We’ve all binge watched The Crown in recent months and fallen in love with the lavish backdrop of the Scottish Highlands.
Always a favourite retreat for the Queen and the Royal family, now Aberdeenshire is set to welcome a whole host of new visitors keen to explore the area for themselves.
Lockdown has left people yearning for the outdoors, wide open spaces and remote destinations but with staycations firmly on the agenda this year, Aberdeenshire has become the perfect place for a great escape.
And on the plus side the area is vast enough to accommodate everyone so there no need to worry about crowds.
With it’s achingly beautiful scenery, which includes 165 miles of coast as well as the drama of high peaks of the Cairngorms National Park, this is a place where you can escape reality, experience the elements, and discover a part of the country that’s full of surprises.
For Royal watchers coming to Aberdeenshire the first place to visit has got to be Balmoral Castle, above, the summer holiday home of the British Royal Family.
Purchased in 1852, Balmoral acts as a time capsule for royal history. This year is the 200 anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth and a special exhibition to mark the occasion has been created to illustrate her time at Balmoral through of a collection of antiques and portraits.
The majestic countryside around Balmoral is home to many ancient spots that are steeped in royal heritage.
Best known is the Braemar Gathering, held annually in the heart of Royal Deeside, and attended annually by a famous guest – the Queen – and usually a number of celebrities, including Dame Judy Dench.
The Braemar Highland Games Centre tells the story of Highland games and gatherings throughout the ages and the Pavilion café – furnished with the Duke of Rothesay tartan – is lovely for a morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea.
The countryside around Deeside is jaw droppingly beautiful and many visit for this alone.
In favourable summer weather consider tackling Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in Britain, at the heart of the arctic-like Cairngorms plateau.
Though often climbed from Speyside via the Cairngorm ski area, the approach from the Linn of Dee in Aberdeenshire is far grander, passing the lovely pinewoods of Derry Lodge and ascending via the Sron Riach ridge.
Queen Victoria climbed the mountain in 1859, having used a pony as far as Loch Etchachan.
Tackling any of Scotland’s hills or mountains is best done in good weather and with the appropriate gear so always check the route and conditions before you set off. You will find find key information here .
If you prefer something less strenuous, consider casting a rod upon the pristine waters of the River Dee. It gave birth to modern fly fishing for salmon whilst the River Don is one of the best wild Brown Trout rivers in Europe. Anglers come from all over the globe to fish these wonderful rivers that are woven into the cultural history of Aberdeenshire.
When you explore Aberdeenshire’s countryside and Royal heritage, you’ll also find yourself overwhelmed by the culinary landscape.
The area has made a remarkable contribution to the success of Scotland’s food and drink industry, from iconic Aberdeen Angus beef to beautiful smoked salmon from the North East coast.
Expect restaurants championing locally sourced ingredients from nature’s larder, bringing diners hand-crafted menus by award winning chefs that ooze passion and innovation.
From the heart of Aberdeen and further afield to Ballater independent restaurants populate the Michelin Guide map and no matter where you dine, unrivalled settings pair with your experience.
Of course, we haven’t even mentioned the distilleries yet.
Visit the most easterly distillery in Scotland at Glen Garioch which maintains its original features like its barley mill or try Royal Lochnagar which was favoured by Queen Victoria so much it was bestowed a Royal Warrant.
Then there’s Glenglassaugh Distillery located on the Banffshire coast where its fans say you can taste the sea and further inland find GlenDronach Distillery, outside Huntly where the finest sherried malts have been created for over 200 years.
You can even take a whisky inspired trip to discover “ The Secret Malts of Aberdeenshire ”, produced by a cluster of ancient distilleries dating from the 18th and 19th centuries – and if you book a tour no-one has to worry about being designated driver.
There’s a wide range of accommodation available across the region to suit all budgets, from self-catering pods if you like camping and glamping to the glamour of the Fife Arms in Braemar, named the best hotel in Scotland for 2020.
Royal fans, look out for the watercolour by Queen Victoria of a stag’s head beside reception.
Please make sure you adhere to travel restrictions before planning a trip and for more information and details about opening hours at specific sites in Aberdeenshire go to www.visitabdn.com