Edinburgh, Scotland – Scotland is known for whisky and kilts, sheep and the Loch Ness Monster … but beyond all those stereotypical and perhaps “expected” things, many visitors are pleasantly surprised by what an active and outdoorsy place this country can be. For those seeking a more active vacation that enables them to experience Scotland’s natural beauty, hotels that belong to the Connoisseurs Scotland collection of luxury properties can offer the perfect getaway. In fact, three member properties that are best known as meccas for golfers provide a surprising array of opportunities that have nothing to do with clubs and tees. Gleneagles; The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa; and Trump Turnberry all provide unique and offbeat outdoor activities that may set their guests’ hearts racing.
Gleneagles has garnered much recognition in the golf community for more than 90 years, most recently as the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup competition. But the resort, located near Perth, is also noted for its other recreational opportunities, which span the spectrum from falconry to gundog training and from archery to indoor tennis. The resort also offers a full spectrum off-road driving experiences – a particularly interesting challenge for North American guests, since these jaunts involve driving on the opposite side of the road (or forest or stream, as the case may be). An especially enjoyable off-roading adventure involves taking an Argo Cat, an all-weather, semi-amphibious, all-terrain vehicle, out for a spin on Gleneagles’ property. Argo Cats have long been used throughout the Highlands of Scotland, as they enable landowners to reach very steep, rocky or swampy areas that would otherwise remain inaccessible. These vehicles are eight-wheel drive, and guests age 10 and older – and measuring at least 4.5 feet tall – can get behind the wheel and navigate Gleneagles’ special course that involves both land and water in a very memorable off-road experience. Fees start at £125/$192* for a 45-minute lesson.
On the east coast of Scotland, in the historic town of St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife, rests the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa. The Old Course is where golf began, and this year St. Andrews welcomes golfers from around the world as the 144th Open Championship returns this month. The hotel overlooks the famed West Sands beach, which movie buffs will recognize as the backdrop for the 1981 Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire. Visitors and guests enjoy walking, horseback riding, kite flying, volleyball, windsurfing and sand castle building on West Sands, but the resort’s own “Chariots for Hire” program offers a whole new beach experience. Guests can rent “sand bikes,” which boast chunky tires that make them ideal for travel through both sand and snow. Thanks to the bikes’ low tire pressure, riders feel as if they’re floating over the miles of white sand along the beach. Bikes can be rented for £10/$15* per hour, £15/$23* for a half day or £25/$38* for a full day’s adventure.
In the town of Ayrshire, guests are flocking to a third famed Scottish golf resort, Trump Turnberry, for a “Wildgoose Treasure Hunt.” Such hunts, which arm guests with a GPS and turn them loose to explore the hotel’s property, have become the rage across the United Kingdom. Participants receive a Samsung Galaxy tablet that’s loaded with Turnberry’s GPS app, allowing them to embark on a treasure hunt that provides a grand tour of the resort’s vast estate. Along the way, guests trigger hot spots and can work together – or against each other – to tackle a variety of challenges. The activity is ideal for corporate groups and also for families; groups of four to 12 guests can participate, as long as they’re age 8 or older. The cost of this activity is £20/$31* per participant, and these hunts take one to two hours. In case that’s not adventurous – or Scottish – enough, guests can also participate in a mini version of the Highland games. A kilted instructor organizes teams and coaches them in a variety of fun events, including a traditional caber toss and the not-so-traditional “haggis hurl.”
Connoisseurs Scotland’s other members include city-center properties; country house hotels; exclusive-use properties; a range of world-class spas; an all-suite hotel; the ultimate luxury train, The Belmond Royal Scotsman; and the only cruise ship in the world with a Royal Warrant from HM The Queen, The Hebridean Princess. One of the country house hotels, Inverlochy Castle, was recently voted the best hotel in Europe. Six members boast Michelin-starred restaurants – including Gleneagles, which has the only two Michelin-starred restaurant in Scotland. Information about Connoisseurs Scotland, its member resorts, partners and special offers can be found at www.luxuryscotland.co.uk.