Scotland can be a winter wonderlandFor the next few months or for next year, Scotland is worth consideration as a destination out of season, when unusual and exciting pursuits are to be found at a very reasonable cost. Briony Key reports on activities that can make an otherwise dull period one to remember, stimulating the brain and the body
Storm the Castle
Book an event at Edinburgh Castle and you’ll get a lot more than a memorable city centre venue, as groups who opt for this historic treat also gain exclusive access to see the Scottish crown jewels – and the Stone of Destiny, known as the Stone of Scone. This has a remarkable history all of its own, having been for centuries the stone on which Scottish, then English and then British monarchs sat (and still sit) for their coronation.
Other tour highlights include the Great Hall, Royal Apartments, Castle Vaults and Crown Square, which has a good amphitheatre for speeches. Themed packages can include entertainment, catering, venue hire and corporate gifts – and they operate from dawn ’til dusk. Book a private tour for the time before the castle is open to the public and your group will get an exclusive view, combined with breakfast at the castle.
Conference options include the flexible Queen Anne Room, for meetings or exclusive dinners (120 theatre style); the contemporary Jacobite Room, with views over Princes Street (150 theatre style); and the 19thC Gatehouse Suite, ideal for day meetings (28 theatre style).
There are also drinks receptions in the evening, with refreshments served throughout the castle (for larger groups of 250-500).
So whether you wish to host a prestigious dinner, a traditional Scottish evening - with pipers and clan battles - or a murder mystery, there are plenty of winter opportunities.
The Balmoral as a base
To enjoy the city at ease you’re best to opt for a centrally based hotel, and they don’t come much better than the prestigious Balmoral, which is happy to arrange a wide range of group activities, from haunted tours in the Edinburgh Vaults, to traditional Scottish evenings and Highland Games. You can also climb Arthur’s Seat from here – Edinburgh’s 350 million-year-old extinct volcano, after which I recommend a visit to the hotel’s indulgent spa.
The Balmoral’s festive celebrations include fine dining, with some special new festive menus from Executive Chef Jeff Bland and his team, which can be enjoyed in the luxury of the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Number One, which is one of the hotel’s 15 different f&b outlets.
Groups can also break out of conference to indulge in festive afternoon tea, or to enjoy the special seasonal bar programme in The Balmoral Bar, one of the city’s most popular cocktail venues. Festive parties, Gala Balls and exclusive celebrations can also be held at the hotel. And the Balmoral can also be a place of work. Its MICE facilities include ten meeting rooms, with castle views, accommodating from 10 to 350 delegates.
There is no shortage of choice of restaurants in Scotland’s capital. If your group wants a hip venue you can’t go wrong with Oloroso, which goes to new heights to impress corporates, from the fine food to the unobtrusive service – all enjoyed from the venue’s rooftop setting, which boasts panoramic city views. A warming winter dinner can be planned in the private dining room, which looks out onto the castle, and caters for 8 to 16 for dinner and larger groups for receptions and presentations.
The open-plan restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides and is available for exclusive hire for large bookings. Groups can also raise a glass on the photo-friendly rooftop terrace.
Toastmaster services, wine dinners and festive dinners can be catered for – and chef owner Tony Singh also welcomes bookers’ suggestions, so it’s worth a call if you have something particular in mind. Fishers Bistros is a chain with a great name in Scotland for its seafood and the original Fishers outlet is still going strong in Leith, having acquired the reputation of ‘an institution’.
The way to a delegate’s heart . . .
The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School is a welcome addition to Scotland’s culinary facilities. One of the largest cookery schools in Scotland, the recently renovated venue offers the opportunity to discover more about Scotland’s exceptional food and drink offering. With state-of-the art teaching kitchens, a demonstration theatre and an exquisite dining room for private functions, the school is an appetising alternative for corporate team-building.
Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s city centre, the elegant Georgian building spans five floors and presents a unique space that offers unrivalled views across the Firth of Forth. The range of facilities allows the school to host a range of corporate team-building experiences from interactive cookery demonstrations to team competitions.
The contemporary demonstration theatre seats up to 50 for cookery demonstrations, whilst the private dining room can accommodate 36 for meetings and dinners.
A right royal experience on Britannia
In Leith the Royal Yacht Britannia provides an exclusive MICE venue, catering for dinners for up to 176 and drinks receptions for 380.
Groups enjoy the State Apartments when they dine where kings and queens have dined, or opt for the versatile deck with views of the Firth of Forth. You can also arrange to be piped aboard by the ship’s own Pipe Major.
