Five locations in Scotland
There are many clichés about the Scots, mostly related to whiskey, kilts and bagpipes. My trip to Scotland confirmed none of these stereotypes. Instead, I met very open-minded and humorous people who think a lot about sustainability, political independence and social change. And despite all the warnings about hearty food and the very mixed weather, I ate very well vegetarian and almost got a little sunburn. I also visited the UK's first vegan hotel and was in a consistently sustainable community that has been around since the 60s. And isn't that what traveling is all about – turning preconceived notions and images into lived impressions and real experiences? I have learned that through afforestation, Scotland has tripled its forest cover in the last hundred years to what it was a thousand years ago. Saplings protected by sleeving can be seen everywhere on hillsides and roadsides. The general speed limit of seventy miles is consistently observed in Scotland. The country is also very easy to travel by bus and train. Harry Potter fans can even ride the steamy Hogwarts Express (The Jacobite) which departs from Fort William.
1. Edinburgh - a medieval city with contemporary food trends
My round trip, on the other hand, starts in Edinburgh, the hilly capital of Scotland. In addition to its imposing medieval city center, which is enthroned by Edinburgh Castle including the crown jewels, there is the elegant New Town district and the famous Royal Mile, along which there are a lot of sights and tourists. You can get to and through the city in a relaxed manner by bus or tram. The museums are free and a really good rain alternative. The National Museum also has attractive architecture and a nice cafeteria. The somewhat colorful hodgepodge of natural history museum, technology exhibition and hands-on offer is very varied for children of all ages.
Edinburgh has a lot to offer when it comes to culinary delights; classic pubs, cool coffee shops, expensive fine dining and also many vegetarian restaurants. Of course there is still the famous "English Breakfast" with fried ham, beans, eggs, sausage and black pudding. But also often in the vegetarian version with beetroot and veggie sausages.
I choose to visit a real institution – the Henderson's vegetarian restaurant has been around since the 60's. Located in the Bruntsfield area as of 2021, it is managed by the original owner's grandson, who has also modernized the concept. The inviting guest room is comfortably furnished with light colors and lots of wood. Pretty dried flowers are hanging from the ceiling and are decoratively illuminated. The menu even features the Scottish classic haggis – actually a dish made from offal – in a vegetarian version made from beetroot and yellow beets with caramelized onions and whiskey sauce. As a starter there is, among other things, a kind of hearty creme brûlée with corn and sweet potato fries. The lentil Bolognese with smoked aubergine and walnuts on polenta is deliciously seasoned with lots of herbs. For dessert there is a liquid chocolate cake with a pistachio popsicle and flower decoration. Everything tastes excellent and the prices are very moderate by Scottish standards.
There's that next door Modern standard coffee shop, which not only sells fair trade coffee, but is also the first British roaster to donate one percent of its sales to sustainable projects.
2. Pitlochry – the first vegan hotel, a famous castle and a powerful dam
We continue inland towards the Highlands. The dam at Pitlochry provides electricity to the whole region and there are some lovely walks around it such as the Killiecrankie Walk. A trip to the famous Blair Castle from the thirteenth century with its large gardens and deer park is also worthwhile.
I stay at the beautiful Soarsa Hotel, the UK's first fully vegan hotel. The historic building has received a modern update. The successful style mix of jungle wallpaper, colorful velvet sofas, designer lamps and cool art on the walls attracts a relaxed crowd. And the very well stocked bar invites you to linger. In the large garden there are various seating areas, an illuminated whirlpool and a yoga yurt. The evening tasting menu with five delicious courses, such as beetroot tartare, radish ravioli and olive chocolate mousse, is surprising and tastes really good.
Traveling vegan or vegetarian? Here you will find our 10 tips for everyone who eats vegan or vegetarian on holiday.
