Aviemore, which in Gaelic means “big mountain face”, is situated within the Cairngorms National Park and was one of the first skiing resorts to be established in Scotland with the opening of its first chairlift in 1961.
Around about the same time, the foundations were being laid for Macdonald Aviemore Resort, which this year is celebrating 50 years in business. And for a holiday break in Scotland, the AA four-star resort has got the lot.
Mr and Mrs Macdonald have just completed an £8million investment programme, refurbishing the hotels (Macdonald Highlands and Macdonald Morlich), luxury woodland lodges, several excellent restaurants, children’s activity centre, shopping centre, outdoor playpark, golf course and cinema – which are all within walking distance of each other. There’s something to keep every age happy, whatever the weather.
The resort, surrounded by trees and mountains, is easily accessible by car, coach or train – the train station is a short walk away in the main, buzzing centre of Aviemore where there’s a great choice of cool ski shops, bars, restaurants and a supermarket.
For a relaxing break in Scotland, what more could you ask for, except maybe guaranteed sunshine? Although, with the ski slopes so close by, you might ask for snow instead. The main focus of our Easter visit was not only to enjoy the vast array of goodies offered at Macdonald Aviemore Resort, but to get some fresh air up CairnGorm mountain and see what the conditions were like for skiing. It was early April and we were not disappointed.
The ski centre is only 20 minutes’ drive from Aviemore, and Scotland’s only funicular railway takes you the rest of the way up the mountain in no time. Don’t be put off if there’s no snow at the bottom, because it’s a whole different story at the top.
There were hundreds of skiers on the ski tows, eeking out every last drop of Scotland’s ski season. It was an absolute white-out, but the conditions were too blizzardy for us with a six-year-old, so we trudged through the white stuff into the Ptarmigan restaurant for a delicious homemade lunch.
The UK’s highest restaurant, at 1,097m above sea level, apparently boasts impressive views of Britain’s highest mountain plateau, but we could just see snow…
Back down the mountain – not far from CairnGorm ski centre – is Glenmore, home to The Reindeer Centre. We had booked a morning hill trip to see the animals grazing freely in their natural habitat. Our walk started at the base of the funicular railway, where we’d all driven in convoy from the visitor centre. The Reindeer Centre advises good walking boots for the heather-clad, boggy slopes of the Cairngorms, and after a 20-minute scramble amongst beautiful mountain scenery, the guides pointed out several little white dots in the distance.
As we got closer, the dots turned into a herd of around 20 reindeer, with mums and calves. They weren’t put off by the crowd of tourists and soon got wind of our bags of feed. We held out our hands and they guzzled happily from them. A lovely experience, especially in the wild – and their fur was surprisingly soft to touch.
We learned lots of interesting facts, such as how they keep warm and what temperature they can withstand. Reindeer were returned to Scotland in 1952 by a Swedish Sami, after being absent for many years. The CairnGorm herd are the only reindeer in Britain to roam freely in their natural environment.
There are so many things to do in or near Aviemore; too many to mention here, but here are some highlights:
Halfway between Aviemore and Kingussie, Highland Wildlife Park is home to Scotland’s only polar bears, and there are Amur tigers, snow leopards, wolves, monkeys and red pandas to be seen at the large drive-through reserve which is run by The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
A popular spot for families is Landmark, at Carrbridge, seven miles north of Aviemore. The forest adventure park promises a fun day out with a runaway timber train, wild water coaster, climbing wall, ropeworx, skydiving and a Tarzan treetop trail.
Loch Insh outdoor centre at Kincraig has watersports, bike trails, walks and wildlife cruises. And just five minutes from Aviemore is Rothiemurchus, for fishing, kayaking, clay shooting, bike hire, pony trekking and off-road driving.
Loch Morlich, 10 minutes from Aviemore, is a great place for a picnic on the award-winning beach. The watersports centre offers equipment hire, lessons, activity days and a range of courses, with sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking and more.
And don’t forget the Strathspey Steam Railway which runs between the Boat of Garten and Aviemore. Lunch can be taken on the train and special Sunday lunch trips are also available.
