One of the things I love most about Aberdeenshire is how diverse the region is. You can go from sandy beach to mountain top, fine dining restaurant to takeaway fish and chip shop and bustling city to remote village in the blink of an eye. The region is wonderful at any time of year, but I particularly love a winter break in Aberdeenshire – especially when it’s fuelled by chocolate.
Day 1 – a winter break in Aberdeenshire
The Chester Hotel, Aberdeen
The Chester Hotel in Aberdeen was our base for the first two nights of the trip. Housed in a row of elegant townhouses, the hotel interior is chic, sophisticated and has an impressive collection of John Byrne artworks on display.
Our room was conveniently located close to the hotel’s bar and restaurant, yet it was blissfully quiet. With two sofas, an armchair and a huge bed, it was the ultimate chill out zone.
The en suite had a freestanding tub and a rainfall shower – perfect for long soaks before bed and invigorating ‘wake me up’ showers in the morning.
After unpacking, we headed to The Gallery Bar and found a quiet corner to coorie in.
We didn’t linger too late, but long enough to enjoy a Jaffa Martini and a House of Elrick G&T.
Day 2 – a winter break in Aberdeenshire
The next morning we left Aberdeen and drove north for a tour of Mackie’s of Scotland HQ. There we got up close to the chocolate making process, tried our hand at chocolate making and sampled some yummy Christmas ice cream flavours.
You can read about our visit here.
Lunch – 1236 at the Cave Bar, Meldrum House
After our tour of Mackie’s it was time for lunch at Meldrum House’s historic 1236 Cave Bar.
Mr G had mushroom soup and a croque madame and loved both. I chose a smoked beef and pulled pork chilli skillet. It was rich, flavoursome and delicious.
After lunch, we were given a tour, which included tales of ghosts, hidden chambers and whisky. Our tour took in the Laird’s bedchamber (now a luxury suite).
We loved the room so much that I’ve booked it as a gift for Mr G’s birthday. Roll on next month. We know The Wee White Dug is going to love Meldrum House too.
A tour of Craigievar Castle
Next on our itinerary was Craigievar Castle. We’d visited the pink tower (believed to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle) before, but had only viewed it from the outside.
Our guide John greeted us at the castle door and welcomed us inside. He led us through a maze of rooms, most with ornate ceilings. As we wound our way up the 16th century tower, we learned about the Forbes family who’d owned Craigievar and the surrounding land.
The higher we climbed the darker it got. There are no lights on the castle’s upper floors, in accordance with the last owner’s wishes.
Portraits of the Forbes family watched us through the gloom. ‘Red’ Sir John looked like a bad egg. I mentioned this to John and he confirmed his temper had been as fiery as the colour of his hair.
Apparently, he’d discovered his daughter with a farm hand from the rival Gordon Clan. She fled, leaving her beau to face her father alone. ‘Red’ Sir John gave his daughter’s lover a choice. Die by the sword, or jump from the tower. He jumped and it’s said his ghostly footsteps can still be heard climbing the stairs. A bed now blocks the window he jumped from – strategically placed to prevent his ghost from returning.
Besides ghostly tales and Forbes family history, curious items of furniture were pointed out to us. My favourite was a card table, designed to accommodate a portly gentleman’s stomach. Probably, a handy item to own in December.
Our tour finished with a stunning rooftop view. John had been a brilliant guide and a great storyteller.
We left the castle via a secret staircase, instead of through a window – phew.
Dinner – IX Restaurant
After exploring Aberdeenshire, we were looking forward to dining at The Chester Hotel’s two AA Rosette IX Restaurant.
Centre stage in the Michelin Guide restaurant is a theatre kitchen where award-winning Executive Chef Kevin Dalgleish and his team prepare meals in full view of diners.
Perusing the menu it was good to see Aberdeenshire’s rich natural larder represented with local beef and freshly caught North Sea fish.
Unusually, Mr G and I chose the same three courses for dinner.
We started with cauliflower soup. It was light, creamy and extremely tasty.
Next, we had butter basted roulade of turkey with all the trimmings (including skirlie – a local dish made with oatmeal and suet). I love a roast dinner and this one got a thumbs up from me.
We finished with pear pavlova and vanilla custard.
Full and sleepy after a busy day, we waddled upstairs to bed.
