Haggis—sheep guts mixed with oats and boiled in a stomach casing—is best enjoyed with a liberal amount of whiskey. Actually, I recommend getting started on the whiskey before the haggis even hits your plate, but as they say: When in Scotland, do as the royal family does.
True, nobody says that—but they should. I got the royal treatment there recently. Not the fussy, pampered, can’t-lift-a-finger-for-yourself royal treatment. This is luxury, Scottish style. It’s full of activity and energy, from hands-on falconry demonstrations to candlelit feasts in ancient halls. The rugged highlands and vibrant valleys of Scotland have long been a favorite retreat for the British royal family, and now many of the country’s castles and estates are available for groups as well.
The queen’s famed Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently moored in Edinburgh, is available for dinners for up to 128 guests or champagne receptions for up to 300. Queen Elizabeth II’s personal design touches are left untouched, and guests truly feel as if they are onboard with the royal family. Four royal couples honeymooned on the yacht, including Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales.
The connection to the royal family was prominent everywhere I went in Scotland. Medieval Glamis Castle is famous as an inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as the birthplace of the queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, and for the gala dinners available to groups. Castle tours are appropriately “spooky,” with plenty of ghost stories.
Royal traditions in Scotland go beyond the Windsors. Stirling Castle, site of key battles led by William Wallace of Braveheart fame, is an essential. Most buildings on the castle grounds date to the 1500s and are available for after-hours themed events with the ubiquitous bagpiper to welcome up to 300 guests.
Many historic properties throughout Scotland offer activities that have been popular with royals since ancient times. At five-star Gleneagles Hotel, located on 850 acres of beautiful countryside, groups can partake in golf, shooting, horseback riding, and falconry.
There are plenty of more modern activities for groups to enjoy in Scotland. A visit to the vaults of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is available for groups from eight- to 70 attendees for three-course to five-course meals and whiskey tasting.
The Balmoral, a luxury hotel in the heart of Edinburgh, offers spectacular views of the historic parts of the city. A major refurbishment recently upgraded all guest rooms, as well as the hotel’s conference and banqueting spaces. The hotel has 10 conferencing suites and can accommodate receptions of up to 450 people.
Scots are proud of their royal traditions, and groups have plenty of opportunities to try their hands at all the caber-tossing, haggis-eating, and golf-loving delights they desire. For visitors who prefer a more relaxing indulgence, One Spa at Edinburgh’s Sheraton Grand Hotel offers a series of “hands off” thermal treats, including a rooftop hydropool to ease any aches and pains from your royal treatment.