The Cairngorms National Park covers an area of 1,748 sq miles, stretching north from Pitlochry up to Grantown-on-Spey, and east from Laggan to Aboyne. It includes Glenshee, the Lecht and CairnGorm ski areas, and there are many must-see places to visit, including Blair Atholl, Boat of Garten, Glenlivit, Strathdon and Ballater. It’s exquisite whisky and castle country, with a host of things to see and do round every corner – or you can just admire some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery.
Every moment is an adventure, but you don’t need to go far from Macdonald Aviemore Resort to keep children entertained, day and night. The Activity Centre has seven rooms packed with fun and games for all age groups, with fully qualified staff to look after them. There are three, three-hour supervised sessions a day for residents and non-residents, meaning parents can go and enjoy themselves outdoors safe in the knowledge the kids are being looked after.
The indoor pool, waterslide and wave machine is open daily from 8am-8pm, and is a magnet for families. There’s a great timetable of events for children too, with art and craft, sports and games. Our visit included a fun-filled Mad Hatter’s tea party, where children were entertained by the Mad Hatter, Alice and the Queen of Hearts.
In fact, children are well catered for throughout the resort, and the popular movie Zootropolis showing at the onsite Spey Valley Cinema was the icing on the cake for the three of us.
We had dinner at the refurbished Giovanni’s Ristorante, at the heart of Macdonald Aviemore Resort, where we enjoyed the most delicious, authentic Italian spaghetti bolognese we’ve had for ages. If the chef is not Italian, I’ll eat my hat. The restaurant serves pizza and pasta dishes, all complemented by a fabulous wine list, including Italian wines and quality beers. The relaxed atmosphere makes you feel very welcome, and children permitting, you can linger longer. But if you want to stay in the comfort of your own room or lodge, order an express pizza delivery from Giovanni’s – and don’t forget to ask for a bucket of ice for your wine.
We also tried the Scottish Steakhouse which offers a range of wonderful steaks and grills. It also does a very good quality children’s buffet – an excellent concept in what is essentially an a la carte eatery – with kids’ favourites such as mac and cheese and sausage and mash, literally on tap.
There is also a brand-new restaurant, Macdonald Spey Burger, where burgers are handmade from fresh 100% prime Scotch beef. A wide variety of extras include chef’s delicious home-made sauces, hot salsa, Stornoway black pudding and beetroot slaw to name a few.
If you fancy a bit of retail therapy, you don’t even have to leave the resort. The fantastic on-site store Spey Valley Shopping offers a selection of exclusive gifts, clothing and accessories. In an excellent location, it’s a well-loved and respected retail experience and recently became exclusive outlet for French Connection in the Highlands. Designer brands include Arran Aromatics, Barbour, Bronite, Burt’s Bee’s, Dubarry, Hunter, Scottish Fine Soaps and many, many more. It’s open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm.
The refurbishment of Aviemore Hotel is tailored to families, with rooms that have separate bunk beds and their own TVs. Our immaculate room was very comfortable, with cosy tartan armchairs, a lovely big bed, plush carpet and enough space for the three of us. I always look out for personal touches, such as fresh milk and a kettle – and good quality toiletries – and I was not let down here.
We’re already thinking of going back. A two-night Landmark Family Break starts at £169.50 per night for a family of four with dinner on the first evening, a family ticket to Landmark Forest Adventure Park, a family ticket to Spey Valley Cinema, and more.
Summer and October half-term family breaks start from around £199 for a family of four per night.
Three-night Santa weekend breaks include a winter wonderland full of festive surprises from £176 per night for a family of four.
- To make the most of your break, ask the hotel staff, who are very good at giving out directions to attractions, and there are lots of leaflets available with suggestions of things to do.
- Macdonald Aviemore Hotel, Aviemore, Inverness-shire. Phone 0344 879 9152. Visit the website http://www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk/aviemore
- CairnGorm Mountain Ski Area, Aviemore. Phone 01479 861261, www.cairngormmountain.org
- Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, Glenmore, Aviemore. Phone 01479 861228, www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk
- There is always plenty going on; check out www.visitcairngorms.com/whatson