Places to stay in Cairngorms National Park
Updated: Jan 10
As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Cairngorms National Park, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of characterful places to stay, including hotels, B&Bs, self-catering and campsites in this glorious protected area in Scotland.
The Cairngorms has almost as many accommodation options as it does staggering views – which is to say, dozens upon dozens. To help you choose a base, we’ve picked a selection of the best hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, hostels, holiday cottages and campsites. Each takes its green ethos seriously – many hold Green Business Awards, and even if that’s not stated here, take it as read that every one is making an effort to reduce carbon footprints, encourage recycling and shop local.
Some of these places are grand – former shooting lodges, apartments in country estates, sturdy Victorian guesthouses – while others are modern, quirky or plain cute. You can stay in a wooden cabin, a converted schoolhouse or a chic lodge. And you’ve choices in every corner of the park: around the ski slopes and facilities of Aviemore and the whisky distilleries of Speyside in the north; the vast Atholl estate in the south, with its riding, fishing and splendid rolling hills; or the peaceful east, dotted with castles and yet more fine walking.
Large and small, ancient and modern, traditional and chic: hotels in the Cairngorms blend the best of local style and ambience (not to mention food) to create unforgettable starting points from which to explore.
The Glen Lui Hotel
Warmth – that’s the defining characteristic of this beautifully sited small hotel, nestling in a wood on the banks of the Dee. You certainly won’t feel the chill here: open fires and wood-burning stoves crackle in the lounge and bar and, as a Malt Whisky Embassy, there’s an array of fine drams to warm the cockles. But what really makes the heart glow are the comfort of the 19 individually styled rooms – ranging from cosy to grand (yes, there’s a four-poster) – and a host of special touches. The locally sourced produce. The drying facilities and storage for walkers, golfers, fishers and cyclists. The red squirrels scampering outside at breakfast time. In short, it’s an ideal location for discovering the east of the park. Invercauld Road, Ballater, Aberdeenshire AB35 5RP. www.glen-lui-hotel.co.uk
Perched between the wild wonders of the Cairngorms – ospreys to watch, hills to hike – and the whisky distilleries on the Spey (there are at least 50 of them within 25 miles of the Culdearn), this stately Victorian country house hotel is both cosy and sophisticated. Cosy, with its drawing room warmed by an open fire and just six luxurious rooms, and sophisticated, with its exceptional (and largely locally sourced) cuisine served in the stylish, intimate restaurant. The Marshall family, the current owners, take their whisky responsibilities seriously, offering a dizzying array of single malts from Speyside and further afield, including some unique single-cask spirits. Woodlands Terrace, Grantown on Spey, Morayshire PH26 3JU. www.culdearn.com
Set on a 65-acre estate close to Aviemore but nestling into the Cairngorms, the Hilton combines sleek modern styling with a whiff of Scottish spirit. There’s a raft of facilities for families – including kids’ play areas, trampolines and pools – plus tennis courts, gym and bike hire, and both dry-slope and winter ski options on the doorstep. There’s also a spa and sauna for post-active pampering, and a selection of restaurants and bars to fuel your activities. Attractions on the doorstep include the ospreys of Loch Garten, hiking in the mountains, and fabulous wildlife-watching and haunting Loch an Eilein on the Rothiemurchus Estate.
Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QN. www.hiltonaviemore.com
Loch Kinord Hotel
In case you’d forgotten you’re in Scotland, the cosy rooms at this family run hotel are individually decorated with specially designed tartans. But you won’t forget. Not only are you on the doorstep of the glens and quintessentially Scottish Cairngorm Mountains – the settlement of Dinnet is the eastern gateway to the national park – but a glance at the menu confirms you’ll be enjoying the fruits of ‘Scotland’s Natural Larder’. Meaning? Lots of traditional Scottish favourites, ingredients sourced from local suppliers, seasonal vegetables. Feed up, do: walks around the adjacent Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve – encompassing namesake Loch Kinord – beckon, with the chance of spotting an otter. Ballater Road, Dinnet, Aberdeenshire AB34 5JY. www.lochkinord.com
B&BS AND GUESTHOUSES
A quartet of Victorian guesthouses – how do you choose? They couldn’t be more different, yet all offer sumptuous locally sourced food, access to the best walking and wildlife watching, and the warmest of welcomes.
