Natives of the Scotland are proud people. The Scots, after all, gave the world the single malt whiskey, great literature, superior mythology, and a welcoming friendliness. Don't forget golf. But up north, surrounding the ancient town of Inverness, lies a land known as the Scottish Highlands. Filled with great history, beautiful countryside, foggy nights, dark woods, and scenic mountains with dirt roads, stone cottages and constantly smoking chimneys, the Highlands are a wonderful getaway for romantic and adventure travelers.
English Lakeland Ramblers (tel. 800/724-8801; www.ramblers.com/itineraries.htm) offers several hiking and trekking trips to the North of Scotland at a pretty penny. Starting at a land-only cost of $2,550, an eight-day trip with three nights on the Isle of Skye, blends great Norse and Celtic history with breathtaking jaunts through the countryside for the moderately experienced hiker. (That means you need to be in good health and not afraid to walk for up to three hours per day.) Expect a group size of eight to ten people for this Scottish walkabout that includes castle tours, seven dinners, seven lunches and seven breakfasts, lodging at Scottish inns and bed and breakfasts, and five guided walking/hiking tours. For another mystical look at the North of Scotland, Ramblers offers a package deal to the Hebrides, the many islands off of Scotland's north coast. Starting at the town of Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis, Great Britain's highest mountain, this tour costs $2,660 and includes all meals as well.
For an air-inclusive tour of the Highlands and a good portion of Scotland, Cosmos Travel (tel. 800/276-1241; www.cosmos.com) has a ten-day tour called "Focus on Scotland" beginning in London, England starting from $1,462 for trips leaving in April and increasing slightly in price over the warmer summer months. Airfare is based on travel leaving from New York and security fees and air taxes are not included. In addition to the Highlands, you'll hit Glasgow and Edinburgh with a total of 12 meals and all sightseeing included in the tour. As on almost all Highland tours, you'll spend some time on the shores of Loch Ness looking for that elusive monster, Nessie. This tour is no exception. You'll also stop off at the famous St. Andrews Golf Club.
If you want to do the Highlands by yourself, you can always fly to Scotland, rent a car, and hit some of the inns and small hotels on the way, making Inverness your base.
Round-trip airfare to Edinburgh starts around $497 dollars on American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) for round-trip airfare from New York's JFK Airport. If that's a bit heavy on the wallet, you can fly American to London from New York from $211 and jet to Glasgow on Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com), one of Europe's most popular and groundbreaking discount airlines for less than a pound if you book online. The famed no-frills airline makes you pay for everything including baggage, so watch as the costs increase, but they never get higher than US$50 for round-trip tickets to locations throughout Europe.
Hotels on the Highlands can be rustic to old-world charming. In Inverness, stay at the Glendruidh House Hotel (www.cozzee-nessie-bed.co.uk), a quaint old house with open fireplaces throughout. All rooms are suite size, the hotel is non-smoking inside (because of it's age), and you'll need to make a reservation at the popular restaurant a day in advance. Room rates start at £s;90 per night or US$150. Once you inquire about booking, the hotel will send you all phone information.