Posted by: gabriellereneeleblanc | July 8, 2012

Indulge in Inverness

Interested in Inverness?

Here are a few tips and suggestions from my recent journey to the Capitol of the Highlands. It’s a bit detailed, so grab a mug of tea and settle in. With all there is to see and do, it’s a challenge to be concise, but I’ll do my best.

The Journey:

If traveling from Edinburgh, why not take the bus? The trip is about 3.5 hours long on Citylink, which is just a little longer than traveling by train. This may seem like a rather long commute, but once the beauty of the scenery begins in earnest you won’t even notice the time. It’s breathtaking, truly. (Hint: for the best views from Edinburgh, sit on the left.) Keep your eyes peeled for wild deer, rabbit, and birds of prey.

The price of bus fare when compared to train is also a great deal more affordable, which is wonderful as you’ll be wishing to spend every spare £ available on more important things…like food. (Book your round-trip journey as much in advance as possible for the greatest discounts, and to ensure yourself a seat.)

Accommodations:

There are quite a few nice little hotels and inns here. Naturally, some are more luxurious than others. Many feature views of the River Ness or the Inverness Castle and host fabulous restaurants and convenient location. Bypass all of these and book yourself in a Bed & Breakfast.

Inverness is a picturesque city settled along the banks of the River Ness, which flows down into the murky depths of the famous Loch of the same name. All throughout the city are gorgeous Victorian homes (really mini-mansions) a great number of which have been converted into B&Bs and guesthouses, a mere stones-throw from the city center. With such charming rooms available and the inclusion of a full Scottish breakfast (heartier and more satisfying than the similar English breakfast) why settle for the sterile environment of a simple hotel?

Whatever else the Scots are famous for, I can think of no greater attribute than their spectacular hospitality, and no better way to experience it for yourself than to be a guest in one of these charming houses.

I stayed at Ardconnel House as a guest of John and Elizabeth. http://www.ardconnel-inverness.co.uk/

John’s advice on local eateries was spot-on, and breakfast was plentiful and delicious. My travel companion claims theirs was the best haggis he’s ever sampled. Personally, I couldn’t comment, but the porridge was quite nice and was just the thing to keep me warm throughout the cold, wet day that followed.

Most importantly (and seldom mentioned in reviews) the ensuite facilities included a real-live well-working shower! Good water pressure, steamy water at high temperatures…it’s a rare and wonderful thing, and much appreciated after a day walking ruins and sailing the Loch.

They book up quickly, but if you can secure a room here, do. They’re currently ranked #5 out of the some 196 Inverness B&B listings on TripAdvisor.com, but I can see no reason they shouldn’t climb to #1.

Sights:

So, you’ve come to Inverness. Why? Certainly not for the sunbathing! It’s a wet and rainy country which, even in the midst of July, reached at sweltering 62 degree high during my stay. (That was on my second day. By the third it had dropped to a staggering 52!)

More than likely, you had a hankering to see a bit of the wildness of the Highlands and take a look about the famous Loch Ness to see if you could catch a glimpse of some fantastical creature.

Be you skeptic or believer, dear reader, I shall now tell you true. These critters do exist, my friends…they’re called the Highland Coo.

Moo

Forget Nessie, these horned and hairy cows are straight out of the Jim Henson workshop and…haha!…they just crack me up.

Here’s a baby one.

Come on!

Okay, so you probably didn’t endure a 3.5 hour bus ride to seek out cows. Well, how about castles? The surrounding areas of Inverness have these in abundance. From the Medieval splendor of Cawdor Castle, historical home of the Thanes (post-Macbeth) to the preserved ruins of Urquhart on the bank of Loch Ness, any Renaissance Faire enthusiast will find due satisfaction.

Fans of Fringe and the X-Files will also be mollified with a cruise along the Loch itself. Though a bit less mysterious than simply scenic, it is an experience not to be missed (if only so you can later boast of having done it).

Jacobite Tours (http://www.jacobite.co.uk/) offers a plethora of options for visiting Loch Ness, from the simple 1-hour option to the more in-depth 6.5 hour “Passion Tour”, which is what I opted for. Included in this excursion was a visit to the Corrimony Cairns (ancient burial chamber) and the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition (myths and science) in addition to access to Urquhart and the river cruise.

Best about touring with Jacobite is their perfect balancing of the “touristy” and “true”. So many guided tours force the participants to remain in a large group and follow a very strict itinerary. The Passion did nothing of the sort. Our guide got us there, told us what we needed to know, and then released us to explore and experience for ourselves. History lesson first, then it’s recess for adults: go out and play!

Food:

You’ve done a lot: walked the River Ness, scaled the remaining battlements of Urquhart, cruised along the Loch…and, my god! You were up with the cows (coos) in order to take advantage of the Scottish breakfast at the B&B (8-9 a.m.).

Now you realize that meal was long time ago, and all you’ve had since was a biscuit and a cup of hot chocolate from one of the tourist shops. It’s time for food: a real meal with more substance than sugar.

Lucky for you, you’re staying in Inverness.

The specialties of the day are steak and seafood. Once again, I cannot comment on the quality of the beef, but I can say that the mussels I sampled at Nico’s were the best I’ve ever had. (Sorry, Brussels.) The catch of the day was a filet of sole with prawns in caper butter that was so good it made me realize I’d never before known how sole was meant to be. Finally, the dessert: I don’t care if you don’t like Baileys or cheesecake or desserts, for that matter. Get the Bailey’s cheesecake. It embodies yet surpasses tiramisu and traditional cheesecake in flavor, and you find yourself wondering how it manages to retain its form on your plate as every bite evaporates on the tongue.

Now, Nico’s is a bit of a pricy indulgence. If such expenditure is not in your budget, head down to Number 23. The mussels here are almost as delicious (yes, I had mussels twice), the cheesecake almost as incorporeal (cheesecake twice as well), and the salmon cakes are quite yummy.

These restaurants were the two most highly touted by John from Ardconnel. Asking the landlord at your B&B will undoubtedly result in other enthusiastic suggestions. Trust me, you’ll never be want of a dining option in Inverness.

Sample every course: the flavors are well worth the extra calories, and you can always walk it off with a stroll along the path of the River Ness islands or along the bank near the Inverness Castle.

It’s a charming, picturesque little city perfect for a weekend getaway from the bustle of the busier Edinburgh. Impossible not to enjoy this indulgent adventure.

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