Speyside: how to make city gays fall in love with the Scottish countryside


Most of us want to escape our small towns for lives in the big city.

For some it was watching Sex and the City growing up, for others it’s loading up Grindr and seeing so many men that you have to upgrade to premium to see beyond 500 meters. For most it’s to escape the close-minded homophobia of little communities.

Whatever the reason for moving, after a few years of pollution, towering buildings and angry, angry people, we eventually beg for a sweet escape to the countryside.

Not permanently, sure. But a short retreat, to de-blacken our lungs and widen our eyes to the majesty of nature. And no place is better for this than Speyside, in the Scottish highlands.

The area gains its beauty from its sheer strength, combining stunning, rolling hills, adorable cottages, and a well-known weapon of mass-jubilation: Scotch whisky.

Speyside is cute, cute, cute 

The ride from the airport to your hotel is often one of the more exciting parts of the trip. In the city, you can see the layers of culture and society unfold, like a giant onion. In Speyside, it’s nearly all countryside.

Rivers run alongside the roads, so smooth and pure they look like they’re made of glass. The hills are bold and emerald, thriving in the wet climate. Harsh winds batter against the cars, whistling through the glass almost in warning.

The villages are Midsomer Murders quaint; all stone buildings and gardens running into fields. The Craigellachie Hotel, the 125-year-old hotel where I stayed, mixed this homely comfort with a contemporary edge. Think romantic countryside guesthouse with decent wifi.

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Speyside is incredibly LGBTI-friendly – and Scotland’s world-class protections will bring piece of mind | Photo: Tom Capon

A burning fire greets you at reception. To the right is a drawing room, complete with taxidermy and sofas so sinkable you’ll fall into another dimension after a day of whisky touring.

However, the Craigellachie thrives in the bedroom. The design is cosy without feeling like you’re visiting your grandma. The four-poster bed sat proudly in the center and, when I first saw it, I spent a good few minutes being sad I’m single.

The stone bathroom does have a gorgeous bath-shower. But it’s not as insulated as the rest of the room, weirdly, so it felt like I’d accidentally stepped through the door into the River Spey just outside the hotel.

Beam me up, Scotch-y

I’ve always considered myself a fan of whisky – as in, I can appreciate the taste without crying about it being too strong like an alcoholic baby. After heading to Speyside, it turns out I know as much about whisky as an ant knows about algebra.

Nearly everyone in the area is involved in the industry – from the youngest daughter to the oldest man. And everyone talks about it like they are collectively raising a child, but the child is booze. The region is home to half of Scotland’s Scotch distilleries.

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The beauty of Speyside is dramatic | Photo: Tom Capon

Which makes it the perfect location for the Spirit of Speyside festival, held in the first week of May every year. Distilleries, bars, hotels and shops across the area host a whole celebration dedicated to the drink, with nearly 29,000 people visiting from 34 different countries.

Unlike most festivals, this isn’t localized to one place. Speyside sprawls across the countryside, meaning you’ll have to explore the area to truly experience it all. My pre-festival preview tour began at Strathisla Distillery in Keith, the best looking distillery of them all.

Welcoming us with the mastery of Scottish hospitality, their guides showed us through this historic spot – it is, after all, the oldest working distillery in the area. The tour takes you past whirring machinery, acidic smells so strong your nose hairs flinch into your body, and rooms where photography could ignite the alcohol in the air and explode everything (no joke).

The tour culminated in the opportunity to create our own Scotch blend using a series of malt whiskies (meaning I could live out my fantasies of being a drunk mad scientist), before settling into the bar for a few whisky cocktails.

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Windswept and whisky-filled | Photo: Tom Capon

The hills are thriving with all kinds of different distilleries, offering variations on the above. Glen Grant Distillery is bigger and more modern – and also comes with the carefully curated Victorian Gardens to boot.

It’s a pleasure to eat

A day of drinking whisky stripped my throat red-raw. Surrounded by expert whisky drinkers, I was tipsy enough to need to vet every one of my thoughts before they left my mouth with the skill of airport security. The only cure for this is food.

This is how I fell in love with the Dowans Hotel.

The property is a compact country estate. What Craigellaiche has in charm this place oozes in old-fashioned sophistication. Before food, we were treated to a few whisky cocktails in their modern bar, easing our palette before more straight Scotch.

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Drinks come in all shapes and sizes | Photo: Tom Capon

The co-owner of the hotel shook these cocktails herself – not a rare sight in the whisky industry nowadays. More and more, women are taking up the cause and giving new life to an ancient industry. In particular, her cause was putting cocktails in the same spot as straight whisky. Sacrilege to some, but a way to make the art of tasting scotch more accessible to others.

However, after another drink I was more than ready for food. Sitting in the traditional dining room, Spé, and lit by the dim features above us, I was handed dish after dish of spectacular food. Every ingredient was as fresh as the air outside.

The scallops were divine, accompanied by pieces of rhubarb, lending a delightfully sweet sting and a cute aesthetic.

