-of-the-ordinary holiday let, then Host Unusual (hostunusual.co.uk) offers quirky self-catering properties from converted planes and trains to buses and even loos! Other categories include treehouses, lighthouses, sheds and a former police station with cells!
Holiday specialist Cosmos Tours & Cruises has just relaunched as ‘Cosmos’, with a new website: www.cosmos.co.uk Tours, beach holidays, ocean and river cruises worldwide can be booked as tailor-made packages with return flights, transfers and a private home pick-up service. The Cosmos Price Promise also allows customers to change, cancel and re-book holidays more easily.
This half-price bargain break for a four-night self-guided walking holiday exploring the Yorkshire Dales may also shave pounds off your waistline! Staying on a full-board basis at Thoms Hall in Sedburgh, this pretty village is also close to the Lake District National Park. Depart on 20 May for £207.50 pp (reduced from £415). Call 0345 470 7558 or visit hfholidays.co.uk