I’m a sucker for a winter break.  Sure, the sunny summer trips abroad have got their perks; being able to enjoy your dinner on an outdoor terrace without the need of a cardigan; sangria as the sun goes down; tentative steps into glassy blue waters…But there’s something equally loveable about delving into colder climes and embracing the inevitably dark weather.  I like walks in the snow and supping pints of Guinness in front of crackling fires.  I like having an excuse to wrap up warm and wear three pairs of socks without shame.  I like peppering the day with unscheduled hot chocolate breaks.

Perhaps that’s why, then, I was so looking forward to wee February getaway.  The best part?  I didn’t even have to leave the country.

One of my favourite things about living in Scotland is that while it’s not a big country, it never fails to supply you with beautiful places to explore, come rain or shine.  The scenery can change dramatically in a matter of an hours’ drive; in the morning, you could be perusing the shops of a glitzy city centre.  In the afternoon, you could stand at the foot of a loch, with woodland critters hooting away in the background for atmospheric effect.

With views like this to look forward to, Scotland is the perfect place to head for a road trip.

I was lucky enough to find myself invited up to Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, which is about 2.5 hours’ drive from my flat in Edinburgh.  The perfect distance to escape the city for a few days.  My home for this stay?  The impressive Macdonald Aviemore Resort.

Aviemore is a resort town, and for many, it’s known as a gateway for outdoor sports enthusiasts.  All year round, it hosts a steady influx of adventurous souls looking to make use of its natural facilities; there’s Loch Morlich and Loch Insh for the wet-suit lovin’ sorts, Cairngorm Mountain for those brave enough to hit the slopes and a range of companies offering group activities, so it’s not uncommon to see the occasional stag party suspended in mid-air as they take on a treetop walk or two.

The banks of Loch Morlich

It’s a really gorgeous part of the country, with snow-topped mountains overlooking a lush, forested valley below.  Its geography bodes well weather-wise too; the summers are often hot, and the winters snowy.  I’d been keeping my fingers crossed for weeks that the snow would still be lying, and it didn’t disappoint; about an hour south of the town, we found ourselves driving into an increasingly promising flurry of snow.  By the time we’d reached Kincraig (for an obligatory stop at the Highland Wildlife Park), we’d found ourselves in a complete white-out.  Brilliant.

After spending a few hours getting acquainted with our furry friends, the cold got the better of us, and it was time to thaw out.  Cue a short drive to the hotel. Thankfully, the Macdonald Aviemore Resort isn’t hard to find; the town centre of Aviemore is relatively small given its popularity, and to get to the resort, you just take the turn off the central roundabout and follow the sign up a short hill.

Finding our exact hotel, however, was going to be a bit more challenging.  Here’s one thing worth noting about the resort; it’s big.  So big, in fact, that I would best describe it as somewhat of a complex.  The company owns several premises in town; there’s the Highlands, Aviemore and Morlich Hotel, all four star and all within walking distance of one another, and there’s also a range of luxury woodland lodges deeper into the woodland.  The Macdonald Aviemore Resort provides many facilities for its guests but also for locals, with a shopping centre, soft play area for children, swimming pool, spa, and even a cinema thrown in there for good measure.  It’s an impressive sight but vast, and I have to admit that when we drove into the resort, we were probably looking a little like deer in the headlights.

Unsure exactly which hotel we were staying in, we made the choice to pull up outside the first one that had a parking space and go ask for directions at reception.  This happened to be the Highlands Hotel, and as walked into the plush foyer, I couldn’t help but feel a little underdressed as I noticed that my boots were still caked in mud from the wildlife park.

“Well this is going to embarrassing”, I thought as I approached the receptionist.  “Trust us to stop at the posh one.”

You can imagine my surprise then, when it turned out that we had in fact stopped at the right hotel.  I’m not going to lie; there may have been a wee happy dance going on as the receptionist turned her back to collect our keys.

