Blair Atholl is the ideal base for a Highland walking holiday, being surrounded by a landscape of ever-changing colour which has inspired artists and writers for centuries. The Blair Atholl Estate offers 145,000 acres of natural playground. At its centre is Blair Castle which has been the family seat of 19 generations of Stewarts and Murrays, and which has played a role in many key events in Scottish history. The castle gardens are a lovely place to stroll, while more energetic visitors can cycle, hike, fish, go wildlife spotting, take a tractor tour, or go on a Land Rover Safari.
Sitting on the banks of the River Spey, Kingussie is another town that is small in size but big on activities. You can try virtually any sport you can think of, including a tricky 18-holes on the hillside golf course, but it's also fantastic if you want to do nothing more than sample the local whisky and admire the view. Kingussie hosts Strathfest, an annual music festival, every March, but there is often live music in local pubs like The Tipsy Laird. The town and surrounding area were used for filming the popular BBC series 'Monarch of the Glen', and this map is handy for a self-guided tour for fans.
Walkers and climbers will love Laggan for the easy access to The Grampians and the Monadhliath Mountain range. The unspoilt scenery is home to deer and osprey, golden eagles, and pine martins. Many activities take place on the Ardverikie Estate, and the mountain biking at the Laggan Wolftrax Centre is some of the best in the country. Laggan Outdoor Centre is hugely popular with families who love the variety of activities on offer.
Discover the local Reindeer!
Cairngorm Mountain is also wonderful all year round. Animal lovers can spot hares, deer, rabbits, foxes, voles, and red grouse. Cairngorm Mountain is the only place in the UK with a herd of reindeer. Guided walks will give you the best chance of seeing these local residents. See here for details.
Braemar, Ballater, and the surrounding area are known as Royal Deeside. It has been a popular summer holiday destination for the British royals since Queen Victoria discovered its charms and turned Balmoral Castle into the ultimate self-catering Cairngorms holiday cottage. The queen favours Balmoral while Price Charles is a frequent visitor to nearby Birkhall Estate.
What you will see depends on the time of year you visit, but the best way to discover it is on a guided tour with a company like Hidden Deeside Tours. You'll be amazed at what you can find when you step off the well-trodden tourist trail and see the beauty and history through the eyes of a knowledgeable local.
Ballater itself is close to Lochnagar, Loch Muick and Balmoral and has a literal royal seal of approval! It sits at the foot of Craigendarroch Hill which offers an array of wonderful short walks, and is a long-time favourite with royals and friends of royals meaning that some of the restaurants in the area are first rate. Rothesay Rooms in Ballater (open Wednesdays to Sundays) showcases the finest of Scottish fare and has more than a royal warrant, it has royal ownership, having been set up by Prince Charles.
Home of the Highland Games, the small village of Newtonmore explodes with vibrancy and life on the first Saturday of every August. From 100m sprints to tossing the caber, and even a pipe band competition, the Highland games have been a feature of the community here for generations.
Another typically Scottish sporting event is Shinty, which is played between March and September. It is not played anywhere else and, while you may not understand the rules, you can't avoid the excitement. Just stand near a friendly local who will be happy to explain what is happening. A match between reigning Premier Division Champions Newtonmore and their fiercest rivals Kingussie is not to be missed! If sport is not your thing, pay a visit to the Highland Folk Museum and the Clan MacPherson Museum.