Scotland is a pretty small country, though we manage to pack in almost as much in the way of scenery as we do in unpredictable weather.
Yet, whether we’re visitors or have lived here all our lives, many of us have never seen much of our own country. Beyond the cities lies a mysterious mix of heather-clad hills, toe-curlingly cold lochs, undiscovered wilderness and petrol stations that close inconveniently on Sundays.
If you’d prefer to enjoy the scenery without being too far from urban civilisation, then the Trossachs offer a way of packing in much of the best that Scotland has to offer into a couple of days. You’ll find everything from mountains and walking trails in Scotland’s first national park, to sleepy little towns, outdoor activities and even an outlet shopping mall.
Roughly speaking, the Trossachs area runs from Tyndrum and Killin in the north to Drymen and Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond. And from Callander in the east, to the Cowal Peninsula in the west. All in all, the National Park covers 720 square miles, complete with 21 Munros, 20 Corbetts, 22 larger lochs and the UK’s largest National Nature Reserve – the Great Trossachs Forest. There are also a dozen whisky distilleries in the Trossachs, as well as microbreweries and boutique gin producers.
As you’d expect from such a tourist-friendly area, there’s a great variety of accommodation. Loch Lomond’s Cameron House is the perfect base for a luxury break. Golfers can take advantage of the championship courses, or try the fabulous food at Martin Wishart’s restaurant and a take a languid trip on the hotel’s own pleasure cruiser.
Alternatively, MacDonald Forest Hills, combining a hotel with timeshare properties, has recently undergone an impressive renovation and offers a serene spa to help you unwind. If you’re planning well ahead, Monachyle Mhor at Balquhidder has a great reputation and pleasingly quirky décor, but it rarely has last-minute vacancies. If something smaller appeals, then the Roman Camp Hotel in Callander combines boutique style with faded grandeur country house. Forest Hills, Roman Camp and Monachyle Mhor are all dog friendly. There are also a host of guest houses and plenty of campsites. For hardier specimens, it’s also possible to go wild camping, though permits are required. For something special, book two months ahead to camp on Inchcailloch, an island which offers a unique sense of calm stillness in a rich natural habitat. Just 12 people may stay on the island on any one night.
It’s not just the hotels that provide great food. The area has several artisan food producers of note including Argyll Smokery at Dunoon and Loch Fyne Oysters, both known for their seafood. Katy Rodgers, at Knockraich Farm in the Fintry Hills makes superb Scottish yoghurt, as well as running a café and home interiors shop, while Cameron Skinner’s Extraordinary Sausage Company has a raft of unusual bangers, such as Banana and Madras available from the Woodhouse Deli. Lomond Chillies produces quirky chilli sauces, including the unlikely sounding Mad Monk, which combines chillies with the famed Glaswegian-favoured tonic wine, Buckfast. For something more delicate, it’s worth seeking out Chrystal’s Shortbread in the best local delis.
Once you’re stuffed with local delicacies, take some time to explore. There are plenty of activities on offer, with boat trips, angling, cycling, climbing and hillwalking. You can simply choose to wander or take one of the scenic routes marked by the park’s individual architectural viewpoints. The Woven Sound pavilion at Falls of Falloch reaches out over the rushing water to provide a magical experience, while the Faerie Hollow, which looks out over Loch Lubnaig to Ben Ledi invites the weary hiker to rest and contemplate a while.
If you’ve had enough of nature then head for one of the charming country towns and villages dotted round the edges of the park. Arrochar and Callander both have a good selection of independent shops and crafty little galleries. If you’re in need of sustenance, try Ben Arthur’s Bothy, which has great views and pub grub. Further south, Balloch may not have the Victorian charm of some of the other towns, but it does offer a bird of prey centre, an aquarium and Loch Lomond Shores outlet shopping. And if neither country towns nor natural scenery appeal, you can always turn sleuth and try to discover what exactly a Trossach is!