After regaining (some) composure, it was time to check out our room.  Because of the size of the place, this involved going back outside, crossing a car park and taking a sneaky side entrance before negotiating our way through a complex of long corridors.  Our hotel alone had 151 rooms; I couldn’t help wonder how many were across the resort in total, and how on earth they keep the place so well maintained given its size.

Stepping into our Highlands Classic Double room, it was a relief to find that there was nothing chain or mass-produced about the vibes inside.   The décor was lovely and homely, and the warm heather colours echoed across the plush carpet, curtains and bedding did a grand job at warming us up from the inside out.

The Highland Classic Double Bedroom

The room was a great size, with built in wardrobes, a mahogany desk, flat screen TV (though it didn’t actually get used!), dining table and chairs, en-suite bathroom and a bed so large you could quite easily lose one another if you weren’t careful.  Of course, I had to give it the obligatory running-jump comfort test to ensure it was made of strong stuff; I’m glad to report it was.

What made the room really great, however, were the little personal touches thrown in by the hotel, from the luxurious lavender toiletries (the ultimate mark of a fancy Scottish establishment) to the shortbread biscuits by the kettle, and even a bottle of complimentary wine to thank us for our stay.

The perfect way to unwind at the end of the day.

I would have quite happily snuggled down into the comfy bedding and camped out in our room for two days straight had we not such a busy agenda to attend to.  Over the two days that we spent in the area, very little time was spent sitting still.  Instead, we were busy catching up with family, exploring nearby Loch Ness and galavanting off into the depths of the Rothiemurchus forest.  It was lovely, however, to know that at end of a busy day we would have such a luxurious, comfy haven to return to, and that each morning we would have a hearty Scottish breakfast in the pleasant Aspects Restaurant (hats off for the tattie scones, btw!) to set us up for day ahead.

The Aspects Restaurant

On our second night, I had a little time to explore the nearby Aviemore Activity Centre, which was just in the next building along from the Highlands Hotel.  After a long day spent negotiating windy loch-side roads in the car, it felt like a complete indulgence to have a dip in the pool.  I’m a keen swimmer, so hotels with pools are always going to get a massive thumbs-up from me, but the facilities at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort were particularly nice.  My usual half hour quickly doubled as I made use of the hot tub, sauna and steam room between lengths.  At least, I think I did some lengths…

The Aviemore Resort Pool

As much as I loved the snowy setting, there was no denying that Aviemore was pretty cold at night.  I think at one point temperatures even dipped as low as minus 7!  Thankfully the hotel’s Laggan Bar did a good job at keeping us cosy.  The barman was particularly helpful and knowledgeable.  He was more than happy to talk through the different whiskies with us (not at all an excuse to get drunk on the fumes, I swear!), and at one point produced the most lavish glass of Hendricks and Tonic I’ve ever seen.   We made recurrent trips to the Laggan, and I’d quite happily go back again, whether I was staying at the resort or not.

With a cracking range of whiskies on offer and a knowledgeable team, The Laggan Bar offers a bit of luxury treatment in the centre of Aviemore.

By the time we had to leave on the Friday morning I was already feeling pangs of separation anxiety.  There’s always a bit of trepidation before staying at a chain hotel, but the Macdonald Aviemore Resort had gone above and beyond to create a homely and inviting vibe that felt anything but run-of-the-mill.  All things combined – the comfy room, the personal touches, the lovely food and drink and the attentive staff – the crew at Macdonald have created a hotel which gets the balance perfectly right between luxury and likeable, and given its location and facilities, it’s hard to imagine a better place to base yourself for a jaunt into the Scottish Highlands.

For a typical weekday stay in February, a double room with breakfast included at the Highlands Hotel starts at £119.00 a night.  For accurate prices and information, head to the hotel’s website here, where they can offer you the best rate guaranteed.

Disclaimer: Our two-night stay was kindly supported by the Macdonald Resort and Granite PR.  As always, my opinions are my own.

Heading to Aviemore any time soon?  You might want to check out the following articles for inspiration…

Exploring the Cairngorms National Park: Things to do in and around Aviemore

Photography: Aviemore

How to explore Loch Ness by Car

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