Roadtripping through the Scotch Mecca of Speyside

This past July we had the opportunity to visit Scotland after an epic adventure in Ireland with Adventures by Disney. We never like being away from our fur-baby Sally for too long, so we figured that after 8 days in Ireland, our little bernedoodle could manage another 6 days without us (a BIG thanks to our puppy sitters, Alli’s parents!).

We decided to blitz through Scotland by car, and in 6 days we did just that. We drove over 700+ miles, stayed in three hotels, we (mostly Bobby) tried over 20 different unique scotches, drove on countless slow, windy roads, we saw highland cows (Alli’s dream!), and we oo-ed and awe-d over breathtaking scenery.

All that to say, we’re going to break this recap blog into three chunks… this one will be focused on Speyside (where much Scotch is made and was drank), another will focus on Edinburgh, and the third will share all about the Isle of Skye (no doubt one of the most underrated places we have ever seen). We hope you enjoy them both!

 

Our journey in Scotland started and ended in Edinburgh. We always rent a car wherever we go, because we like the freedom of exploring on our own. We rented through Auto-Europe, (they are AWESOME because they scan all the companies for you and find the best deal!) We ended up with a small wagon from Europcar, and after a quick check-in we were on our way!  

**NOTE TO THOSE AFRAID OF DRIVING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD - DON’T BE! If you don’t know how to drive stick and you get a manual, then maybe you should be afraid. But driving on the left is no big deal… just pay attention and take it slow for the first couple hours. You’ll be fine.**

Before driving out into the country, we made a quick stop in a small area of Edinburgh called Leith. Alli’s dad is named Leith, so we figured we should probably check it out... And we were blown away at how cool Leith is! This little port town is full of hip restaurants, cute shops, and picturesque streets. If you have a few days in Edinburgh, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Our first destination in Scotland (and the focus of this blog) was the Speyside region. Speyside is a lush, fertile valley situated along the River Spey, and it has the greatest number of whisky-producing distilleries of any region in Scotland. (Basically, Bobby’s HEAVEN!) Balvenie, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenfarclas, Aberlour, Benriach, Glen Moray, Craigellachie… they’re all here (plus 20 more!). If you love whiskey and you love beautiful scenery, move Speyside to the top of your bucket list.

It goes without saying that the drive to Speyside is beautiful. Many people day trip there from Inverness or Aberdeen for tastings, but we would encourage you to stay in the heart of it all. We stayed at the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside, and it was the very definition of charming. The Craigellachie is like a countryside home with a warm, welcoming staff and modern touches. It also boasts the best pub in town in The Copper Dog, as well as one of the best whisky bars in Scotland in The Quaich Bar (Over 800 single malt scotches!).

Note from Bobby: If you’re adventurous, you should try some of the cuisine that is traditional to Scotland. The most famous is Haggis, and I won’t tell you what it is or you probably would stop reading. (I WILL say that we both had it, and I actually liked it.) Then there is Black Pudding, aka Blood Sausage, which is made from pork blood, oats, and some other miscellaneous ingredients. (But it’s mostly blood.) I ate it (feeling quite invincible from enjoying Haggis), but when the waitress told me it was mostly blood, I definitely turned green. Ha! Regardless, their worth a try if you’re up for it!

 

We spent our days exploring the local distilleries. We visited Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenfarclas, and Aberlour. If you really want to visit a specific one, be sure to book an advance. Balvenie, one of our favorite scotches, books out MONTHS in advance! (We’ll try again next time!)

The Speyside region is a great place to be lazy, especially if you’re staying at the Craigellachie. Have a slow morning with breakfast at the Copper Dog, do a distillery tour or two along with some tastings, and then spend the afternoon in your room reading a book. The views are spectacular, so definitely rest and enjoy them. But if you’re like us and you can only sit still for too long, go explore! Overall it’s not too large of an area, so you can day trip in any direction and be back in the afternoon.

We loved our time in Speyside and plan on returning with reservations at Balvenie, as well as a few extra days to relax. And maybe (obviously) drink a little (a lot) more scotch…

Olympia, Washington - So Much More Than Just A Capital City

One of the things we love about road trips is that it forces us to explore new cities. 

Driving from state to state, it’s inevitable that you’ll stumble upon towns and regions you never knew existed. Some spots we simply HAVE to stop and walk around, others we drive right through, and every once in a while we find one that’s really a fun surprise. Olympia surprised us in the best way possible… and while we’ve grown up learning about our state capitals, we’ve never known very much about Olympia (besides maybe the fact that it’s in Washington)! 

When the opportunity presented itself to stay a couple days in Washington’s capital city, we both got really excited. Experiencing unfamiliar cities is our jam - especially when we have no idea what to expect. And here’s the deal, Olympia is cool. It’s up-and-coming, it’s quaint, it’s loaded with amazing restaurants and bars, and it boasts some epic scenery! Yes to ALL the above!!!

Here are some of the highlights from our time in Olympia (most of which are dog friendly, too)!