In the village of Boat of Garten, near the famous ospreys at Loch Garten and capercaillie in the nearby Abernethy forest, this charming Victorian guesthouse does what many others do – with tarten, richly coloured walls, dark wood panels, period features – plus a little extra verve. Breakfast haggis from the butcher’s round the corner. Speyside whiskies by the open fire. Hand-crafted tapestries on the walls, yet all the modern amenities you’d expect in the six en-suite rooms: flat-screen satellite TVs, welcome trays, comfy beds. The owners, Gillian and Harvey, are on hand to ensure you know the best places to visit, eat and drink in the area.
Deshar Road, Boat of Garten, Inverness-shire PH24 3BN. http://moorfieldhouse.com
Imagine the house of a mountain leader – a granite lodge, say, in Boat of Garten in the heart of the national park. Then imagine the outdoorsman has a charming family, one of whom is a great cook. And welcomes walkers, cyclists and wildlife-lovers into their home to share their enthusiasm for the area. Well, that’s Fraoch (pronounced ‘Frew-och’) Lodge – basically, a homestay with Andy and Rebecca, who work, live, breathe, eat and sleep the Cairngorms. Rooms in the lodge, mostly twins, are simple but comfortable, sharing bathrooms and offering great-value accommodation. There’s a drying room, bike lock-up and wash-down area, wifi and ample advice for hikers and cyclists. Fraoch is a Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Award holder. Deshar Road, Boat of Garten, Inverness-shire PH24 3BN. http://scotmountainholidays.com
As traditional Victorian farmhouses go, Balliefurth rates pretty highly in the comfort stakes. Warmed by woodburning stoves and open fires, and fuelled further by Ann’s fabulous home baking and cooking (as commended by Loyd Grossman, no less!), a stay at Balliefurth is genteel rather than gritty. But a farm it is, with cattle, sheep and chickens pecking around, sited rather beautifully on the banks of the River Spey – offering wonderful birdwatching, especially for waders, to match. For walkers, the Speyside Way runs tantalisingly close, and there are fishing, golfing and whisky-tasting opportunities aplenty nearby. Two self-catering properties are also available. Grantown-On-Spey, PH26 3NH. www.scottishholidayhomes.co.uk/ballie.html
Ravenscraig Guest House
When did you last stay somewhere that will not only give advice on the best local fishing – it’ll smoke your catch for you so you can eat it for breakfast? Ravenscraig is a smart 14-room hotel in the centre of Aviemore, ideal for skiing and exploring the north of the park. It offers excellent value, particularly for solo travellers – two en-suite singles start from £30 B&B – and has a host of facilities to help you make the most of the area, from walking and cycling maps and a drying room to a ski store and lockable bike shed. Breakfast is unskippable: free-range eggs, home-baked bread, and bacon, sausages and black pudding from the local butcher. A treat. 141 Grampian Road, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1RP. www.aviemoreonline.com
From grand hunting and fishing lodges on expansive estates to cosy cottages and chic modern apartments, if you plan a longer self-catering jaunt there’s a host of options for you.
