From Speyside to Santa Fe ….. a trip around the Scottish Highlands in Hyundai’s Big SUV

by , on
10th October 2017

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.

Day One

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 ….

Going Home

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.







Fifty Shades of Gray: Why your half century is the ideal time to spice up your fashion life!

by , on
17th August 2017

I speak to A LOT of women over fifty in my job, many of whom are finding themselves somewhat lost in the world of fashion.   Retirement, a change of job/lifestyle and changes in body shape; all play their part in wrong-footing their previous notions of what suited them and what clothes to actually buy.

Whilst there are quite literally hundreds of blogs centred around fashion for the twenties, thirties and even forties; come the half century mark, inspiration admittedly dries up a little.  But it is out there – if you look.  So, as a start and along with my top six tips; why not take a look at my Pinterest boards?  You’ll see that far from being relegated to fashion wilderness, fifty plus is the ideal time to add some variety to your wardrobe!

Tip#1 – if in doubt, start with a classic capsule wardrobe. 

It will never hurt to have a wardrobe that starts with great fashion staples.  A capsule collection of around twenty five different pieces will allow you to create literally dozens  of different looks. Classics work on all ages and if you buy right, will last for seasons to come.  The most important thing here is to spend time finding these key items in the colours and cuts that work best for you.

The great thing about starting here is that it gives you the opportunity to switch in “seasonal” pieces, knowing that they will work with at least a couple of items in your existing wardrobe.  You will ultimately feel more comfortable in taking the odd risk, if you know you’ve got a great foundation to fall back on.

Tip#2 Accessories are your best friend.

(………Before we go any further with tip #2, does anyone know the name of these two fashion icons?  I think they’re from The Nederlands and I’d love to feature them more. Quite why they are not already Internet sensations already, is beyond me).  

To me; they are the perfect example of how dressing in an age-appropriate manner, needn’t be boring or conform to expected stereotypes.   I look at these two and think what great company they’d be for lunch (can you just imagine the stories they’d have to tell)?  From the punk-y touches to the great tailoring, their amazing sense of style IS ALL in the little touches.

Think about it for a second.  If you took away the sassy shoes, berets, coloured leather gloves, silk scarves, designer specs and ties, the impact would be completely diminished.  Make no mistake, these outfits take time and effort to plan but the end result is more than worth it.

I’ve always thought that older women have the ability to pull off big statement accessories in a way that younger females generally just can’t.  So make this the time to experiment with finding great pieces that really amp up your outfits and make your style individual to you.  You needn’t go mad – a great tote bag in a fabulous colour, a pair of leopard print loafers or a stunning statement necklace can all totally transform a look.  In stepping a little outside of your comfort zone, you can make a massive difference in how you look.  Experimentation, never did any harm!

#Tip 3 – stay away from fads and trends.

The biggest concern I hear from women over fifty is “I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb” and it’s a valid point.  No-one wants to look like they’re desperately trying to relive their youth via the medium of fashion.  Here’s a case in point.


“Hello, is that Dyan Cannon?  Hi, this is Jon Bon Jovi calling from 1987 and I want my stage outfit back”.  Now, let’s get this straight, if I have a figure like this aged 70 plus, I will be a happy bunny but that’s where the admiration ends for me.   This is a classic example of someone trying way too hard to dress younger and “trendy” (and let’s be honest, missing by decades), when quite frankly with her body she’d look amazing in most things.

However, does this mean you should never venture near a pair of skinny jeans again?  No, of course it doesn’t – skinnies are pretty much a fashion basic now anyway, so I wouldn’t personally regard them as a ‘trend’ item.  If they work on your body shape – go for it.  The trick is to avoid passing trends, which are generally aimed at the younger market anyway.  Although there are always exceptions, generally speaking, anything that shows too much skin or has lots of detailing such as cut outs, ruffles and embellishments is best avoided.

Tip #4 – know what colours suit you

As we age, our hair colour is not the only thing that changes.  Very often, our skin tone changes too and the wrong colour can have the undesirable effect of pulling all of the vibrancy out of our face.  This applies to neutrals too – particularly nude shades and taupes – so if you’re unsure, I would highly recommend having your colours done by a professional.   Not only will this provide you with a palette of around 20-30 shades that really work for you but you’ll also come away with a really strong comprehension of WHY they suit you.  This can really serve to make your clothing purchase process faster and less stressful, as you’ll immediately know where to focus your attention.

Right now there’s a real resurgence around embracing greying hair, which is great – if you suit grey hair.  If however,  (like myself) you have a warm skin tone, chances are that grey is not going to work on you particularly well.  If you’re not prepared to dye your hair, then you really need a firm understanding in this area because what suited you five years ago; might not suit you now.

Ultimately, it is what you wear next to your face that has the impact (good or bad), so at the very least try and make sure you have a scarf or jewellery in a shade that really lights up your skin tone.   That way, if you just HAD to buy that sweater in ink blue and it’s really not your colour; you’ve got a quick and easy remedy to hand!

Tip#5 – Great hair, great skin and a touch of make-up make all the difference.

