Riding Scotland’s Whiskey Train

Matt Hind / Belmond

It’s immediately apparent to passengers meeting the Royal Scotsman at Edinburgh‘s Waverly Station that this will be no ordinary train ride. A stout, bewhiskered bagpiper, clad in tartan kilt and ghillies, pipes passengers aboard with gusto, as though they were a regiment of Highlanders marching into battle. It’s a decidedly Scottish approach to luxury.

The three-day trip that follows is basically an extended Scottish buffet: From the exhaustively appointed luxury of the train, passengers watch some the most striking scenery on Earth slip past while sipping at the stream of free-flowing booze. It is almost impossible – and this is not hyperbolic – to turn around in one of the plush cars without bumping up against a smiling tartan-clad waitress or valet proffering a silver tray of whisky cocktails. And, because the best chaser for good whiskey is more whiskey, the train’s open bar is stocked with several dozen single malt whisky varietals, from the peaty bass note of Islay to the fruity, spicy Oban.

Rather important considering its liquid cargo, the Scotsman’s sleeping compartments are snug and comfortable. Their wood-paneled nooks and crannies hide luxuries like towel warmers, thick slippers, high-ply stationary, and even a jar of mints emblazoned with the train’s logo. In the morning, you can arrange to be awakened with coffee or tea delivered while you lie in bed, or pad down the hall (tartan-carpeted, of course) to the dining room for a belly-warming Scottish breakfast, complete with kippers and whisky-laced porridge – a profoundly civilized way to ease into a day of drinking.

The Scotsman’s standard journey includes a stop at the Rothiemurchus Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms, where you can practice clay pigeon shooting or fly fishing in the River Spey before being invited inside for tea and cakes with the laird’s wife. The train also stops by the Strathisla Distillery for a tour that includes copious tasting privileges, and the Culloden battlefield, where Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army made their last, quixotic stand against British forces before being slaughtered for their effort.

Evenings are dedicated to lavish dinners concocted by the on-board chef from Scottish ingredients, and postprandial entertainment from top-notch folk singers and performers. The train also makes longer trips that include extra stops, which can include the silver sands of Morar Beach, Loch Lomond, the Isle of Bute, and even more whisky distilleries. But despite the options, it can be hard at times to tear yourself away from the plush comfort of the train, and the novelty of sitting in an armchair in the observation car watching the heather-frosted hills roll by while nursing a Tobermoray. On this trip, staying in is an excursion in itself.

More information: Belmond offers 5 day/4 night trips from $6530 per person. The train circles the northwestern part of the country, starting and stopping in Edinburgh.