 

BREAKFAST

  • Lacey Forza: (Dog-friendly patio) Quick, efficient, and totally delicious. Lacey Forza is the perfect place to stop when you’re on the go. But whatever you do, make sure you have enough time to stop and enjoy the bacon cinnamon roll. You’re welcome in advance.
  • Our Table: This cozy, retro diner serves up some of the best breakfasts in town - at affordable prices too! From the Micheal Jackson beats to the perfect breakfast potatoes and bacon that may have made Bobby’s whole trip - it’s definitely a must-do!! (But leave your pup at home, there’s no outdoor seating.)

LUNCH

  • Well80: (Dog-friendly patio) Delicious beer and an extensive menu featuring pizzas, burgers, brussels sprouts, and more… Are we in heaven? Well80 is a modern, spacious, and energetic restaurant that quickly became one of our favorite Olympia institutions. We loved the outdoor patio, and the servers are all really friendly. We can’t wait to be back!
  • Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar: (located in 222 Market, has a dog-friendly patio) Serving up so much more than just oysters, Chelsea Farms is another favorite of ours for lunch! They have great salads, fresh fish, and delicious wines. Sally loved sitting outside and playing with other dogs that were there - win/win for everyone!

DINNER

  • Three Magnets Brewing: (Dog-friendly patio) Our favorite kind of a place. Great drinks, awesome happy hour, delicious “comfort food” that’s prepared with love, and has a healthy twist. Alli had the veggie burger of her dreams, and we split avocado fries that were TDF (To Die For) - definitely recommend!
  • Ricardo’s Kitchen and Bar: (Dog-friendly patio) Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion, looking for a fun date night spot, or simply craving a steak, Ricardo’s is your ticket! It’s one of the best steakhouses in Olympia, and for good reason. Everything we had was flavorful, perfectly prepared, and beautifully presented. If the weather is good, sit outside!

COFFEE

  • Batdorf and Bronson: Have you ever been to a coffee shop where you’ve instantly felt at home? The baristas quickly become your BFF’s, the atmosphere is peaceful and inviting, and the coffee is what we like to call, “The Real Deal”? Batdorf and Bronson is just that. We were lucky enough to sit in on an employee “Coffee Cupping” (They do ones every Wednesday (?) that are open to the public!), and getting a behind-the-scenes look at their passion and excitement for coffee was thrilling for us. We love nothing more than getting a front-row look at talented people doing what they love… and the people at Batdorf and Bronson are the real deal. Go. Drink their coffee. Go to a coffee cupping class. And bring some bags home for all of your friends. 
  • Olympia Coffee Roasting Company: Another great local coffee shop! There are multiple locations in town, with our favorite being the one on 4th Avenue (you can do Coffee Cupping there too!). OCR has yummy coffee and is a perfect spot to open up your laptop and work for a few hours. And they have epic branding! We'll definitely be back!

ACTIVITIES

  • Kayaking Long Lake with Northwest Paddle Surfers: Long Lake is STUNNING, and a perfect place to explore by Kayak… and you know what else? You can bring your dog aboard!!! While we’ve taken kayaks out numerous times together, this was our first time ever taking Sally - and it was an adventure we’ll never forget!! The team at Northwest Paddle Surfers are incredibly friendly and helpful, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience!
  • Tolmie State Park: You could easily spend all day in Tolmie. It has beautiful hikes, beaches, picnic spots, and is brimming with wildlife. We took Sally for a walk along the beach (dogs are allowed if they’re on leash) and the surroundings were breathtaking. 
  • Explore Tumwater Falls Park: Waterfalls in the middle of the city?! What?? It’s true - we couldn’t believe it either! We loved walking around this quaint little park, and watching Sally’s reaction to a waterfall was priceless! 

We could go on and on with more recommendations for Olympia - but then this blogpost would take days to read! So, we’ll leave it at that. Any favorite spots that we’ve missed? Leave a comment and let us know! We’ll definitely be back. ;)

The Isle of Skye: Jaws Dropped for 3 Straight Days

We had no idea what was in store for us when we visited the Isle of Skye. We decided to go there on a whim, and this last-minute decision ended up being one of our very favorite places in the world

We're going to keep this really brief and simply share a ton of photos, because the landscapes were the best part (and pictures mean a thousand words, right?). Photos don't do this place justice at all, so consider this a teaser.

Some logistics (in case you're interested):

We were on the Isle of Skye for three days. We rented an AirBnB and explored by car daily. Our highlights were:

  • Hiking to the Old Man of Storr
  • The weather... we lucked out
  • Driving the Quiraing
  • Exploring the small town of Portree
  • Our tiny house AirBnB in Staffin
  • All the sheep

For those that are planning a trip (and we really hope you do!) Cross your fingers for good weather, rent a car, reserve an AirBnB, and get over there before the secret gets out... Skye is spectacular. 

Last thing... zoom in on some of the photos towards the end and see if you can find people hiking. It gives some good perspective! 

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Life is a Highway - And Highway One is Open!!