Hilton Grand Vacations Club at Craigendarroch
The wooded eastern Cairngorms is the setting for this resort, where a selection of stylish luxury lodges sleeping up to eight are clustered across from the River Dee. If you wanted to, you could cocoon yourself away here: there’s a pool, spa, fitness suite, facilities for squash, tennis and snooker, a restaurant and bar. But why would you want to, with fishing, golf, cycling routes, walking trails, whisky distilleries and Balmoral Castle on your doorstep? Thirty-two suites in the newly converted Victorian Craigendarroch House will be available from the second half of 2013, offering opportunities for shorter rentals. Braemar Road, Ballater, Royal Deeside AB35 5XA. http://www.higvc.co.uk/resorts/scotland/craigendarroch
Atholl Estates Historic Lodges
You may never come closer to playing laird of the estate than with a stay at one of the six historic lodges scattered across the 58,000-hectare Atholl Estates at the southern edge of the national park. No two are the same: Old Blair, sleeping 12, is a former inn that served a hamlet near Blair Castle, while compact Marble Lodge, ideal for four, was once a shepherd’s cottage overlooking the River Tilt. Some feel stately and, well historic, others more contemporary, but each boasts spectacular views of mountains, glens or forests (or, often, all three), and is ideal for walking, salmon fishing, pony trekking or simply relaxing. Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Perthshire PH18 5TH. http://www.athollestateslodges.co.uk/stay_lodges.cfm
Crubenbeg Highland Holiday Cottages
This mini-village (there’s even a red phone box) near Newtonmore offers access to the best of the west and north of the park. Eight self-catering cottages, each named for a local tree species – pine, larch, Douglas fir and so on – are decked out with clean lines and all cons, mod and otherwise (woodburning stoves are nearly ubiquitous), including well-equipped kitchens, satellite TV, CD players and wifi. There’s free fishing for brown trout in the Lochan, and opportunities for pony trekking, golfing and fine walking in three nearby ranges – the Cairngorms, the Monadliaths and Nevis range. The complex holds the Gold standard for Green Tourism. Falls of Truim, Newtonmore, Nr Aviemore PH20 1BE. www.highlandholidaycottages.com
A former hunting lodge of the Duke of Fyfe, this grand house is the centrepiece of an estate covering nearly 30,000 hectares of the wildest land in Scotland. Today managed by the National Trust for Scotland, the lodge offers accommodation ranging from the Base Camp – a bunkhouse with 12 budget beds – to luxurious apartments in the uber-grand main house, sleeping from two (Braeriach, often used as a bridal suite) to 15. Two luxurious cottages in the grounds offer even more upmarket options. Really, though, the star of the show is the estate itself, offering bountiful opportunities for exploring the ancient Caledonian pine forest, heather moorland and high Cairngorms plateau. Mar Lodge Estate, Braemar, Aberdeen & Grampian AB35 5YJ. www.nts.org.uk/Property/Mar-Lodge-Estate/Holiday-Accommodation
Duck Keeper’s Cottage
The Lazy Duck is a true one-off – a tiny site with an eight-person mountain-hut-style hostel, camping area, two-person eco-cabin and century-old self-catering cottage, set between Loch Garten and Grantown-on-Spey. Impossibly cute, the three-bedroom Duck Keeper’s Cottage is like a time machine to the 1930s, but in the best possible way: open fire, curtained-in bed and picket fence, but with wifi and dishwasher. Oh, and Green Tourism Gold Award. The cottage overlooks a sheep field and (of course) a duck pond, with red squirrels and deer to watch for, and there’s access to an infra-red sauna should you feel the need to steam. Nethy Bridge, Inverness-shire PH25 3ED. http://lazyduck.co.uk/duck-keepers-cottage
Ideal for families and groups looking for a base from which to try a range of activities, Lagganlia is an outdoor learning centre near Loch Insh set among fields, birch and Scots pine forest, where red squirrels scamper and roe deer, badgers and hares roam. Five lodges of various sizes are scattered across the site; each is practical and comfortable, sleeping between six and 18, with well-equipped kitchen, drying room, picnic area, barbecue and wifi. There’s no excuse for not making the most of the great outdoors – options include loch canoeing, kayaking, archery, mountain-biking and gorge walking. Lagganlia Centre for Outdoor Learning, Kincraig, Kingussie, Inverness-shire PH21 1NG. www.lagganlialodges.com
Cairnton Farm Cottages
Don’t be fooled by the names – the Stables, the Byre and the Bothy may sound like they’re suitable only for housing livestock, but in reality they’re beautifully designed, contemporary holiday cottages set amid a working Aberdeen Angus cattle farm. Woodburning stoves and underfloor heating keep them cosy, and floor-to-ceiling windows bring the landscape into the living room, with spectacular views across the Dee Valley. The smallest sleeps five, the largest seven, and all are close to the sights of the eastern part of the park, including Balmoral and Macbeth’s resting place. Place your order in advance for some marbled Angus beef. Lumphanan, Banchory, Aberdeenshire AB31 4QP. www.cairntonfarmcottages.co.uk
Glenmore Lodge Chalets
Just a little east of Aviemore, yet really in the depths of the park, Glenmore is Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. The lodge’s well-equipped chalets sleep four or eight; though often booked by people undertaking adventure sports courses – notably climbing, mountaineering, mountain biking and kayaking – they can be rented by casual visitors, too. But why be casual? The Cairngorm Mountains are right outside, while facilities on-site include an indoor climbing wall, kayak-rolling pool, gym and mountain-bike training circuit. There’s also a convivial bar and restaurant. Glenmore Lodge, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QU. www.glenmorelodge.org.uk/accommodation.asp
Bluefolds Highland Holiday Cottages
Converted from a cluster of old farm buildings, the four Bluefolds holiday cottages are touching distance from Speyside’s famous whisky distilleries, but also boast spectacular views of the Cairngorm mountains to the south-west. The smallest, Aberdour – part of the steading building that housed animals till just over two decades ago – sleeps 2–4, while Folds is a three-bedroom stone-built farm cottage dating from the 18th century. Each has a well-equipped kitchen, satellite TV and DVD player, and a tempting outdoors area with barbecue.
