June 13th, 2017

GDP client, Alison McMaster, Shares Her Experience in Scotland!

Scotland may not be on every MICE planner’s radar, but it should be. The options are endless, the hospitality is first class, the landscape is breathtaking and of course, there are Kilts. I recently had the distinct pleasure of attending a FAM trip with Global DMC Partners, EC Travel, Fairmont and a fabulous small group of North American MICE planners to the idyllic city of St. Andrews, just slightly North of Edinburgh.

Steeped in rich history, legend and folklore, Scotland is without a doubt a diamond in the rough. With its pounding seas, jaw-dropping cliffs, and rolling hills of herding sheep, I found myself with a constant smile. I imaged life of yesteryear, with less stress, more community, and a true sense of the “old country”.

After touching down in Edinburgh, we made our way towards St. Andrews, approximately an hour north on the Firth of Forth coast in the Kingdom of Fife. We welcomed the stop for dinner in the sea side town of Anstruther where we were hosted for a traditional fish and chips meal – it was as quintessential as you get, and downright delicious.  As the sun set, we pulled into the stunning, and newly renovated Fairmont St. Andrews perched high atop the cliffs overlooking the steeples of St. Andrews and Firth of Tay.  Greeted and treated to a lavish display of sweet treats, bubbles and a warm fireplace, we all were excited to dive into our Scotland adventure.

Although synonymous with bagpipes, ancient castles, legendary golf and of course, the famed courtship of Will and Kate, St. Andrews and Edinburgh have endless options for the adventurous and historic minded incentive travelers alike.  On our first day, a group of us traveled to the enchanting Hill of Tarvit in St. Andrews, a property owned and operated by The National Trust for Scotland. A most fascinating tour of the mansion, a stop in the “old kitchen” for a lesson on baking Scottish short bread and few swings of the hickory sticks were had, before we were seated for a proper afternoon tea! The interior of the property makes for a lovely event space, exuding a wonderful relaxed feel, with giant hanging tapestries, and a tremendous working fireplace. The outside grounds are capable of accommodating any size event in the beautiful gardens and fields surrounding the property. Strike up a round of six wicket croquet or jump back in time and play a round at the only remaining Hickory Golf course, Kingarrock.

The other half of our group headed to Edinburgh – a city that was first established in the 12th century – to explore the sights of the medieval Old Town and charming New Town for the day. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II, was the first stop of the day where you can discover what life was like on board.

The yacht was in service from 1954-1997 and visitors can now learn about the history and what life was like on board.  For a unique evening experience, the majestic yacht can accommodate up to 450 for a private cocktail reception. Or give your guests a chance to dine in the footsteps of many famous people in the State Dining Room which can accommodate up to 96 guests for dinner.

From there, our group ventured to the center of Edinburgh to visit the Signet Library in West Parliament Square. This impressive venue has two beautiful library spaces that can accommodate any sized group for a smaller, intimate gathering, or up to 400 guests for a reception.  Next up was the 150-year-old National Museum of Scotland, the largest museum in the United Kingdom outside of London and an impressive space for events from 12-1200. 

The afternoon wrapped up at the Edinburgh Castle, the most famous of all Scottish castles and home of Scotland’s crown jewels. The castle houses many different spaces that are available for corporate meetings, seminars, and events for up to 250 guests, or the entire castle can be hired for exclusive evening events. How about a private viewing of Scotland’s Crown Jewels? That can be arranged too!

Once everyone arrived back at the hotel, the evening started with a Birds of Prey Falconry demonstration. I’m not sure words can capture the exhilaration of an owl or hawk landing on your arm! The beauty and precision of these birds, will not soon be forgotten.  Giddy with photos from our day, we all departed for a divine dinner at The Peat Inn, owned and helmed by the award-winning chef, Geoffrey Smeddle. Ranked in the top 50 U.K. restaurants and achieving one Michelin star, the cozy yet modern hideaway is not to be missed. Anyone who fears the food in the UK is not top notch hasn’t dug deep enough to discover the reaches of culinary craftsmanship. We all came away truly delighted and raving about the terrific flavors and beautiful presentation of our meals.

A good night rest had by all, our second full day was for the more adventurous at heart! Bundled up and headed to West Sands beach, we went for an experience with Blown Away for some exhilarating land yachting! A great team building or incentive group outing, minutes from the hotel and in the heart of St. Andrews. And the best part…you don’t have to get wet!

No trip to St. Andrews is complete without spending some time strolling through town and visiting the Old Course! Golf enthusiast or not, there is something magical about the place and if your group IS golf crazy, there are ample courses to choose from. St. Andrews truly appeals to a diverse group of travelers, and for those concerned about international travel Scotland felt safe and removed from the hustle and bustle of city life. Our meals were all spot on, and no language barrier made my often-complicated ordering much easier.

Our trip was capped off by a lovely dinner hosted at the Fairmont, but not before our host DMC, EC Travel, dressed us in traditional Scottish tartans. And for the men, FULL kilts! This is a fun addition for your group on the last night and something unique to the country. It also happens to make for a great photo opportunity! Our dinner was preceded by a Gin tasting from the local Eden Mill Distillery.  Gin, you may ask, why not Whisky?! Simply because this distillery is still fairly new and Whisky takes longer to distill in barrels, so while their first batches are mellowing…they make Gin and Beer! Tastings like this, are easy to arrange and a great addition to any group. Educational, entertaining and tasty!

Full and festive, but questionably rested we all went our separate ways home. I long to return with a group, and dive deeper into the unlimited activities, find more hidden gems and off the beaten track breathtaking views. This is one country not to be missed – and did I mention, the kilts??

- Author: Alison McMaster, Principal + Lead Event Producer, Masterfully Planned