Did you like the sound of Bristol? Then you’ll probably be into this week’s trip too: we’re heading to Aberdeen, a giant port city on the North Sea coast. Scotland’s third biggest city (population 200,000) is often ranked among the country’s happiest cities, quite often coming top. But above all, Aberdeen is a place where you can experience all the stuff Scotland is known for: seafaring culture, haunted castles and ancient legends. So let’s leave Bergen, Montpellier and Granada behind us and head to the extraordinary city of Aberdeen.
Our trip will start with a mooch along the North Sea coast, which takes various different forms. To start, head to the harbour, where you can take in the oddly bewitching sight of various container ships and ferries coming and going. After that, continue to the pretty nearby beach. It may seem far removed from the Mediterranean, but if you ignore the chilly temperatures, this place is so beautiful you almost feel like you’re on the Côte d’Azur here. Look out for the pods of dolphins that often swim off the coast. Finally move onto Footdee. This historic fishermen’s neighbourhood is made up of various charming alleyways filled with just-as-charming little cottages. It’s a very different kind of beauty to the industrial splendour of the port.
Next, head to the Tolbooth Museum. This seventh-century former prisoner is now a museum dedicated to the history of crime and punishment, told through the lens of Aberdeen and Scotland as a whole. As well as containing former cells and period objects including torture devices and a real guillotine blade, the museum tells loads of fascinating stories about the arrest of witches, child smuggling, incredible escapes and political prisoners. In short, it’s a fascinating and slightly unnerving place that reminds us even the most charming of cities will have a darker side to their history.
For lunch try the No.10 Restaurant & Bar. Tucked in a basement, as is often the case for bars in Scotland, this place hosts diners in an impressive main room with exposed stone walls and herringbone floors. The atmosphere is laid-back and friendly, and the staff serve up modern spins on traditional Scottish dishes made largely with local ingredients. Except premium, aged steaks, grilled liver with smoky bacon, chilli and honey prawn brochettes and haggis bonbons (yes, really). Sure, none of it is very light, but you won’t regret ordering anything here.
To work it off, take a bike ride out of town. There’s no place better than Brig o 'Balgownie, a magnificent bridge with a unique arch that was built in the thirteenth or fourteenth century and is steeped in legend. It’s a very handy starting point to explore the Donmouth nature reserve, which includes the area where the Don River pours into the sea. More observing (and lucky) visitors will be able to spot superb seabirds or even seals. And if you’re a really good cyclist (or you have a car), you could even go as far as the incredible castle of Dunnottar, around 30 kilometres south of Aberdeen.
Since it’s aperitif hours, you should go to the City of Aberdeen & Gin School. Much lesser known than its whisky counterparts and tucked in a former railway arch, the city’s only gin distillery which allows you to taste all their delicious products plus discover how they‘re made. It’s the ideal spot to work up an appetite, in other words. Which is handy, because…
To round off your trip to Aberdeen, we’d recommend Amuse by Kevin Dalgleish. This locally renowned chef here offers a rather intriguing culinary concept: modern Scottish cooking with a French touch. Like all great contemporary restaurants, the menu changes with the seasons. If it’s available, we’d order the roast guinea fowl breast with lardons, lentils and artichokes, plus venison with marinated pear, served alongside crispy marrowbone and a shallot and Madeira sauce. No wonder this place has been recognised by the Michelin guide: everything is exquisite.