Glenlivet, Ballindalloch, Moray AB37 9DS. www.bluefolds.co.uk
HOSTELS & CAMPSITES
Bed down in a newly built stone or wooden cabin, a Victorian schoolhouse or a stately former shooting lodge – or simply pitch your tent amid the ancient Caledonian forest.
Lazy Duck Hostel and Campsite
Hostel’s a big word for the Lazy Duck – which is a very small (but perfectly formed) affair, a mountain-hut-style wooden lodge with just eight beds. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm: set in ancient Caledonian pine forest, with views across the heather moors to the mountains, it’s all about feeding the ducks, watching the red squirrels, setting a barbecue in the covered garden and getting back to nature (though there’s wifi, a sauna and a music player if you need more mod cons). The adjacent campsite is even more wee, with space for just four tents – though there’s also a cooking shelter, chimineas and a hot bush shower. Rural idyll doesn’t cover it. 10% discounts for long bookings and those arriving on foot or bike. Nethy Bridge, Inverness-shire PH25 3ED. http://lazyduck.co.uk
Slochd Mhor Lodge
There’s something of the Alpine gîte or mountain hut about Slochd Mhor. Maybe it’s the gambrel roof or exposed stone, or the hearty lounge area with woodburning stove, the peaceful location in the far north of the park, or the outdoorsy feel – and it’s very well set-up for outdoorists, with Nordic ski hire in winter and bike hire in summer, a drying room and a cycle workshop on site. It’s well placed for both the Cairngorm and the Lecht ski areas. But it’s also very Scottish, and very welcoming: there’s a well-equipped kitchen and a spacious dining area (again, warmed by a woodburning stove), and comfortable dorms, twins and family rooms; there’s even a regular supply of free-range eggs courtesy of Henny Penny. Watch out for red squirrels scampering around the lodge. The Slochd, Carrbridge, Inverness-shire PH23 3AY. www.slochd.co.uk/lodge.html
Slick. Stylish. Five-star. Not adjectives normally applied to hostels – but this modern place in the east of the park is rather different. Bunkrooms and private rooms alike have en-suite wet rooms and wifi, bunks come with power socket, reading light and locker, and the private rooms even have a TV. Facilities are, as you’d expect, excellent: drying room, secure bike store, spacious kitchen, dining and chilling areas (with comfy sofas and obligatory woodburning stove), plus widescreen TV, maps and books. Thought has gone into ensuring environmental impact is minimised, and Ballater village is well served by local shops for stocking up on tasty provisions. Bridge Square, Ballater AB35 5QJ. www.habitat-at-ballater.com
Two hostels provide ideal bases for groups wanting to explore the northern Cairngorms. Nethy House is a well-lived-in but characterful place sleeping between 25 and 65; bunkrooms contain from three to six beds, with lockers for each bed, and there’s a dining room and two games rooms, not to mention a kitchen, drying room and even a fully equipped bar (bring your own drinks, or order a keg of ale from the Cairngorms Brewery to greet you on your arrival). The smaller Nethy Station just up the road sleeps 10 to 26, and is similarly set up with bunkrooms – there’s no bar, but there is a beer pump! Both are available for exclusive group bookings only. Nethy Bridge, Highland PH25 3DN. www.nethy.org
Craigower Lodge – Cairngorm Adventure Centre
Perfect for individuals or groups, this lodge linked to an outdoor activities centre offers bunks and five family rooms in a wonderful setting in the west of the park; sleeping 68, it can be split into two sections to accommodate smaller groups. There’s ample space for cooking, eating and relaxing – in summer, best are the terrace tables overlooking the verdant grounds, though cosy lounges beckon on chillier days – plus drying rooms and wifi. To start you off on your adventures, mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks are available to hire, along with a host of other equipment, and there’s a range of ski and snowboard equipment and instruction packages. Newtonmore PH20 1AT. www.activeoutdoorpursuits.com/cairngorm-adventure-centre.html