3. Nairn - Beach beauty, alternative lifestyle and surprising dolphins
The thoroughfare through Nairn hardly suggests the beautiful town center and the beautiful beach promenade in the north-east of the country. Once out of the car you can easily walk around the city, the two beach sections and the port. On the beach there are modern beach stalls with fresh fish'n chips and soft ice. I steer the recently opened The Highland Weight in town. A nice little unpackaged shop with a very good bistro. Strengthened with halloumi flatbread and pumpkin soup, we head back to the beach. The April sun is shining properly and I wonder why I actually thought of everything but sunscreen. From the beach you suddenly see dolphins jumping out of the water just off the coast. Only later do I read that Nairn is one of the top destinations in the world for watching dolphins from land - an unplanned highlight.
I am staying at Arthur and his family's bed and breakfast Washington House. The accommodation is incredibly tastefully furnished, like something out of a living magazine - with beautiful finds from travel, original lamps, designer pieces, great carpets and cushions. In addition, Arthur serves the best breakfast on the island in the morning - porridge with blueberries, pancakes with homemade plum compote or a poached egg on a kind of Parmesan tortilla - and there are also exciting travel and insider tips.
Arthur recommends a detour to the Findhorn Community, which is only a few kilometers from Nairn and is known worldwide. Peter and Eileen Caddy founded it out of necessity in 1962 with Dorothy Maclean. The three had previously successfully managed a hotel and suddenly had to start over after their surprising termination. They moved to a trailer park and earned extra money by planting vegetables. The barren soil initially did not yield much, but with a mixture of esotericism and a love of plants, they increasingly managed to harvest larger and better herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables. Word of the success got around and made the garden famous. More and more people settled in Findhorn to live in this spiritual community. Today there are solar systems, wind turbines, cafés, restaurants, event rooms, a well-stocked organic supermarket and an extensive range of seminars. I content myself with a good coffee and a delicious piece of cake in the Phoenix Cafe and enjoy the sun in the middle of the rock garden. Over the dunes you get to a beach with small bathhouses and a nice restaurant at the harbor called The Captain's Parlor.
4. Inveraray - Lakeside Churches, Rewarding Walks and Wayside Waterfalls
The spontaneously chosen stopover on the way to Glasgow turns out to be another highlight, as it gets quieter in the evening and some very good restaurants open. After the coffee-walnut cake was already excellent in the afternoon, I eat a halloumi skewer with miso mayo in my nice bed & breakfast (Brambles of Inveraray) in the evening and fall happily into bed. In the village itself there is not only a castle with a large garden to visit, but also various destinations in the area. The beautiful St. Conan's Kirk is right on the water and time seems to have stood still in its small tea room. A beautiful walk called Sutherland's Grove Forest Walks leads past imposing water cascades on paths of various lengths. Incidentally, green signs throughout Scotland point to the sights along the way, which are usually free of charge and worth a detour. Waterfalls, moss-covered forests, pretty churches and castles or even a pasture with hairy highland cattle.
5. Glasgow - Museums, Murals, a Carbon Neutral Club and a Glorious Restaurant
Next stop Glasgow - the country's largest city. Once the country's problem child with high unemployment after the end of the coal and steel industry, the city has blossomed into an exciting cultural metropolis. In the district of Finnieston is the university, some museums and the beautiful Kelvingrove Park. This is also where the lively Argyle Street is located - a real foodie paradise. There is everything from ramen soup to tacos and from craft beer to pisco sour. I have it Glorious impressed, which is not only beautifully furnished, but also convinces with a seasonal menu. In spring there are of course asparagus dishes, peas and delicious pasta with rocket. The pasta is even freshly made in the restaurant. The homemade bread with rosemary and sea salt is particularly delicious, which is great for soaking up the delicious sauces.
In Glasgow there is even a climate-neutral event location, the so-called SWG3. Here, the body heat of the visitors is stored inside by a pipe system two hundred meters below the surface and this energy is then used for heating or cooling if required. For comparison - a Berlin club consumes up to 1600 kilos of CO02 on an average weekend. Rocking with no regrets sounds good somehow!
"Sláinte" is a Scottish toast and it's always easy to strike up a conversation with the friendly Scots, who are genuinely interested in how I like their country. It took me by storm - no, in bright sunshine - and I'll definitely be back soon.
© Photos: Unsplash/Giorgio Trovato, Geraldine Voss, Claudia Walliser