Ever wanted to live like a queen (or king) without the bother of muscling your way into the succession? Fancy a weekend of stunning views, regal accommodation and delicious food while avoiding itchy robes, heavy metal headgear and endless Royal Variety Show performances?
Then head to the wilds of Scotland. Queen Victoria always had a special affinity with the Highlands – as seen in the historical drama Victoria and Abdul (out on DVD today). Judi Dench’s monarch strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk and whisks him off to her beloved Balmoral.
Visit Scotland revealed unto us where the stunning Highland scenes were filmed, and the secret of having a right royal weekend worthy of Queen Victoria.
Want to be a real monarch of the glen? Here’s how.
1.Follow in the footsteps of royalty
Of course, you can’t really go to the Queen’s Balmoral Estate for a quick visit – it’s all private land – but you can do the next best thing and head over to Glen Affric, an area of beautiful highland near Inverness that has stood in for Balmoral in various TV and films including Netflix’s The Crown and (of course) Victoria and Abdul, where the Queen (Judi Dench) and her new favourite (Ali Fazal) have a very nippy tea party amongst the heather.
Walk one of the gorgeous woodland trails, look out across the picturesque landscape, breathe in the crisp, fresh air, and just imagine yourself with an entourage of adoring followers, and you’re basically living like a royal. Beware bites, though – apparently the midges can get quite vicious in summer.
2. Spend the night in a castle
What regal tour would be complete without the proper accommodation? And while you might not be able to find a B&B that Queen Victoria spent a night in on TripAdvisor, there are plenty of grand hotels, sumptuous country houses and luxurious cottages in the Highlands. You can even stay in a castle as we did – Achnagairn Castle near Inverness.
Built in 1812 as a private home, the castle only became a hotel recently but has already made a bit of a name for itself thanks to its friendly staff, wonderfully spacious wood-panelled rooms and excellent restaurant, which laid on a delicious five-course Scottish/Indian meal for us in their great hall.
Said great hall is also a popular wedding destination, with receptions ranging from the traditional (food, dancing, nice music) to the slightly less so (apparently one couple opted for a Harry Potter-themed soiree).
In low season, rooms start from £100 per night, rising to £140 from April to June and £170 from July to September. It was one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in for years, but be warned – it’s hotel policy that no rooms have any TVs, though there is wifi.
3. Become King of the Hill
Of course, a key part of being properly royal is being able to look down on people from on high – so visited the Cairngorms, the famed mountain range in its own national park.
Looking down at the Highlands from over 3,500ft, it’s certainly got quite the view – and depending on what time of year you visit there might even be some snow to enjoy. We went in January, and there was a ski resort on top of one of the mountains that you’d struggle to differentiate from the finest Austrian efforts.
The views are truly spectacular, and well worth the trip up the UK’s highest funicular railway. (A Royal would never have to get sweaty and hike up, would they?)
4. Eat like a Queen
There are plenty of terrific options when it comes to food in this part of the world, but if you’re looking for a bite not too far away from Glen Affric, check out the Loch Ness Inn in Drumnadrochit, which combines tasty, simple food with a lovely homespun ambience. And if you did fancy a trip to the Loch itself, well, it’s just around the corner.
On our way to visit Blair Atholl Castle (below), we went for something a bit more majestic – dinner in the towering Baronial Dining Hall of the Atholl Arms Hotel, built in the 1830s and adorned with hunting trophies, a minstrels’ gallery and more tartan carpeting than you could shake a caber at.
The traditional yet varied menu is as impressive as the surroundings – even if it is a little short on the Indian delicacies the Queen is introduced to in Victoria and Abdul…
5. A taste of history
Before Prince Albert bought her Balmoral, the Queen had to depend on the kindness of her friends when it came to staying in Scotland, which is where Blair Castle came in. Standing for 700 years and the longstanding seat of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl, the castle was visited by Victoria in 1844 on her second journey to Scotland, and helped kickstart her love for the region.
Visitors can explore the castle’s historic inner rooms and admire its extensive weapons collection, which is also symbolic of its most enduring connection to Victoria – the Atholl Highlanders, a ceremonial regiment under the command of the Duke of Atholl, who are now the only private military force in Europe thanks to a unique privilege granted to the Murray family by Victoria during her 1844 visit.
The castle itself is stuffed full of intriguing artefacts including Victoria’s furniture when she visited the entire family had to move out to accommodate her and her staff), and while we were there we even got a sneak peek at some letters written by the Queen herself. And the building’s connection to the Queen continues, with Blair Castle playing itself for certain scenes in the latest series of ITV’s Victoria starring Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes.
All in all, then, it’s the perfect way to cap off a couple of days walking in the footsteps of Queen Victoria in her favourite place in the world. By the end, it might be yours too.
Victoria & Abdul is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download from today
For more holiday ideas, go to visitscotland.com