Day 3 – a winter break in Aberdeenshire
Our second day in Aberdeenshire would be spent exploring Aberdeen on foot, before checking into another of the city’s fabulous hotels.
After breakfast we enjoyed a wander in Old Aberdeen – the historic heart of the city. Aberdeen is often described as grey, but there’s so much more to the city than shades of grey.
Interactive fun at Aberdeen Art Gallery
Aberdeen Art Gallery reopened recently, after a multi-million pound renovation.
The renovation has pulled off no mean feat in creating a gallery space that appeals to young and old, modernist and traditionalist alike.
My taste in art is eclectic, so I loved finding Degas and Peploe under the same roof as Tracey Emin.
Being children at heart, we loved the interactive exhibits dotted around the gallery. We posed for selfies wearing fantoosh hats and doodled on screens.
There were loads of incredible artworks in the gallery, but our favourite was by Aberdeen born John Pettie. ‘Tussle for the keg’ features a kilted Highlander fighting with an Excise Officer over a keg of alcohol.
Lunch at Mackie’s 19.2
Still hyper after our tour of Mackie’s HQ, we were excited to be lunching at Mackie’s 19.2 (located 19.2 miles away from the Mackie’s dairy farm).
We met Colin from the VisitAberdeenshire team (the mastermind behind our fab foodie itinerary) for lunch. Poor Colin listened as we raved about the ice cream and chocolate we’d sampled on our visit to Mackie’s. Our excitement hit fever pitch when we spotted the Christmas Trifle flavour ice cream we’d tried on the tour.
We calmed down long enough to order lunch. Colin and I had veggie crepes filled with mozzarella and pesto, while Mr G had a meat one with salami. All were devoured with gusto.
Egged on by our enthusiasm, Colin ordered Christmas Trifle ice cream for afters. We did too, but with a dollop of Coconut and Lime ice cream for good measure.
Two flavours, one word – DELICIOUS.
Saying goodbye to Colin, we left Mackie’s 19.2 buoyed by the slimming effect of an ice cream and chocolate diet.
Aberdeen Christmas Market
We attempted to walk off lunch with a wander round the Christmas market in Marischal College quad.
Outside the college building, funfair rides, an ice rink and crazy golf course provided family entertainment.
And to warm the cockles, were stalls selling mulled wine and comfort foods.
We enjoy a spot of rivalry, so decided to play a round of crazy golf.
Mr G was his usual competitive self. When I got a hole in one on the last hole, I could tell he expected to do the same. Ninety seconds later he was getting narky.
He eventually claimed a victory – a long drawn out victory.
Gin tour & tasting – Porter’s Gin @ Orchid
Union Street looked pretty, as we strode towards our next destination – Porter’s Gin micro-distillery, at the award winning Orchid cocktail bar.
There we joined a tour with three friends who’d just returned from a girlie trip to New York.
Ryan our guide had his work cut out. We were all roaring with laughter before the tour even started. Giving us G&Ts to drink as we listened to his tour intro only heightened the hilarity.
After hearing how Porter’s Gin was founded, we were taken downstairs to the micro-distillery. It looked like a cross between a kitchen and science lab.
Through hoots of laughter we sampled gin, learned about its history, the cold distillation process and the ingredients used to flavour Porter’s Gin (including a strange, clammy fruit called Buddha’s Hand).
Ryan was incredibly knowledgable and a good sport. I don’t known what he did to deserve a tour group of cackling women and a Highlander who found himself hilarious, but he coped admirably.
Our tour ended in the bar with gin cocktails – hooray.
For £15 per person, which included a G&T, cocktail, distillery tour and tasting, it was a fun and affordable way to spend a couple of hours.
Sandman Signature Aberdeen Hotel
After leaving Orchid it was time to check-in at the Sandman Signature Aberdeen Hotel. Inside, the reception area was spacious and modern, with funky seating and quirky umbrella lights.
Our room was a different space entirely. There, it was all about relaxation. A sofa, large bed and subdued lighting created a ‘why not stay in and chill?’ kind of ambiance.
Sadly, we couldn’t linger. It was time to don our glad rags and head out for dinner.
Dinner – Moonfish Cafe
We had a reservation at the highly, acclaimed Moonfish Cafe. We’d heard great things about the restaurant, so our expectations were high.
We were greeted with a warm welcome on arrival. The restaurant was full of happy diners, some wearing party hats from Christmas crackers. Keen to join the party, we pulled crackers and popped on our paper crowns.
