Two of My Favourite Speyside Hotels

Not having visited Speyside prior to my trip in November 2021, and being slightly lazy, it was potluck on where I chose to base myself. I say potluck, but in reality, it was a down to what  accommodation was available.Sadly, being there in winter meant a distinct lack of daylight hours, and with my habit of cramming in as many distillery visits as possible, I can’t give you any other tourist information. Too many distilleries – I simply didn’t have time to visit any other attractions. I am sure the area if full of incredibly beautiful visitas with an abundance of incredible photo locations alongside local attractions, but they will have to wait. 

I set off for Speyside leaving the occasionally industrial but often beautiful, city of Glasgow rather early in the morning. I had enjoyed a couple of drams with the Malt Maiden the previous night in the XXXXX which was fantastic as I relish any opportunity to meet up with Instagram friends in real life. Once outside of the city and off the motorway the roads become fun to drive with increasing beauty the farther north you go. I was heading to Scotland’s oldest distillery, Glenturret, en route to Speyside. You can read about the innovations at Glenturret  in this very issue of the magazine.

Having spent many hours there I quickly headed across country to see Francis Cuthbert at Daftmill, near Cupar in Fife, arriving at sunset, a couple of hours later than anticipated. This made my drive to Speyside all in the evening and in darkness. This was a long day. I was starting to feel a bit tired, so luckily my hotel was the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour which turned out to be just down the road from the distillery and located in the town that is the gateway to Speyside. As I was to discover the following morning, the Dowans Hotel, built in 1888 sits in a majestic position, just up from the main road with stunning views across a well-maintained terraced garden to the Spey Valley. It really would be the perfect spot to enjoy an afternoon tea, or, even better, a dram selected from “The Still”  – a bar stocked with over 500 incredible whiskies. 

The building is Victorian and the Murray family, who purchased it in December 2012, have thoroughly modernised it with luxuriously appointed rooms and public areas. My bed was supremely comfortable and the bathroom a good size for a single room with a quality shower and toiletries. The restaurant “57”,  so called because the Dowans sits on the 57th parallel north of the earth’s equator, offers modern Scottish cuisine in one of two dining rooms. With the abundance of fresh produce on offer locally, especially seafood, it is no coincidence that this is a very popular destination for foodies traveling to Speyside. 

I mentioned “The Still” earlier, but it deserves more column inches, being one of the most highly regarded whisky bars in Scotland. Here you will find many bottles from long closed distilleries, offering a glimpse into the past. If budgets allow you can even enjoy a 40-year-old Macallan. The bottles are all presented in a custom designed glass housing without the obstruction of a physical bar, allowing you to pursue the incredible selection in detail. I could have written an entire edition of this magazine in front of this altar of malts, taking inspiration from all that history. 

Sometimes, after a long day tasting whisky at multiple distilleries, all you crave is a beer. The Dowans fortunately also has the MBar, a well-appointed bar come lounge, designed by the firm Chelsea McLaine. It’s a place to relax with a local craft beer or not so local wine. The vines will never prosper in the Scottish climate. In the summer, this opens up to the Glenfiddich terrace where you can enjoy spectacular views. In the winter, settle in close to the welcoming warmth of the grand open fire place, reminisce about your day, the cask samples you enjoyed and look forward to what you have in store the following day. 

The Dowans Hotel, one of Speyside’s more luxurious hotels has 16 en-suite rooms and can be booked at www.dowanshotel.com/about.

If a pub with rooms is more your style, then the Mash Tun, just a few hundred metres away from the Downs Hotel, would be perfect. Built around the same time (1896) as the Dowans by a land-locked sea captain, it is in the shape of a small ship and located down a narrow lane just off the main road. 

The moment I walked in I was greeted with a huge smile and welcome (so important!) before being shown to my room. It was a beautiful mini suite with a lounge area at one end and sleeping area at the other. The size of room was impressive as was the décor. Certainly, one of the very best rooms in a pub I have ever stayed in. I got unpacked. This is a loose term. Being a guy traveling by myself, unpacking only meant digging out my camera and phone chargers. I tend to live from my suitcase – so much easier in my opinion. I’m never sure what all the wardrobes and drawers are for. 

The restaurant/gastro pub offers classics such as delicious homemade pies alongside delights such as Highlands & Islands Pudding – Stornoway Black Pudding and Speyside Haggis on a Croute, Caper Butter and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes as a starter or Chicken Breast with a Mushroom & Tarragon Stuffing, wrapped in Smoked Bacon Served with Mash Potatoes, Brandy & Mushroom Gravy and Roasted Root Vegetables as a main. 

Although owned by Mark & Karen Braidwood, with Mark being a chef himself, Nick Davis has now become the head chef. Nick started working in the kitchen when the Braidwoods took over the property in 2004. They serve good honest pub food and I found the atmosphere to be great every evening with great chat with the other guests 

As you would expect, the whisky selection is first class with dozens to choose from, including the old and rare. There are whisky flights available which are a great way to explore what is on offer. A highlight, and what makes this pub a destination in its own right, is the collection of Glenfarclas Family Casks. Some date back to the 1950’s. They even have two years that the distillery do not even own. If you have a significant birthday and wish to enjoy a dram distilled in your birth year this is the place to come. 

The Mash Tun