Among some of the things I love in life, the proposition of a trip through our amazing Scottish countryside and a stay in a beautiful hotel, would be fairly near the top of the list. So, when the lovely people at Phoenix Hyundai offered me the opportunity of doing my trip in their range-topping Santa Fe; I quickly took them up on the offer.
I arrived in Linwood to pick up Santa Fe in fairly appalling weather so there wasn’t much time for an extended handover but I needn’t have worried. Gavin (one of the super professional Phoenix Hyundai team) couldn’t have been more helpful in pointing out the key features (number one – just where is the fuel flap release) of the model I borrowed – a seven seat Premium with six-speed manual gearbox. On first impressions this is a BIG car but unlike many large SUV’s it doesn’t look cumbersome or lumpy. Instead the styling is sleek and understated (as opposed to brash and bling-y) and is pretty much “quietly confident” as per the marketing strap line for the car. Hyundai/Kia’s design team has been headed up for some time now by Peter Schreyer, (ex Volkswagen Group – designer of the “new” Beetle and the iconic TT) and he has done for the Korean brands, exactly what Tom Ford did for a flailing Gucci in the mid 90’s. In short; he’s revitalised them and given them identity, presence and fresh appeal to a new audience. As such; Schreyer is motor design royalty. It just doesn’t come better. I remember seeing him once at an Audi conference – dressed all in black with his ubiquitous Phillipe Starck glasses on – and being totally star-struck. This is what twenty plus years in the motor industry will do to you….
Anyway, I digress……apart from the addition of side steps, my car was the entry level specification but as I was to find out, it’s anything but basic. All models in the Santa Fe range come with a punchy 2.2 CRDI engine and include driver comforts such as bluetooth, climate control, full driver information system – including Satellite Navigation, reverse parking camera, seven-speaker sound system and trip computer.
On leaving Glasgow in (still) terrible weather, we headed out towards Perth and then joined the infamous A9 onwards to Inverness, so it was a fantastic opportunity to really open the Hyundai up and get a feel for the car. I love long road trips for getting to know a vehicle and this was no exception. Unfortunately we had pretty appalling weather conditions for most of the journey but thanks to rain sensitive windscreen wipers – which switch on automatically and then adjust their regularity to deal with the volume of rain – I really didn’t have to worry about much. In addition this car has pretty much the fastest clearing front windscreen I have ever experienced – we didn’t have the air conditioning on, so if the screen steamed up a little, literally five seconds and it was clear again. And although it wasn’t really that cold, I confess the heated seats (standard front and back in this car) did remain on throughout.
First stop – The House of Bruar.
No trip to Scotland is complete without a trip to House of Bruar and yet I can’t believe how many people are just not aware of its existence. This beautiful store is located around thirty miles north of Perth just by the side of the falls of Bruar and has been referred to as “The Harrods of the Highlands”.
I first discovered Bruar around twelve years ago, when I was working as a Regional Manager for Audi UK and living in Cheshire. As is always the case, as the Northernmost team member, I had a huge territory that took in the whole of Scotland, Northern Ireland and a sizeable chunk of the North of England too. Like many travelling reps, I pretty much used House of Bruar as a chance to have a coffee and use the loo but I invariably came away with a purchase or two. Following a management buy-out five years ago; Patrick Birbeck has taken over the company from his father Mark and every subsequent trip I make reveals further developments and improvements. There’s now a huge atrium joining the newly built menswear section to the original building and which is essentially an much needed extension to the always-bustling restaurant. What used to be the mail order department (now a purpose built warehouse just further south by the side of the A9) is their outlet store and the opportunity to pick up some amazing bargains, including their famous cashmere. There’s now a huge menswear department, home and garden section, their famous food department and of course, their ladies wear rooms. But it’s the details at Bruar that really make all the difference -both to how long you stay and ultimately how much you spend. From the exquisite product displays, kilted and super-helpful staff, luxurious rest rooms, dog-parking area with thoughtful shading for fido in hot summer months and the truly mind-boggling selection of goodies; nothing is left to chance. This is no more evident than in the centre of the Ladieswear section, where three huge Chesterfield sofas nestle around a roaring fire and you can find boyfriends and husbands sipping on coffee and catching up with the newspapers; quietly resigned as their partners salivate over the Barbour’s, Dubarry’s and Hunters. Retailing Genius.
Jaw-dropping scenery on the Malt Whiskey Trail.
Once I’d used up my (self-allocated) time slot at Bruar (anything more could be seriously dangerous), we left the store and heading Northbound on the A9 for around another fifty miles or so, through the Cairngorms to leave at Aviemore and head out towards Grantown-on-Spey to follow the Malt Whiskey Trail. I first discovered this route on trips between Inverness and Aberdeen. As a road-based job can be monotonous; during the summer months I’d always try to find alternatives to the well-worn main arterial roads and during one diversion I ended up on the Whiskey Trail. Past Aviemore and Boat of Garten you follow the A95 hugging the majestic River Spey; where – away from the mountains – the scenery becomes gentler and more rolling; yet still epic in scale. This is truly what people come to Scotland and expect to see. Because it’s glorious.