Natty headwear sorted, we studied the menu.
We grazed on delicious bread and a creamy dip as we waited for our starters to arrive.
My ham hough and parsley terrine starter was top notch and an excellent choice. Mr G was equally happy with his smoked haddock, pea, cured egg yolk and truffle starter.
For main I had Jerusalem artichoke with shallot, mushroom and sherry caramel. The flavour and texture were unique. It was one of my favourite dishes of the year.
Mr G declared his halibut, roast carrot and chickpea with jus gras main, his absolute stand out favourite main course of 2019.
Having eaten ice cream earlier, we reluctantly skipped dessert.
The Moonfish Cafe had definitely lived up to our expectations – we loved it.
Back at the hotel I headed upstairs to chill, while Mr G enjoyed a couple of drinks in the bar with his Aberdeen based bestie JC.
Day 4 – a winter break in Aberdeenshire
Our winter break in Aberdeenshire was drawing to a close, but our itinerary included a few more stops before it was time to head home.
Breakfast by the beach – The Pier
Once we’d checked out of our hotel, we headed to Aberdeen Beach for a pre-breakfast walk.
The Granite City treated us to a stunning sunrise.
Grey, my foot.
After our walk, it was time for breakfast at The Pier. The beach eatery occupies a prime seafront location.
It’d been a gastronomic weekend, so I ordered a small Scottish breakfast. Mr G stuck with his favourite Eggs Royale.
We left The Pier, happy to have discovered another fab eatery in Aberdeenshire.
A visit New Slains Castle
Our penultimate destination led us north to New Slains Castle – a dramatic clifftop ruin, thought to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula.
Even on a sunny day the ruin has a sinister air. It’s easy to see why Stoker might have been drawn to it. Dracula is one of my favourite novels, so I LOVE the creepy castle.
The place was deserted when we arrived. Thankfully, the only thing biting was an icy wind blowing off the North Sea.
Mr G went off to clamber by the cliff edge and I perched on a windowsill to watch the waves crashing against the rocky shore.
I sat mesmerised, watching the sea and grazing on Mackie’s chocolate. Before I knew it I’d eaten half a bar – oops. It was rather tasty though. If The Count had been around, I’m sure he’d have preferred it to our sugary, alcohol infused blood.
A tour of Brewdog HQ, Ellon
The final stop on our Aberdeenshire itinerary was BrewDog HQ in Ellon. We were there for a tour of the brewery, followed by lunch at the on-site bar The DogTap.
We were welcomed by our guide Gary and given hi-viz vests, goggles, ear plugs and a can of Punk IPA. I had a feeling the tour was going to be lots of fun. Designated driver Mr G popped his beer into his rucksack (it would be a BrewDog carry out for him).
Our tour began in the office, before moving to the production floors where the magic happens. Gary was hugely passionate about the BrewDog brand and five minutes into the tour it was easy to see why.
BrewDog’s aim is simple – to make good beer. The brand’s success story is inspirational. The BrewDog story begins with two school friends (plus a dog) who brew craft beer and think it’s rather good. Others agree – the beer is rather good. The brand begins to attract fans (groupies even). Before long Brewdog is a household name with a chain of bars worldwide. Yet, despite the brand’s success, their aim remains the same – to make good beer.
These days they also make good gin, vodka and rum. In 2020 their first whisky will mature. Being partial to a wee dram, I’ll be watching with interest.
What I loved most about BrewDog, was that despite their success story they’ve remained grounded and have retained a sense of fun. This is a company that lets employees bring their dogs to work (they even offer pawternity leave). It’s also a company that’s commissioned the build of intricate, Lego models of their breweries. And who could fail to love a company where walking along a corridor triggers ‘The Imperial March’ from Star Wars to play?
BrewDog are just normal, everyday guys like you and I (only they make good beer).
They also make awesome loaded fries.
And there, at the hip HQ of an iconic Scottish craft brewer, our foodie winter break in Aberdeenshire ended.
If this blog has made you yearn for a foodie break too, I have some good news. VisitAberdeenshire has teamed up with Mackie’s to give one lucky person the chance to win a fabulous break for two in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. That’s not the only prize up for grabs either, you could also win a visit to Mackie’s 19.2 and a year’s supply of delicious Mackie’s chocolate.
Until next time …