Best time to visit: Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (27th Apr – 1st May 2017), summer outside the “quiet period” (when distilleries aren’t operational for maintenance).
Reasons to Visit
Distillery locations: Having had seen some distilleries before visiting the Speyside whisky region, I had an idea of the remote & picturesque locations distilleries could be found in (reasons in a previous blogpost). But on visiting the Speyside region, I had to re-learn the meaning of the phrase “remote & picturesque”. I had no idea of the existence of “The Glenlivet Estate” that is managed by The Crown & is a natural wonderland. A few distilleries are located inside the estate (Glenlivet, Tomintoul) & should be a focal point of a trip to the region.
Tip: Do not miss the 16th century Packhorse Bridge a short distance from the Glenlivet distillery. It’s an example of how nature can reclaim anything us humans build & is a great place to lose yourself to the world.
Distillery Concentration: Pretty sure a few pictures of direction & distance markers will suffice. It would really behoove you to plan which distilleries you must visit before arriving in the region lest you want to feel like a kid in a boozy candy shop.
Tip: Some distilleries such as Balvenie are appointment only & are booked weeks ahead of time. While others such as the sister distillery Glenfiddich as well as Glenlivet are so big, you can drop in anytime. Book ahead where needed.
Beautiful villages: You cannot go wrong in selecting a village to base your Speyside region trip from. I stayed in a campsite near Aberlour, an extremely beautiful & historic village (it’s full name is Charlestown of Aberlour). Dufftown is the heart of this region & a mecca for whisky lovers. Craigellachie is just a stone’s throw from Aberlour & is one of the prettiest wee Scottish village I’ve seen. Or go deep by staying really inland at Tomintoul. These villages are also very romantic so if your partner is not too big on whisky, taking romantic walks together should be a good incentive to visit.
Free Whisky @ Glenlivet: Hats off to Pernod-Ricard, not only is Glenlivet one of the largest, most-famous (and hence most-visited) distillery in the world, they build on that brand by giving FREE tours that end with a dram of whisky. And the location is stunning. After the tour, you can sip some more whisky in their cozy lounge for reasonable prices by asking at the front desk, I tried their peated variant (you read that right) & was pleasantly surprised by it.
Tip: There is a group of highland cows just outside the distillery, one of whom gave me an epic staredown. Great photo-op.
Tip: Most B&B’s & campsites give out small leaflets that show that they referred you for a tour. Though I doubt anyone wins a free bottle of whisky from entering the raffle, I know for a fact that the B&B and campsite owners get bottles proportional to how many people get referred. Please help them out 🙂
Public Transit Logistics
- This is the most difficult region to see using public transport based on my personal experience of seeing most of the country.
- Tuesdays & Thursdays are the best days to explore the regions as the 2x a week “shopping bus” runs on these days. In an effort to keep this post terse, please read my next blogpost to understand what a “shopping bus” is & how can a bus run only 2 times a week.
- Getting in: The town of Elgin is the recommended entry point into the Moray region as it’s well served by the Inverness – Aberdeen rail route run by ScotRail. Stagecoach bus 36 from Elgin to Dufftown via Aberlour runs hourly & costs 5.80 GBP for a single to Aberlour. The almost unmarked bus stop in Elgin to catch this bus is on the same side of the road as the rail station (I missed my connection due to confusion, read more here).
- Getting around: The bus above is great for visiting Rothes, Craigellachie, Aberlour & Dufftown. Additionally on Tue & Thu, the Dufftown – Tomintoul shopping bus via Glenlivet provides the key connection to see some of the Glenlivet estate. Get on the 1st departure to be dropped off at Glenlivet School (Tue) or Auchbreck bridge (Thu), a scenic 20/30 minute walk from the Glenlivet distillery. After the tour, walk to the packhorse bridge & enjoy your lunch till 1:40 PM when the bus will pick you up from the bus stop marked on the map & take you back to Dufftown the long way via Tomintoul. It’s a very scenic ride so the length was not a problem for me.
- Walk the Speyside way: Of course for the fitter folk among us, walking the Speyside Way is always an option to get around. Again, a very scenic route along the river Spey that connects most of the villages we talked about. It used to be a railway line (sigh).
Was on a budget so did not try the classy joints in the region. However, I did eat some campsite food royalty when the mobile chippy came to my campsite on Thursday evening (Thursday is the happening day in the region). Delicious hot food feels like a luxury when camping solo without cooking supplies so major props to the chippy.