Speyside is home to around half of all of the Whiskey distilleries in Scotland and there are currently around fifty operational, from the big names like Glenfiddich, right through to smaller – cottage type – operations. Several are actually located on the A95 itself, including my favourite (in terms of aesthetics) Tormore with its manicured topiary garden, ornamental pond and workers cottages. Just a little further on is Ballindalloch, established in 2011 on the estate of Ballindalloch Castle, home to twenty three generations of the McPherson Grant family and where you can visit to see the Whiskey making process up close and personal. Around six or seven miles later you reach Aberlour – home to its namesake and world famous malt – before arriving in Craigallechie .
The A95 is still a busy road with plenty of traffic due to both the day to day operations of the distilleries but also the tourism this creates. Single lane all of the way and with plenty of twists and turns, it’s a fantastic environment in which to test the Santa Fe. Thanks to its uncluttered and un-fussy dashboard layout and styling (great, I’m not flying the A380), the cockpit is a calm and relaxing place to be and the interior has a premium yet unpretentious feel to it. This car is responsive, nimble and simply eats the miles. Large SUV’s will always have an element of roll if you’re travelling in the back but the big Hyundai was just such an easy car to drive it truly belied its size.
The Craigallechie Hotel
Thanks to the trusty Santa Fe, we arrived at our home for two nights – the gorgeous Craigallechie – relaxed and refreshed. This Victorian built hotel occupies a prominent and elevated position at the side of the A95, overlooking the Spey and the famous Craighallechie Bridge, built by Thomas Telford. As you can imagine, the views from the front of the hotel are pretty spectacular and in days gone by steam trains would have carried wealthy tourists through to Craigallachie for their holidays. The disused track is now a lovely footpath and actually part of the Speyside Way and can be accessed via steps in the hotel grounds. You can still get a real feel for the history of the place as you walk along the old tracks.
I first discovered the hotel back in my motor industry rep days and have always loved it . Along with the magical location, there’s just something special about the building itself but up until recently, it had lost its mojo somewhat and desperately needed a new lease of life. This is exactly what Piers Adam – the new London-based owner – has done. Newly painted (from white) to a caramel colour, you couldn’t really be better situated to explore the Whiskey Trail and most of the “big names” are just a short drive away.
There are twenty six rooms – graded ‘snug’, ‘comfy’ and ‘comfy luxe’. Rates vary but we paid £160 inc VAT for snug rooms including breakfast but even these have plenty of space As with everything in the Craigallechie; it’s all in the little touches from the Roberts Revival DAB radio, Johnstons of Elgin bed throws and Noble Isle toiletries.
Upon checking in and being shown to our rooms we were reliably informed about “welcome cocktails” in The Quaich bar and were also tipped the wink that “you can have more than one if you want.” Needless to say, after a long drive I didn’t spend much time unpacking and promptly headed off to scan the cocktail menu.
The Quaich is the worlds leading Whiskey Bar and is home to over 900 single malts from across the globe. No wonder International tourists flock to this room. As you would imagine, such a place has to feel special too and no expense has been spared in making it thus… From the handcrafted Soane furniture through to the silver band that runs across the front of the bar – designed by jeweller to the stars Stephen Webster and manufactured by Hamilton and Inches, Silversmiths to the Queen. Enough said.
Along from the Quaich and just past reception is the hotel lounge which occupies one side of the hotel. This stunning room is huge yet manages to be both light and airy and cosy with its squishy sofas and coffee tables. The large windows afford amazing views of the hotel gardens and the Spey Valley. A perfect place to relax after a day of touring the area…..
If you’re thinking the Craigallechie couldn’t get more perfect, you’d be wrong. It even has it’s own gastro-pub (The Copper Dog), housed in the basement. This uber-cool space is popular with both tourists and locals alike and along with whiskey cocktails it serves craft ales and locally sourced and freshly cooked produce. There’s a roaring fire for colder days and prices are very reasonable; considering the quality. For a bottle of wine and a meal (main course) for three, we paid around £63.
After a long day and delicious meal, we all headed to our beds sated, tired and happy.
Speyside Cooperage and Glenfiddich
Following the best Eggs Benedict EVER in the gorgeous light and airy breakfast room; we headed off in the Santa Fe towards Dufftown and stopped in to visit the Speyside Cooperage. Although the big distilleries have their own Cooperages; this workshop has been operational since 1947 and repairs around 150,000 oak casks a year, used by Whiskey makers all over Scotland and the globe. Although these days it is owned by a large French corporation, it still employs around thirty local craftsmen including a number of apprentices. We did the standard tour which finishes with a dram in the coffee shop.
