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How to visit Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the most loved by the queens

Surrounded by thick vegetation and boundless greenery, the Balmoral Castle owes its fame to the love for the residence of Queen Elizabeth II. To reach it, take a picturesque journey of about an hour along the A93 which leaves from Aberdeen international airport. The route is bucolic, completely immersed in nature in a ups and downs between clearings, pastures and gorse bushes.

Every year the most famous castle among the residences of the English royal family is open to visits for a few months (normally from early May to mid-August). To access the gardens, park and ballroom (entrance 17.5 pounds) just book tickets in advance on the site balmoralcastle.com. Exceptionally, from 1 July to 4 August 2024, guided tours of some rooms on the ground floor were organised: £100 for single entry, £150 with Afternoon Tea and tickets sold out in just 24 hours). (All info on www.visitbritain.com).

Castle life is marked by the poetic rhythm of an eternal wait, a continuous preparation that lasts ten months and culminates with the season in which the royals will spend their summer holidays among its gardens and immense parks. «All flowers and vegetation are chosen and cared for to ensure full bloom between August and September” explains Khirsty, the person responsible for maintaining the greenery of the estate which boasts Himalayan blue poppies, lily of the valley, roses and rhododendrons as well as maples, pines, cherry trees, birches and oaks.

Balmoral.  Photo VisitScotland Kenny Lam

Balmoral. Photo: VisitScotland / Kenny Lam

The legends of the castle

Around here, in the Aberdeenshire hills, it is said that Balmoral is “love it or hate it”. In fact, the history of this castle is dotted with memories with very conflicting opinions. The queens, Victoria, Elizabeth consort of King George VI and her daughter, Elizabeth II, loved him immensely so much so that the last sovereign chose to spend her last days here in peace.

Elizabeth II at Balmoral a few days after her death on 8 September 2022. Photo WPA PoolGetty Images

Elizabeth II at Balmoral a few days after her death on 8 September 2022. Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images

WPA Pool/Getty Images

Lady Diana, generous chronicles tell, he hated it just as Margaret Thatcher and before her Viscount Palmerston, Secretary of State for the Crimean War, never felt comfortable with it, who even defined it as “ugly and uncomfortable”.

Balmoral: A Ghillie hunting and dancing lodge

The interiors of Balmoral smell of Scotland, tartan and home. There is no place for luxury while British sobriety manifests all his love for nature, simplicity, the Highlands; on the other hand this is not an official residence, it was born as a hunting lodge, so there are no State Rooms, but only the rooms for a private holiday home.

Balmoral Castle.  Photo North East 250 Damian Shields

Balmoral Castle. Photo: North East 250 / Damian Shields

The tradition established in 1856 requires that at the end of the hunting season the traditional Ghillies ball inaugurated by Queen Victoria to celebrate the work of the inhabitants of the area and invite them to court for a reception. The ballroom is surprisingly small and it is for this reason that, from the beginning, the wood of the walls had been stained white as well as the ceilings, later decorated with the coats of arms of King Edward VII's dynasty. Today, the carpet is laid for the arrival of the public who will not step on the king's wooden floor, just as the paintings normally hanging on the walls are replaced by temporary collections: the watercolors of views of the castle and of portraits of royalty that postpone at the Buckingham Palace exhibition running until August 28th (Royal Portaits: A Century of Photography) displayed next to the dresses of Elizabeth II, Charles and Camilla.

The banks of the River Dee at Balmoral

The banks of the River Dee at Balmoral

The rooms facing west overlook the mountains and Vittoria had her rooms there. Fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs grow in the gardens and enjoy the long hours of summer light. In the park there is the swing on which all the little ones in the Windsor house have swung, the dog cemetery and the statue dedicated to Noble, faithful four-legged friend of the queen, died in 1887. Along the River Dee there is the famous background for the photos of Charles and Diana engaged and of William with Harry. The long walk offers peace and silence.