I remember back in my youth, there was a very definitive point at which women became “middle aged”.  There was an omnipresent army of over-fifties who suddenly decided to give up on fashion.  Having brought up families and successfully managed a household for a few decades, you’d have thought they should be celebrating spending time and money on themselves.  But no, it was almost like an unspoken line got crossed and their focus was all about fading into the background and dressing as nondescript as possible.  Invariably the hair got cut into a “functional” style that could be set on rollers and last all week and shades of beige became de -rigueur.  Like I said;  an army.

Fortunately, nowadays this stereotype is increasingly a relic of the past but it also isn’t that long ago.  Many women still struggle with the concept of spending money on themselves that their own mother would have regarded as “unnecessary” or even worse “frivolous”.

The thing is that – whatever your age –  nothing will ever beat good grooming in completing an outfit and it doesn’t have to involve massive investment either.  Competition in the beauty market is fierce, so getting a hair cut and colour, having a manicure or a facial is much cheaper  – comparably – than it was twenty – even ten years ago.  Again, when I was growing up and buying make-up I would save to buy Kanebo skin care and Chanel eye-shadows because the product was so superior to the budget brands.  Not so now.  I use a range of supermarket skin care that has state of the art ingredients and my make up bag is a mix of high and low end brands.   In the town where I work there are fifteen hairdressers and nearly as many beauty salons, all offering the latest treatments and all doing well, thank you very much.

As we get older, the care of our skin and hair becomes of greater importance to keep it looking healthy and vibrant. It makes sense therefore, to take time to find products and treatments that help keep it in the best possible condition.  Our production of collagen has slowed dramatically as has our natural exfoliation process.  In turn, hair can thin or become dull so what worked for you a few years back, might just need some revision.

In terms of your skincare, it’s a great time to consider booking in for a facial.  The therapist can have a good look at your skin and advise you on any problem areas and what products and ingredients to look out for.  So whether you decide to buy salon products or find a drug store  range that works for you; you’ll know which keywords to look out for.  Even if you can’t afford to go for a monthly treatment, it is never too late to start a regime.

There’s no reason why you can’t be older and have a longer style – again the general rule of thumb is to stay away from ‘trends’ and opt for classic styles (such as a long bob) that are easy to maintain.  Older hair can have a tendency to get wispy ends, so once you find a style you like; regular trims are a must.  If you do decide to colour your grey, highlights and lowlights are much softer than a block colour but as always, ask a professional for advice if you’re unsure.  In the picture above, Rachel Welch (who has a warm skin tone and is a natural brunette) looks amazing with her honey coloured bob.

Even if you’ve avoided wearing make-up your whole life, now is the time to explore how just a touch of well applied colour can make a huge difference to both your confidence and your look.  Watch this space for an up and coming feature on beautiful day time and night time looks for older skin as it really is an area that warrants its own feature.  However, in the meantime here are some quick fixes that make all the difference.

  • Brows and lashes fade and go grey as we age, so at the very least have them tinted.  This will serve to “frame” your face and will literally open your eyes, even if you don’t wear make-up.
  • Don’t know what shade of lipstick suits you?  A warm pink suits most people.  Go for creme formulations as matte or long-stay just sit in creases and will make the lips seem narrower.  A bit of light refraction and gloss is much kinder.
  • In general, avoid powder based foundations and opt for liquid varieties.  There are a wide range of formulations out there and I would strongly advise spending time – and if necessary – money to find one that works for you.  If the thought of applying a base fills you with dread, there are some great tinted moisturisers out there that will also help in giving your skin a glow and lessen any redness.
  • Avoid shimmery eye shadows as they draw attention to any wrinkles or folds on the eyelids.

Tip#6 – Now has never been a better time to switch up your look.

I get it.  All of this can sound a bit intimidating, right?  If you still don’t know where to start, don’t worry.  Fortunately, in this day and age of social media there is literally inspiration all around you, if you know where to look.  From Pinterest Boards through to YouTube clips and fashion bloggers, believe me there is someone out there who will resonate with you.  One of the people I most admire for over-fifties dressing is Lucinda Chambers the ex fashion editor of Vogue.  She’s always age appropriate and though much of her wardrobe (unsurprisingly, given her job) is designer – particularly Marni – her looks are really easy to recreate.  She loves to mix textures, clash patterns and always chooses interesting accessories.

If you have the budget, another good investment would be employing a stylist cum personal shopper to work with you and do a wardrobe weed-out.  This would include going through every item in your closet to establish whether it ultimately stays or goes; including items that might end up staying but need alteration or repair.   They will work with you to establish what you wear most (and why).  From here – and taking into consideration things like your colouring, body shape and lifestyle – they will  firstly look to  “fill any gaps” in your clothing collection but also accompany you on future shopping trips, be it choosing an outfit for a special occasion OR just topping up for the season ahead.  Most good personal shoppers and stylist have an intimate knowledge of boutiques in your area and will be able to guide you to the right stores, be they independent or chain.  It’s an upfront investment that will save a great deal of time, stress and in the long run, money.

So, don’t get stuck in a fashion rut.  Whatever your age, shape or style there’s something out there to suit your appetite.  So have fun experimenting!