A short break in Inverness is a feast for the senses

Image is a composite of three shots, L-R a cabinet full of different Scotch whiskies, a picture of Sam Harrington-Lowe, and an image showing a dessert creation of mixed edible sweet items and a fondant signpost to Loch Ness

Sean Connery once said, “There’s a lot of fantasy about what Scotland is, and the shortbread tins and that sort of thing.”

And he’s got a point. Think of Scotland, and you probably think of haggis, kilts, the Loch Ness Monster, whisky… and yes, possibly shortbread. Even Sean Connery, probably. And in fairness, all of these things are really rather Scottish. But I went for a short break in Inverness recently and discovered there’s a whole lot more going on.

So what was I doing in Scotland?

I had a lovely invite to go and see a new hotel, the AC Marriott Inverness. Ordinarily it would be a bit of a stretch to entice me to travel so far for a hotel launch (I live in Sussex). But chuck in some whisky tasting, dolphin-spotting, and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and I’m your girl.

…chuck in some whisky tasting, dolphin-spotting, and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and I’m your girl.

I had desperately wanted to travel up on the Caledonian Sleeper train, because I LOVE LOVE LOVE sleeper trains (like the Riviera Sleeper down to Cornwall)!

But the rotters wouldn’t cough up for a press ticket, and the price was just too ridiculously high – either for me or the client to pay. So I flew. A very efficient and pleasant flight from Gatwick to Inverness, thanks to Easyjet. Yah boo sucks to the Caledonian Sleeper.

Landing in bonnie Scotland at about 8.30pm, I leapt straight in a cab and headed for my host – the new AC Marriott Inverness.

Image shows the bar area at the AC Marriott Inverness hotel - it's a promo shot, no people

The bar area at the hotel

First impressions of the hotel?

Most favourable – a huge open space for the bar, restaurant, and fireside area, which feels both grand and cosy at the same time. I could see people bustling around having food and drink. Great, I thought. Dump bags, freshen up, and have some dinner.

Unfortunately, whilst checking in, nobody thought to inform me that the kitchens close at 9pm – and it never occurred to me to ask. So by the time I came back down for dinner, access denied.

You all know what it’s like to be tired, and hungry, and just want to eat and drop. So you can imagine my reaction when the incredibly young-looking bar steward suggested I get some crisps from the snack counter in reception!

Fortunately, someone with a bit more hospitality experience recognised my imminent explosion and organised a delicious platter of meats and cheeses etc. Word to the wise though, dinner orders stop at 9pm.

Image shows a plate of meats, cheese, olives, bread etc, and a glass of wine in the background

Photo: Sam Harrington-Lowe

What about the hotel though?

Very happy with the hotel. First impressions count, and there’s a lovely buzz when you walk in. It feels light, and airy, but at the same time not that sort of airplane-hangar feel that some venues have. I think it’s the lower ceilings. It manages to convey a sense of intimacy, even though the floor space is pretty big.

My bedroom is great; clutter-free and gentle on the eye with muted tones. I was lucky enough to have a Superior Room, so I had a view over the River Ness, which I loved. As you’d expect from a new hotel, it’s clean and fresh, and I’ve got a coffee machine and a fridge, which always pleases me. Nice new bed stock – I slept like a log – and an excellent shower. These things are important.

Superior Room at the AC Marriott Inverness

Superior Room at the AC Marriott Inverness

The reason for my being at the hotel – along with other journalists and influencers from all over the UK and beyond – was to see its official grand unveiling, and party with them. Hence the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, who were playing at the launch do. So whilst I was there, there were a lot of ‘firsts’ going on around the hotel, and a feeling of growing excitement as the party night drew nearer.

Day 1 – Singleton Distillery visit and private dining

Meantime, we were treated to some local fun! I posted on my Facebook page something to the effect of ‘I’m at a whisky distillery in Scotland, what could possibly go wrong?’ which drew predictably hilarious responses.

Singleton Distillery - the tour and tasting. Photos: Sam Harrington-Lowe

Singleton Distillery – the tour and tasting. Photos: Sam Harrington-Lowe

But actually the visit to the Singleton Distillery in the Muir of Ord was more educational than libational. I learned an awful lot about the making of whisky, and had a fascinating tour of the works. But genuinely the most intriguing part for me was the tasting.

Did you know that three drops of water from a pipette can COMPLETELY alter what whisky does in your mouth?

Did you know that three drops of water from a pipette can COMPLETELY alter what whisky does in your mouth? I didn’t; I’m not really a whisky drinker. Having tasted a mouthful of the Singleton 12-year-old single malt and noted its fire – all front-of-mouth action, slightly tingling – we then added three drops of water to the whisky, and the difference was extraordinary. And I expect whisky aficionados will know all this, but this was a revelation to me. It transformed it. Much smoother, far less prickle.

And yes, we tasted all their single malts, and oh my word yes, I brought some home. Not that there’s much left now. Turns out I rather like decent Scotch.

The hotel really pulled out the stops for a wonderful evening, once we’d got back and changed. Kicking off with cocktails and canapes in the loungey fireside area, there followed a stupendous meal in a private room.

