A winter holiday in Scotland isn't often at the forefront of travelers' plans. Indeed, only the most hardened Americans are willing to experience the North Sea's prevailing winds in cooler weather. However, choosing Scotland as a winter or spring destination is rewarding and exciting. There are better deals from airlines and hotels, and far fewer tourists. Although the summer months may prove more opportune for perusing castles, exploring nature and fraternizing with the locals, the wintry weather does highlight the eclectic and dramatic Scottish landscape, so I set off to explore the Highlands. Even in the depths of winter, Scotland's scenery is striking. Its landscape demonstrates the geographical extremities of the British Isles. The rugged mountain peaks of the Northern Highlands are dominated by the Grampian Mountains. Ben Nevis, the Isle's highest peak, reaches 4,140 feet. These mountains sweep down to breathtaking lochs nestled in remote glens. The Lowland area, to the south, is more rolling and lush, a pastoral region in which lives the majority of the historic nation's population. Due to its jagged geography, Scotland has more than 6,000 miles of coastline. The following Web sites are excellent resources for planning your trip: undiscoveredscotland.co.uk and aboutscotland.com . Total cost for my trip was about $2,500 for two people for a week. Round-trip air fares to London are significantly cheaper in the off-season, creeping up several hundred dollars in the height of summer. Accommodations averaged $100 a night ($150 in the high season).
First Stop, Glasgow
Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, has become a sophisticated metropolis, shrugging off its industrial image. The U.K.'s first Versace store is located in the Italian Center on John Street, and trendy boutiques line Princes Square. Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art is the second-most-visited U.K. gallery outside of London. I stayed in Merchant City, a centrally located historic area full of chic restaurants (including fantastic pan-Asian fare -- chili-mango duck, chicken lemongrass salad at Café Maos ) and avant-garde lodgings, such as The Brunswick hotel.