The royal whiskey produced a stone's throw from the castle

There Royal Lochanagar distillery It owes its fortune to Prince Albert's love for technology and Queen Victoria's love for whisky. Since then this distillery, which is located 5 minutes from the castle, has obtained the Royal Warrant making it an official supplier to the royals. By booking in advance, you can indulge a visit to the still rooms who produce the distillate according to ancient tradition and know the secrets that make it so special.

A selection of Royal Lochanagar Distillery spirits

A selection of Royal Lochanagar Distillery spirits

There are some versions that arrive in such small quantities that they cannot even be put on the market and this makes them even more sought after. In typically Scottish dress, King Charles III is at home here so much so that unique lines were also created for him.

Staying in the home of a Lady (and suffragette) who has now become a charity

It's difficult to visit Douneside House and not feel involved in his story”. Jamie Aitken, Operations manager of the facility half an hour's drive from Balmoral, welcomes us among the photos and Louis Vuitton trunks of Lady MacRobert, the one who gave her life to her passion for engineering, charitable causes (supported with her husband, Sir Alexander MacRobert), to aviation and to campaigns for suffragette rights. The central structure and the 9 cottages that make up the entire complex have a sense of history, family and hospitality.

Bird's-eye view of Douneside House Royal Deeside

Bird's-eye view of Douneside House Royal Deeside

Douneside House Royal Deeside, after the death of Lady Rachel, in 1954, passed into the hands of a Trust which, in 2023, will has obtained entry into Luxury Scotland and which donates all its proceeds to charitable causes.

A room of Douneside House Royal Deeside

A room of Douneside House Royal Deeside

In their visits, Elizabeth II and Charles III celebrated the commitment of a place custodian of values ​​and motivated in its commitment to the new generations who study in Scotland and work in restaurant (which boasts 3 quality rosettes), in the estate's vegetable gardens, gardens and livestock farms. The complex is also equipped with a wellness center with a swimming pool overlooking the greenery crossed by the stream in a triumph of flowers.

Excursions (and snacks) in the surrounding area

Scotland offers endless routes for those who love hiking walking, mountain biking and hiking. We ventured into a circuit, suitable for everyone, which runs along the banks of the Loch Muick lakeon a slight slope that covers the ring in about 3 hours.

Glenn Muick Loch Muick Cairngorms National Park.  VisitScotland photo Damian Shields

Glenn Muick, Loch Muick, Cairngorms National Park. Photo: VisitScotland / Damian Shields

The Cairngorms National Park

On the right bank there is another lodge owned by the Windsors which was built by Queen Victoria in 1868. She called it Glasshalt, the “widow's house” where she could take refuge in her grief after Albert's death. Here, it seems that William enjoyed organizing parties with his friends while his grandfather Filippo indulged himself with the barbecue.

Glas Allt Shiel lodge Loch Muick Glen Muick Balmoral Estate.  VisitScotland photo Damian Shields

Glas Allt Shiel lodge, Loch Muick, Glen Muick, Balmoral Estate. Photo: VisitScotland / Damian Shields

The Cairngorms National Park

The view of the lake is memorable and the nature is uncontaminated. Not far away you can reconcile with the colors and traditions of Scotland a walk in Ballanter, famous for its local sports festival; there is a short distance away Braemarwhere you can have a snack at Hazelnut patisserie who composes French pastry recipes with Highland ingredients.

Wild garlic quiche with spinach and feta served with apple, tomato, raisin and cranberry chutney from...

Wild Garlic Quiche with Spinach and Feta Served with Apple, Tomato, Raisin and Cranberry Chutney from Breamer's Hazelnut Patisserie

In season there is quiche with wild garlic from the garden and vanilla and rhubarb shortcrust pastry, which grows everywhere. The strawberries are already ready and will be very sweet from May until July together with the berries. In good weather, in the Hanka Hut Ballochbuie forest you can have picnics and risk being next to the entire royal family.

Source: Vanity Fair

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