Image shows a composite of three shots - canapes on a tray, a big pink cocktail, and a private dining room with the table all laid up

Canapes, cocktails, and the private dining room. Photos: Sam Harrington-Lowe

AC Marriott’s Head of Commercial, John Farrelly, over from Amsterdam for the knees-up, had been kicked out as he was using it as his office! But what a cracking meal. A treat-filled, Scottish-inspired tasting menu, with perfect wine pairing, and an astonishing dessert (pictured far right in the top image).

Image shows a menu and dinner setting with knives and forks.

Our menu for the night. Photo: Sam Harrington-Lowe

Day 2 – Dolphin spotting

I didn’t know you could go dolphin spotting in Scotland. But in the Moray Firth, sightings of bottlenose dolphins are common, which is exciting. The stretch that the Dolphin Spirit guys sail in is home to heaps of other wildlife too. There’s a lot to see, like seals, otters, and birdlife.

The guides on the boats are extremely knowledgeable about the flora and fauna in the area. And they can recognise different dolphins, affectionately giving them names. The experience we went on is called the Mischief Wildlife Experience, and the boat we went out on travels through Chanonry Point where dolphins are spotted.

Image shows an inflatable speedboat called Mischief, skimming on blue water, with blue skies

Dophin Spotting on Mischief

It’s worth noting that dolphins are spotted on over 90% of Mischief trips, so if dolphin spotting is your thing, this is a jolly good bet.

We were also extremely lucky – the sun shone brilliantly for us. What a day to be out on the water. Dolphins were spotted, and lots of birds etc too. The Mischief, as you might expect from such a name, is a fast and fun ride (pictured). But if you wanted something more leisurely, there are cruises as well.

Party time

Back to the hotel, where everything was madness! Staging, lighting, food stations, hundreds of people all charging around setting up for the party ahead. The kitchen had very sensibly organised a little lunchbag of food for us in our room to keep us out of the way. I shook out my gladrags, leapt in the shower and tried to make myself presentable for the do.

Stepping out of the lift on the ground floor was like walking into a completely different place! I always love how magical it is when event experts do their thing, and transform spaces. There was a guy playing a grand piano and singing jazz numbers, people dressed up to the nines. Wine and drinks on tap – all the makings of a great start.

Image shows part of a buffet table laid up with meats, seafood, breads etc

Just a tiny section of the party food

Once I’d circulated a bit and met some of the team, including the hotel general manager Dianna Bruce, I got properly stuck in. The food was heavenly – such an exciting smorgasbord, of exceptionally high quality. I’m not sure I’ve ever reached a point before where I have had enough seafood and serrano ham, but there you go. Thank you AC Marriott Inverness for finding my breaking point.

I’m not sure I’ve ever reached a point before where I have had enough seafood and serrano ham

Actually I will just talk about the head chef here, Ian MacKenzie, 42, who grew up in Inverness and has joined the AC Marriott. He’s headed ‘back home’ following a 15-year stint catering as private chef on tour with the likes of Lizzo, J-Lo, Elton John, Beyonce, Paul McCartney and Jayzee.

The demand for luxury food that he’s been used to meeting is clear from the standard of fare throughout the whole hotel. Whether it’s breakfast with its homemade baked bean, frittatas, and slabs of honeycomb, or the brunch options with classic hints of Scottish tradition throughout, the food at the hotel is exceptional. And I don’t say that lightly.

Time for a dance

After an enormous amount of food, and gallons of cocktails and wine had been consumed by the great and good of Inverness and beyond, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers hit the stage and piped up a storm. Yours truly, capering around at the front of the crowd, half-cut, predictably got picked out by the singer and brought up on stage to join in. In heels too. I’m just impressed with myself that I didn’t fall over. No I’m not showing you the photo.

Image shows a band of pipers in black and red kilts with bagpipes

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers kicking it. Photo: Sam Harrington-Lowe

But it was all over far too soon; I could have capered for Scotland for hours. The Pipers departed the stage to huge cheers, and, energised by the rousing noise, the party continued at a vastly increased decibel rate.

The next morning I woke up, tongue like Gandhi’s flipflop and so forth, and staggered into the shower. I had a chaotic morning and breakfast.

My chaos, not theirs, I should add – I tipped a glass of water into my phone charger blowing up the plug, and filling one of my trainers at the same time. Crushed a boiled egg being clumsy, and covered myself in yoke; dropped brown sauce in all the other condiments; and split the teabag in my cup, filling it with tea leaves. But I made it back to the airport, and on to the plane in one piece and flew home, mostly snoozing loudly with my earplugs in.

Thank you Inverness, and good night!

The useful stuff

AC Marriott Inverness website
Room prices vary throughout the year, but I found some starting around £120 per night (July ’23)
Largest hotel in Inverness with 191 rooms

Singleton Distillery website
The distillery is located in the beautiful Muir of Ord, a stone’s throw from the Highland capital of Inverness.
The ‘Experience’ is a 90-minute round trip, with a tasting, and there’s a bar, and a huge shop packed with a stunning collection of whiskies to buy.

The Dolphin Spirit website
Cruises start at £21 pp and take 75 mins. The speedy RIB trip on Mischief starts at £49 pp and is a couple of hours.

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About Sam Harrington-Lowe
Sam is Silver's founder and editor-in-chief. She's largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.

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