Strathspey Mountain Hostel
Offering cracking value, this small, friendly hostel in the village of Newtonmore in the west of the park has just four rooms – two six-bed dorms and two three-bed rooms. There’s an open fire in the lounge area for winter nights (coal, wood and kindling are provided), a fully equipped kitchen, drying room with dehumidifier and free use of a washing machine for muddy clobber. Manager Laurie knows the outdoor scene and can offer information on what to see and do in the Cairngorms and surrounding area – particularly how to get active in sun or snow. A self-catering cottage, Holmfield, sleeps six and is also a bargain. Main Street, Newtonmore PH20 1DR. www.newtonmore.com/places-to-stay/hostels/strathspey.html
This 20-bed hostel, a converted grey-stone schoolhouse, has electric bikes for hire. You might not think that’s relevant till you hear that it’s also reputedly the highest hostel in the Highlands – so wherever you cycle, there’s likely to be an uphill climb on the way back! Set in the north-east of the park, it’s close to the whisky distilleries of Speyside but also the mountains and glens of the centre, so ideal for exploring on foot or by bike. As well as the usual cooking and washing facilities there’s a drying room, bike storage and maintenance areas, free wifi and expert advice on the best walking and cycling routes in the area. It also holds a Green Tourism Business Silver Award. Main Street, Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, Banffshire AB37 9EX www.syha.org.uk/hostels-in-scotland/highlands/tomintoul.aspx
Cairngorms Lodge Youth Hostel
Set in the heart of the park but close to Aviemore, with fabulous views of the Northern Corries, this SYHA hostel – a former shooting lodge – has the best of the Cairngorms on its doorstep: fantastic hiking, mountain-biking and (in winter) snow sports are on hand; Rothiemurchus Estate is also close, and Loch Morlich Watersports Centre and beach are opposite. The hostel itself is spacious, sleeping 72 in a variety of dorms and private rooms, with excellent facilities – cycle store, drying room, wifi and a big kitchen with ample cooking equipment (though cooked breakfasts, packed lunches and three-course evening meals are also available if you’re feeling lazy!). Glenmore, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1QY
Aviemore Youth Hostel
Conveniently located just a five-minute walk from the centre of Aviemore, yet with tremendous views of the forested slopes of the Cairngorm Mountains, this peaceful hostel is a great base for all manner of outdoor activities. It has 100 beds in rooms of varying sizes – the largest dorm sleeps six, but many are smaller, with a couple of twins and several family-sized rooms. There’s a drying room, TV lounge and wifi; breakfasts and packed lunches are available for groups, though there’s also a large kitchen and dining room. 25 Grampian Road, Aviemore, Inverness-shire PH22 1PR. www.syha.org.uk/hostels-in-scotland/highlands/aviemore.aspx
Braemar Youth Hostel
This impressive edifice, a former shooting lodge, still retains some period features from its glorious past – but has been updated to provide great facilities for modern visitors, including a large kitchen and dining room, and comfy sofas for lounging in after a day’s hiking or skiing (Braemar is handy for the slopes at Glenshee and the Lecht). Balmoral’s close by, and wildlife even closer – watch red squirrels flit about the extensive grounds outside your window as you munch breakfast. A mix of dorms and private rooms offer options for individuals, families and groups. Corrie Feragie, 21 Glenshee Road, Braemar AB35 5YQ. www.syha.org.uk/hostels-in-scotland/highlands/braemar.aspx
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