A little further up the road in Dufftown itself is the monster that is now Glenfiddich. As you would imagine, this distillery is world-class and a must for malt oficiandos from all over the world. From the beautifully landscaped gardens to the network of gorgeous stone buildings, it has grown exponentially over the 140 years since it started but still remains on the same site where it all began.
We chose the “Explorer” tour and for just £10 per person, it is AMAZING value for money. Limited to around a dozen people (our group contained Australians, Swiss, Germans and us – the only Brits), you get an extremely knowledgeable guide who is local to the area and for the hour and a half you are with them; totally immerse you in the Whiskey Making process – from the Mash Tuns through to the bottling and labelling room. The tour concludes with a tasting of three famous Glenfiddich Malts plus a fourth “wild card” ….but as I was driving I had to settle for a glass of Highland Spring and a sniff of each glass (do I smell honey, bourbon or pear)? Who cares….there’s always later in the hotel bar.
Before we left, a visit to the Distillery Shop was in order. This gorgeous space has all of the Glenfiddich Malts available to browse and buy, plus a lovely selection of Scottish clothing and giftware. We plumped for the fifteen year old malt and the “wild card” – their “Project 20” experimental variety – and my favourite – before heading back to the hotel for dinner. Couldn’t help but notice two more brand new Santa Fe’s in the car-park……people with great taste in Hotel’s must have great taste in cars too, right?
Back in The Quaich
After dinner, my companions were tired and so headed off for an early night. As it was still only 9pm, I decided to head over to The Quaich to start writing up the blog and try a nightcap. It’s truly a special place to just sit and “be” whilst sipping on an artisan Whiskey cocktail……Despite my good intentions, seemingly at half past nine a bus pulled up and I was interrupted by an enthusiastic group of American tourists; including the wonderful Patty and Chuck. Along with their driver (Dave), they were touring Speyside and stopping over at The Craigallechie for a couple of nights before heading over to Skye to visit The Talisker. I decided to stay a while longer and after another cocktail and some great chat with lovely people; left Patty desperately seeing if Dave could reroute via House of Bruar, on the way back from Skye ….
A visit to The Craighallechie is pretty much like staying at a good-friends country home; so it’s always a wrench to leave such wonderful hospitality. Thanks to the Santa Fe, our journey home itself was a breeze and we decided to take a slightly different route, heading towards Edinburgh out of Perth in order to take in the new Queensferry crossing. Although we were a little disappointed that it didn’t actually open to the public for another two days (so we couldn’t actually drive over it ), we got a great view of both the new road bridge and the iconic rail bridge as we crossed the Forth.
In total, we covered just under 500 miles on this trip and we managed to do that on a single tank of fuel in the Santa Fe. Carrying three passengers and luggage, the trip computer showed the car averaging just under 50 miles per gallon, which for a large 4 x 4 isn’t too shabby at all………..
The Genuine Article
Everything about this trip oozed authenticity. From the places that I chose to visit to The Craighallechie Hotel; it was all about the meticulous attention to detail. Nothing was shout-y, obvious or trying too hard to be something it wasn’t. It didn’t need to be. This confident attitude and mindset ultimately stems from knowing your market and catering to it without having to add in unnecessary “fluff”.
The Hyundai Santa Fe typifies this ethos. Unlike many large SUV’s the styling isn’t all hard edges and bling because that’s just not what this car is about. From the elegant clean lines of the exterior to the simple, well organised cockpit and sure-footed drive-ability; it simply doesn’t need uninvited and shallow attention. This car knows its worth and as such, demands more than a one night stand or passing fling. The customer who chooses this car doesn’t want a high-maintenance Diva and will instead truly appreciate its self-assured presence and quiet confidence.
And in fashion speak, the Santa Fe is that Max Mara cashmere overcoat you saved like mad for and always end up wearing because you just feel so fantastic cocooned in it.
Needless to say – and like that overcoat – I just didn’t want to hand it back.
The Useful Stuff
Please see a link to Phoenix Hyundai’s website below where you can find further information about the Santa Fe along with the rest of the range. I’ve also included links to the hotel and the other places I visited on this trip.
Hyundai UK offer some industry leading finance deals, making this car incredibly easy to own. As an example, on the five-seat Premium manual (£32,545 OTR), the manufacturer is giving a £5000 finance contribution on a three-year PCP deal. Customer pays £400 additional deposit and 36 monthly payments of £490.37. The final figure to buy the car is £12,554.50 or you can hand it back* in order to settle the finance.
*Based on 8k per annum mileage. Final figure to buy is based on vehicle coming back in good condition for age and on/under mileage. Excess mileage charges apply. Please consult your dealer to ensure you fully understand your chosen finance option.