The visitors' guide to... Speyside

The visitors' guide to... Speyside

In each issue of Whisky Magazine this year we will look at a whisky region from a tourist's point of view. First up, Speyside

Travel | 12 Jan 2006 | Issue 53 | By Dominic Roskrow

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Some might consider Speyside to be the epicentre of malt whisky production and it can claim to have the greatest geographical concentration of distilleries anywhere in the world.Depending on where you draw the boundaries, between a third and a half of all Scotland’s malt distilleries are here.Many famous and some frankly obscure names appear at almost every bend in the road. Signs offer distillery tours and tastings.With so much to see and do, how do you choose?Here’s our handy guide of the best the region has to offer.The vast area is made up of stretches of rich, fertile farmland pitted against bleak, dramatic areas of moorland, studded with the pagoda roofs of distilleries and the stark, stone towers of castles.The jewel of the region, and the lifeblood for many of the distilleries, is, of course, the River Spey. Renowned as one of the best salmon rivers, it rises in the high country of Badenoch, south west of the Cairngorms, and flows by Aviemore, Grantown, Craigellachie and Rothes to the sea between Elgin and Buckie.Apart from the summer, the best times to head to this corner of Scotland are in May and October when the countryside colours are vivid.With classic names like Glenfiddich, Macallan, Aberlour and Glenlivet, and an official whisky trail, it is really up to the visitor to chose their own path.Outside of the whisky centres visitors should not neglect the coastline of the Moray Firth, which has plenty of beaches and picturesque fishing villages to offer.For those of a more sporting disposition, Nairn offers a fine challenging golf course.For the angler there is a wealth of spots for salmon and brown trout, and if the sport proves hard the ospreys on the well-managed Castle Forbes estate can be excellent teachers.With such a wealth of whisky distilleries at your finger tips, with at least 12 having visitors centres, the first problem will be where to base yourself.Elgin and Dufftown are as good centres as any, both nestling in reasonable sized clusters of distilleries.Distilleries:

For beginners.
The process of making great whisky needs a great barrel so it’s logical to start, not at a distillery, but at a cooperage. The obvious choice is to call in at the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie.In its award-winning visitor centre, you’ll see coopers at work, learn about the industry’s traditions and tricks and even eat your picnic in a giant barrel. The cooperage is very familyfriendly and, unlike many attractions in the area, open all year.Once you’ve learnt all about barrels, it’s time to find out about ‘the cratur’ itself.Perhaps the best place start is at the Glenfiddich distillery on the outskirts of Dufftown, self-styled ‘whisky capital of the world’.Glenfiddich is the world’s best-selling single malt whisky and was the first to offer distillery tours. The introductory tour is still free and includes a stunning film presentation, walk through the distillery and warehouse and a complimentary dram. Glenfiddich are one of the very few distillers to bottle their product at the distillery and, of course, you visit the bottling line as well.To finish off there’s an excellent café, shop and, for part of the year at least, a contemporary art gallery. If you’ve never visited a distillery before start here for a great introduction.Middleweight tour.
If you know a little more, or are prepared to pay, consider Aberlour or Strathisla. You can enjoy a more detailed tasting and the chance to visit in a smaller group.Guests to Strathisla, in Keith, make a selfguided tour through the beautifully restored showpiece distillery, home of the worldfamous Chivas Regal brand.At Aberlour, visitors enjoy a tutored nosing and tasting of five mature malts and new spirit in one of the atmospheric old warehouses and then have the chance to hand-fill and purchase their own personalised bottle of the single cask selection, exclusive to tour visitors.Finally, Glen Grant distillery at the north end of Rothes is also worth a visit, if only for the restored Victorian gardens. The tour is free.Expert Tour.
A recent trend has been the development of connoisseur tours. Though more expensive, they offer wonderful value for the enthusiast.You spend longer at the distillery in the company of an expert guide, often see areas that are ‘off limits’ to the regular tours and, best of all, sample some rare and very valuable whiskies.For enthusiasts of ‘the Rolls Royce of malts’, there is only one place and that is Easter Elchies, the home of The Macallan. Its premium tour explores the complexity and depth of various Macallan expressions, and you’ll also see the world’s rarest and most valuable collection of Macallan.Finally, back to Dufftown. Both Glenfiddich and its sister distillery Balvenie offer first-rate expert tours. Your choice will be determined by your favourite dram, no doubt, but both can be strongly recommended.It is also worth remembering that the Speyside Whisky Festival is held in May and September. Go to for more details.For further information.
Tour times, seasons, prices and availability all vary. Check details at these websites before you set off. Booking is essential for the premium priced tours.

There are far too many restaurants in the region to list here, and if you are staying in Aberdeen or Inverness there are plenty to chose from.Here are just a handful that will give your palate a treat and satisfy any appetite if you are in the area:

A Taste of Speyside Restaurant, Dufftown (tel: +44 (0)1340 820 860) is affordable with an imaginative menu.Knockomie Hotel in Forres (tel: +44 (0) 1309 673 146). The food is every bit as good as the hotel.Old Monastery restaurant, Buckie (tel: +44 (0)1542 832 660). Stunning views of the Moray coastline with superb food.La Mangiatoia restaurant, Ballater (tel: +44 (0)1339 755 999). Rustic Italian trattoria serving traditional homemade pasta, pizza, steak and chicken dishes.Hotels
The region has many hotels and guest houses offering short breaks, tour bases or longer holidays. Worth considering are:

The legendary Craigellachie Hotel ( puts you at the heart of the region with the big distilleries within easy striking distance.Mansfield House in Elgin (tel: +44 (0)1343 540 883) also puts all the major visitor centres within a decent travelling distance.Minmore House Hotel in Glenlivet ( is right next to the Glenlivet distillery and is set in some stunning countryside.Knockomie Hotel in Forres ( is close to the Benromach distillery and is ideal for the Malt Whisky Trail.Cluny Bank Hotel in Forres ( is run by whisky enthusiasts and does whisky events as well as organising trips to local distilleries.Aberlour –
Allt A’Bhainne– no visitor facilities
Auchroisk – no visitor facilities
Aultmore– no visitor facilities
Balmenach– no visitor facilities
Benriach– no visitor facilities
Benrinnes– no visitor facilities
Braeval – no visitor facilities
Caperdonich– no visitor facilities
Cardhu- Tel:+44 (0)1340 872 555
Craigellachie – no visitor facilities
Dailuaine– no visitor facilities
Dufftown– no visitor facilities
Glenallachie – Tel:+44 (0)1340 871 204
Glenburgie – no visitor facilities
Glendullan– no visitor facilities
Glen Elgin – no visitor facilities
Glen Grant–
Glen Keith – no visitor facilities
Glenlossie – no visitor facilities
Glen Moray–
Glenrothes– no visitor facilities
Glen Spey– no visitor facilities
Glentauchers– no visitor facilities
Imperial– no visitor facilities
Inchgower – no visitor facilities
Kininvie – no visitor facilities
Knockando– Tel:+44 (0)1340 810 205
Linkwood– no visitor facilities
Longmorn– no visitor facilities
Mannochmore– no visitor facilities
Miltonduff – Tel:+44 (0)1343 547 433
Mortlach – no visitor facilities
Speyburn– no visitor facilities
Speyside Cooperage –
Strathmill – no visitor facilities
Tamdhu– no visitor facilities
Tamnavulin – no visitor facilities
Tomintoul – Tel:+44 (0)1807 590 274
Tormore– Tel:+44 (0)1807 510 244
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