Where to stay in … Scotland

Balfour_Photo-credit-DENTON-MORRIS-All-Rights-Reserved

Review by Jae-Ha Kim / Photo by Denton Morris
jaehakim.com
February 8, 2012

The Frog Marsh was an Internet find I booked while still in America. I picked it because it was near many of the sites I wanted to visit and owners Louise Barker and Cindy Salvin sent back charming replies to my e-mails. I honestly didn’t expect much from any place with “frog” in its name, but the price was right (between about $55 to $90 per person each night).

I’ve stayed at Four Seasons properties and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, but I can honestly say this was one of my favorite places. Maybe it was the gourmet food (about $35 for dinner). Or it could’ve been the Robbie Williams book I pored over in the library while they served me high tea. But the charming (and clean!) rooms with fresh white linens and quilts made you feel as if you were still at home — a much cleaner, better decorated home than you left back in the United States.

When you’re this far off the beaten path, it really does help to have a rental car. Some of you might be squeamish about driving in a foreign country on the other side of the road. But the Scots are such gracious drivers that navigating even the reverse roundabouts were a breeze. When I stopped to ask for directions, the cabbies and pedestrians alike would take the time to direct me to my destination — and no one honked or gave me the finger. Go figure.

I relied on a combination of rental cars, cabs and the BritRail pass to get around. The BritRail pass was perfect to get me from Glasgow to Edinburgh in about an hour. But for castle hopping, you really need to befriend a local who’ll drive you around or brave it yourself.

In the Orkney Islands, Shapinsay’s Balfour Castle is a must, with rooms starting about $175 per person for bed and breakfast. Staying overnight there was a dream come true. According to its website, the castle “was the creation of two distinguished men; David Balfour, the 4th Laird of Balfour and Trenaby and David Bryce, the pre-eminent Scottish architect of his generation and leading exponent of the Scottish Baronial style. It is a rare example of a calendar house originally planned with 7 turrets, 12 external doors, 52 rooms and 365 sections of window.”

As for Edinbugh, my favorite spot was the Malmaison, which is conveniently located near Waverley Station in the Leith district. Trendy but not precious, the hotel has all the comforts of home and the hipness of the latest club or bar. You’ll also find a United Nations of restaurants within blocks of the hotel. But be sure to make reservations. I triewww.malmaison. comd getting a table for dinner on a Saturday night and had to really search for a place that could fit me without a multi-hour wait.

For more modest accommodations, try the Mill of Eyrland near Stromness, with single rooms starting about $60 per night for bed and breakfast. There are plenty more bed and breakfast options at www.aboutscotland.com, which is where I found Frog Marsh.

TO TIP OR NOT TO TIP
Let’s face it: The United States is one of the most tip-happy countries in the world. You tip maids, servers and doormen. But when you’re in a foreign country, what do you do? The locals always will tell you if natives tip or not. I remember the Kiwis rarely tipped in New Zealand and then only if service was extraordinary. The policy also seems to hold true in the United Kingdom. Cheapskates on a budget may revel at not being expected to tip. But the problem is that while locals don’t expect tips from their fellow countrymen — or perhaps even from other Europeans — they’ve come to expect them from Americans, who tend to tip out of habit automatically. Just keep in mind the exchange rate when you’re tipping (or paying for anything for that matter). The British pound was worth almost $2 when I was there and I had to remember that a 3-pound tip was almost $6. No wonder the cab drivers loved me so much.

 

* Please note that prices change often, so contact the hotel prior to finalizing your trip.

** To read more about Scotland, check out my article in the Chicago Sun-Times.

© 2012 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

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