High­land fling


Sunday Herald Life - - Travel Feature -

WITH the de­scent of dark­ness, the senses are height­ened as the sil­hou­ette of our des­ti­na­tion ap­pears at the end of a me­an­der­ing track through the deathly silent for­est. The still trees don’t move as the car crunches over the gravel path, the hum of the engine even­tu­ally sub­sid­ing abruptly af­ter a two-hour jour­ney that brings us to home. At least for the next three days.

With just the faint glow of light from in­side the lodge of­fer­ing a re­mote heat through the glass while we ap­proached out­side in the Fe­bru­ary air, there was lit­tle clue of the ru­ral haven co­cooned in­side. A clunk of the key in the lock and click of the door, and we were trans­ported in­side to a pic­turesque scene il­lu­mi­nated by a blaz­ing log-burn­ing fire at the op­po­site end of the room. Hiss­ing and crack­ling away, its warmth pro­vided the per­fect peace­ful wel­come to what would turn out to be three non-stop days.

The scene is set at the Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort, just a cou­ple of hours and 34 “are-we-there-yets” away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of west cen­tral Scot­land. The cam­pus is far more sprawl­ing than ini­tially thought, es­pe­cially for a young fam­ily hes­i­tant about en­ter­tain­ing a three-year-old and a six-month-old at the same time. We needn’t have wor­ried.

Set lit­er­ally a stone’s throw away from Aviemore town cen­tre – the re­sort backs on to the hand­ily-placed Tesco on the main road – the com­plex com­prises of three ho­tels and 18 wood­land lodges for ac­com­mo­da­tion, a huge con­fer­ence cen­tre, cin­ema, leisure cen­tre, soft play, kids’ ac­tiv­ity cen­tre as well as the usual out­door pur­suits of ski­ing and try­ing to chap­er­one a tod­dler around an out­door play park. The lat­ter de­cid­edly trick­ier than the former.

The Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort is noth­ing new. It cel­e­brated its 50th year last year, and to mark the oc­ca­sion £7 mil­lion was spent mod­ernising large parts of the re­sort to keep it thriv­ing in the face of com­pe­ti­tion of cheap for­eign flights and the ever-trou­ble­some task of cater­ing for the younger gen­er­a­tion. It is clear even from an ini­tial wan­der around the site upon ar­rival that no ex­pense has been spared on some projects, namely the lav­ish con­fer­ence cen­tre and arena along with the grand on-site shop­ping cen­tre ad­ja­cent. The nearby Spey Val­ley re­sort, golf course and steak­house are shin­ing ex­am­ples of that.

Hav­ing said that, there was noth­ing ex­trav­a­gant about our hum­ble abode for our three-night stay. While in­vest­ment may have been ploughed into some of the site’s ho­tels – not all were open due to the visit tak­ing place in the off­sea­son – it is fair to com­ment the lodges are prob­a­bly best de­scribed as rus­tic. Some TLC would be needed to bring them up to a par with some of the other fa­cil­i­ties on site, but a slightly dated feel was bal­anced out –sort of – by a sense of space and com­fort of­fered within the lodge it­self. Three dou­ble bed­rooms split over two floors shared two en-suite bath­rooms, while an open-plan liv­ing space was reg­u­larly heated with the flick­er­ing in­ferno in the lounge that raised all the way up to the high log ceil­ing above.

To be fair, this was per­haps the only neg­a­tive we en­coun­tered dur­ing our stay, and it’s im­por­tant to ac­cen­tu­ate the many pos­i­tives of this re­sort, which does cater for every­one. In our fam­ily, it’s prob­a­bly best to start with the grub. Af­ter un­pack­ing on the first night, the Mullen Clan jumped back in the car and made the two-minute drive to the Spey­side re­sort for din­ner at the Scot­tish Steak­house restau­rant. This place is a gem. With a roar­ing fire in the mid­dle of a din­ing room spa­ciously set out un­der an im­pres­sive beamed ceil­ing, the only thing to top the cosy set­ting was the food served. The sir­loin steak was out of this world, equalled only by the home­made pep­per­corn sauce which ac­com­pa­nied it. Ju­nior mum­bled the kids’ chicken strips were just as tasty as the last one was stuffed into his mouth in a mad flurry be­fore pud­ding.

Back at the re­sort, the As­pects restau­rant is the main eatery and is the cen­tral hub at break­fast. Lo­cated in the High­lands Ho­tel, the usual Scot­tish buf­fet and con­ti­nen­tal break­fasts were found, but the qual­ity and va­ri­ety was rather some­thing. It was in the same restau­rant we re­turned at night for din­ner, and once again couldn’t fault ei­ther the ser­vice or the food. Again, the ex­per­i­men­tal and ad­ven­tur­ous voice from be­hind the Peppa Pig mag­a­zine at the end of the ta­ble as­sured us the chicken

gou­jons here were of a sim­i­larly high stan­dard. There is also an on-site pizze­ria which we were told can de­liver to your own lodge, but sadly this was closed at the time of our visit.

Af­ter eat­ing our­selves into a coma on the first night, ex­plor­ing the site was left un­til the morn­ing. As the dark­ness lifted, it was eas­ier to ap­pre­ci­ate how ev­ery­thing at the re­sort is within walk­ing dis­tance, and Ju­nior promptly marched us into the ac­tiv­ity cen­tre. I can­not stress enough how won­der­ful this place is. While there is a big soft play just along the cor­ri­dor – I did my best to sleep off the break­fast in a ball pit with sadly no suc­cess – the cen­tre caters for chil­dren from ba­bies all the way up to teenagers with var­i­ous zones, in­clud­ing a sen­sory room. There’s even a gi­ant TV room with an Xbox … al­legedly.

Just next door, we dipped our toe sev­eral times into the swim­ming pool, which again ticks sev­eral boxes. As well as a baby sec­tion, the sprawl­ing pool has a wave ma­chine and even de­cent-sized flume which my three-year-old forced me down more than once. This was a reg­u­lar hit. Ac­tiv­i­ties are on­go­ing at the Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort all day ev­ery day from mask mak­ing, welly walks, quizzes for the adults to gi­ant in­flat­able soft play zones in the con­fer­ence cen­tre. It was re­ally im­pos­si­ble to do ev­ery­thing in such a short space of time.

With ever-in­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion, Aviemore con­tin­ues to do well. While an ad­ven­tur­ous re­treat, this bustling High­land hub caters for every­one. If you needed to ven­ture out of the com­plex and on to Grampian Road, a host of shops, eater­ies and bars could keep you en­ter­tained. Spe­cial men­tion for La Tav­erna Ital­ian buf­fet on the out­skirts of town. Aviemore has plenty to of­fer.

The Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort just re­in­forces that. That point was high­lighted with the jux­ta­po­si­tion of our ar­rival and de­par­ture. One in sleepy si­lence, the other scream­ing to come back.

Scott Mullen and his fam­ily were guests of Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort for three nights. The re­sort’s spring cam­paign of­fers up to 30% off best avail­able rate from 30th March – 30th June in­clu­sive. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www.mac­don­ald­ho­tels.co.uk/our-ho­tels/mac­don­ald-aciemore-re­sort

A High­land lodge at the Mac­don­ald Aviemore re­sort

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