Entertainment includes fireworks, dancing to a swing or ceilidh band and the new exclusive evening drinks reception, known as The Ambassador. Britannia has also launched the Sparkling Christmas reception, which includes blind champagne tastings, jazz entertainment and more.
Heritage Portfolio can radically reduce the time and effort spent on seeking a special venue. It partners some of the country’s finest heritage properties, including the Royal College of Surgeons and Falkland Palace in Fife as well as Edinburgh International Climbing Arena.
Heritage Portfolio caters for the Queen’s Royal Garden Parties and is proud of its reputation for creative and culinary excellence. Groups can experience this for themselves by taking part in food preparation workshops led by a top chef, which is fun for a team building or an incentive event. The company also caters for event design, entertainment, themed events and marquees. Its latest venture – Tailcoats and Tutus LIVE! – is a canapé and cocktail reception with a difference. The food and the demos by chefs with the staff all dressed in tutus or tailcoats. It is likely to be memorable!
Try a whisky break
If you need to plan a break from a busy city conference schedule it’s well worth incorporating a whisky tasting tour into your programme, although it’s possibly best planned at the end of the working day! Glenkinchie Distillery, the home of The Edinburgh Malt, is just half an hour’s drive into the countryside. It has a highly informative exhibition that tells the whole story of the whisky making process, but very likely it’s the tasting that will be the highlight for most groups.
...and now for something completely different
There is a feast of incentive and teambuilding treats all around Scotland. Ardeonaig Hotel’s group leisure options include archery and salmon fishing, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, safaris and photographic stalking on the 14-acre estate.
It’s fun to take part in the hotel’s Ready, Steady, Cook challenge, led by the charismatic head chef and estate owner, Pete Gottgens. A South African, he enjoys nothing more than working personally with local farmers and growers to source local ingredients, giving groups the chance to experience the best of Scottish food and drink in the heart of the Highlands.
Pete (who has cooked for Nelson Mandela) invested £1.6m to help Ardeonaig grow from strength to strength. It now has one of the best rural restaurants, based in a welcoming country hotel that blends décor from Pete’s homeland, with a relaxed, friendly service, tailored to groups’ needs. You can hold small meetings at the hotel and then get away from it all with an escape to Ardtalnaig’s bothy in the hills, which can also be set up for fine dining and afternoon tea, and is ideal for drinks after enjoying incentive activities.
Hold an event here and you’ll certainly satisfy any yearning for ‘something completely different’.
Walking in the wilderness
Wilderness Scotland is an adventure travel and eco-tourism company that specialises in small group adventure holidays in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It has introduced a number of winter walking trips for 2011. Designed to develop special skills, the trip enables groups to explore the outstanding snow-capped mountains, including the Cairngorms and Creag Meagaidh, Knoydart Peninsula and Ben Nevis and the West Highlands. With an experienced team of winter guides, groups will be offered personal tuition to help them develop skills such as ice-axe arrests, use of crampons and avalanche awareness.
The walking trips are short breaks of 3 or 4 nights and provide an unforgettable teambuilding experience. Open to all people with a reasonable amount of fitness, the trips will operate from 19 January to the 16 March 2011.
For those who want to take part in the ultimate winter sport, Wilderness Scotland’s Ski Touring trips offer an exhilarating teambuilding experience in the most secluded regions of the Cairngorms. Offered for the month of March 2011, they are designed to accommodate varying levels of experience. Each trip runs for 4 days and groups are based at charming accommodation nestled deep within the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
Sailing in the islands and highlands
Launched in June this year, 7 Degrees West is Scotland’s premier luxury catamaran charter. Offering an exclusive yet cost effective teambuilding experience all year round, Dualist is the only catamaran available in Scotland for corporate charter providing an unforgettable sailing adventure.
‘Me not delegate, me Tarzan’
An exciting new conferencing option in the Highlands gives delegates the chance to let out their inner wild man or woman! Treezone is the latest exhilarating, nature-based outdoor activity experience in the Highlands. Situated in the pine forests of the Rothiemurchus Estate in Aviemore, the new aerial assault course offers the ideal option for an inspiring corporate day out.
This exciting adventure playground, suspended from wires high up in the trees, has Tarzan swings and a monster zip-wire ride. Those brave enough to take part face 35 nail-biting challenges on their journey through the forest canopy.
The course is available all year round.