One of our favorite drives in the world is the coastal-hugging California Highway 1. (So much so, that we drove it on our honeymoon!) The scenery never ceases to amaze us - no matter the weather or the time of year. From the surf swells in Santa Barbara, to the cliffside hikes in Big Sur, to the majestic bridges entering Monterey County… it’s natural beauty at its finest. 

Due to some massive landslides, Highway 1 was forced to close. For over a year and a half crews have been working day in and day out to get this scenic drive back to what it once was, and FINALLY the day is here! 

Highway 1 is open, and it’s better than ever!!!

We jumped at the opportunity to explore our favorite highway once again, at the start of our road trip nearly three weeks ago - and Alli nearly cried with joy. Highway 1 in the summertime is postcard-worthy, and you better believe we stopped wherever we could to take it all in!

This trip up the highway was especially significant for us, as it’s the first time we’ve brought our fur-baby Sally along! (Dog lovers out there, you get it.) We had SO much fun taking her around our favorite stops on the drive, one highlight being the elephant seals. We’ve never seen our little bernedoodle so wide-eyed!

We’ve met people from all over the world that hear we’re from California, and immediately tell us that they’ve driven Highway 1 - most of them numerous times! It’s captivating and addictive, no matter what kind of traveler you are. You could pack a tent and camp at every stop, or stay in world-famous five star hotels, there’s literally something for everyone. And there’s never a bad time to do it either, the change in weather only adds to the dramatic coastline.

If the Rascal Flats song is true, and “Life is a Highway”, we’d like to think of it as Highway 1. Beauty everywhere we turn, pure joy, and endless discoveries… Sounds like an epic life to us!

Below is a throwback to our first days of marriage... on Highway 1 on our honeymoon!

The Happiest Tour on Earth - Meet Adventures by Disney

Us talking to friends and family:

“Guys, guess what! We’re going to Ireland with Disney!”

 

Their responses:

“Wait what?”

“Do they have a Disneyland there?”

“Like on a cruise?”

“Does Mickey lead the tour?”

“But you don’t have kids!”

 

To be fair, we had never heard of Adventures By Disney either - and initially had a similar response. (Up until we got the itinerary, Bobby thought we were going on a cruise!) And while Disney does have a cruise line, (that we have yet to experience - but we’ve heard great things!) Adventures By Disney is something entirely different.

Imagine going on a trip to a country you’ve always wanted to visit (Ireland), and all of the logistics are taken care of for you.

  • You stay at the nicest hotels (even a castle!)

  • You visit the best museums, monuments, historical sights, etc, and you do it all away from, or before the crowds.

  • Everywhere you turn you’re learning about the history and culture you’re experiencing from your local guide who’s with you the whole trip (Stephen can you learn about the whole world and please come on every trip with us?)

  • Simultaneously, your personal concierge is handing you snacks, water bottles, sunscreen… you name it. He knows your needs before you do (Landon, you are a master of logistics, snacks, and stories - we need you).

  • Every time you venture to a new location, your luggage is handled for you. You arrive at the next hotel (or castle!), and your luggage is already in your room.

  • You never have to worry about renting a car, driving on the opposite side of the road, scheduling your itinerary, etc.. It’s all handled. Every little detail.

  • AND… you’re eating the best food in the country, at the coolest local spots (like a castle!! Sorry, we still can’t get over it). And you’re dining with all of the new friends you’ve made.

Honestly, we could go on and on… but you get the picture. Having traveled to Europe numerous times, and always on our own, going with Adventures By Disney (from now on we’ll refer to as ABD) was the ultimate treat.

 

Speaking honestly, we were worried that being on a tour might frustrate our wanderlusting, adventurous selves, or that traveling with a group of 30 people might get old. But friends, we loved every minute of it.

 

The ABD crew does a phenomenal job planning these trips itineraries - and here’s why. They send several scouts to each location to find not only the best local guides in the area, but the best places to see. Then they figure out the best times to see them, the best ways to avoid the crowds, the best local places to eat and explore, and the best way to pack it all in one trip. The result? A fast-paced (but also relaxing) adventure that leaves you smiling ear-to-ear, ten pounds fatter (SO many snacks!), feeling like a local expert, with a million memories and a couple dozen new best friends.

 

Can you tell we LOVED ABD?!?

 

While we’d love to go through our Ireland Itinerary day-by-day, this blog post would quickly become 20 pages long, so we’ll save that for another day. (You can check out the detailed itinerary here)

 

In closing, we’ll leave you with a highlight reel of our trip. ABD does trips for families, and adult-only. Another couple on our Ireland trip did an ABD adult-only tour for their honeymoon and had a ball. So whether you’re a family of four or planning your next adventure with your significant other, we highly recommend Adventures By Disney. Their trips range from a weekend in New York City to a 12-day adventure in China! Whatever your interests are, we guarantee there’s something for you. And we guarantee you’ll be hooked like we are. Now we just have to decide which ABD adventure to go on next!!

 

(Ireland day-by-day with Disney blog coming up next!)