Ultimately, the meal and my day led up to the venison. Sourced from the local estate – from a stag, more specifically – it wasn’t as overpoweringly rich yet was ever-so-slightly tougher than your ‘standard’ venison. This texture melded perfectly with a rabbit game and haggis sausage accompanying it. It is the concept of salivation made flesh.

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I can’t stop thinking about this meal | Photo: Tom Capon

Yet culinary delights aren’t hard to find in these hills. The next day we hopped into a jeep and drove down winding country roads until we found a cottage – and Gillie Basan.

The renowned travel and food writer spent most of her adult years exploring the world in search of the best recipes, before finding her home in the hills of Speyside.

Now, she welcomes people into her house and teaches them how to cook. She created a gorgeous meal for us, with the goal of using spices to enhance the taste of whisky. Gillie herself is softly spoken and with a kindness that makes it impossible not to feel like you belong in her house.

Her home was as beautiful as the food. Belly full, I sat petting her two adorable Labradors as I looked out at the magnificent, endless hills surrounding it. It’s strange how we can find such treasures in the wilderness.

The great outdoors

All this trekking indoors, however pretty the gardens, wasn’t quite the country escape I was craving. I wanted to get into the hills of the highlands – the ones whisky smugglers used to hide their tracks during prohibition.

When the opportunity to board an argocat – an all-terrain four-wheel-drive vehicle – and explore the countryside around Glenlivet distillery arrived, I jumped at the chance. A group of us piled into the back of the argocat.

The road threw us around. We stopped a few times to open and close some gates. Then we reached the top.

Our drivers poured us all a dram of whisky and we stared out to highlands. The wind whipped around us and the chill started to creep into my bones, until I sipped the Scotch. Clouds of fog growled closer to our spot. The Scottish countryside is a harsh kind of beauty.

But when you take a minute to absorb it all, you can feel it reverberating in that primal part of your soul. The smog of city life just needs a few moments in the glens and the pollution, literal and metaphorical, evaporates.

And it really helps if you’re a bit drunk on whisky.

See also

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Meribel: how to face your fears on the ski slopes of the French alps

Author: Tom Capon

The post Speyside: how to make city gays fall in love with the Scottish countryside appeared first on Gay Star News.

24 hours in Stockholm: the perfect day in the Swedish capital

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Stockholm is one of those destinations we can never get enough of – new stores, restaurants and exhibitions pop up like daisies all year round.

Visitors could easily explore its streets for two weeks straight and still not see it all. However, that doesn’t deter us from wanting to get a taste of Sweden’s ‘open city’ every now and then!

Thanks to Stockholm’s excellent underground railway, it’s perfectly possible to dash around town and tick off several must-see places in a single day. Need some inspiration as to what to see (and where to be seen)?

You’ve come to the right place.

Wake up at Nobis Hotel

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Frankly, there are worse hotels to base yourself at | Photo: Nobis Hotel

Early morning, she wakes up, knock, knock, knock on the door! Now obviously you can’t just wake up anywhere. With its effortlessly designed rooms that make visitors feel right at home, Nobis Hotel is a sound choice for the sophisticated queer you are. Well, before nightfall, anyways!

The hotel’s refinement is no coincidence: its interiors were created by Claesson Koivisto Rune, the Swedish design company whose work has been popping up on everyone’s Instagram feeds.

Tuck into Nobis’ enviable breakfast buffet and make friends with the hotel’s friendly concierges James and Jonathan, whose mission is to make your every wish (within reason…) come true.

Get cultured at Fotografiska

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Fotografiska plays host to some of Sweden’s most talked about art exhibitions | Photo: Fotografiska

No, not like kombucha. Fotografiska is Stockholm’s only art institution entirely devoted to photography. Opened in 2010, the gallery has quickly made a name for itself, showcasing local newcomers alongside international powerhouses: Annie Leibovitz, David LaChapelle and Inez & Vinoodh have all exhibited here.

Commendably, Fotografiska’s shows tend to question the status quo, offering new perspectives and – unsurprisingly – drawing in the city’s LGBTI population.

Head there before June 10th to see Jesper Waldersten’s ‘All Over’ exhibition, which has opened to rave reviews! If all that culture gets you hungry, don’t worry: Fotografiska’s on-site restaurant serves Stockholm’s most photographable (obviously!) lunch.

Shop in Bibliotekstan

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Did anyone say ‘shopping’? | Photo: Bibliotekstan

Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi, Prada – and then there are all the Swedish designers like Filippa K and Rodebjer. Walk off your luscious Fotografiska meal with a thirty-minute stroll to Stockholm’s prime shopping destination of Bibliotekstan.

The area around Biblioteksgatan street (that’s not the same word, by the way) has been home to stellar shopping for a whopping 134 years.

Needless to say, Bibliotekstan’s stores know the drill when it comes to selling. So if you’re looking to make that black Amex burn (give us a call), you’ll be just fine here. Shoppers able to say Bibliotekstan fifty times in five seconds get 50% off.

Dine at Riche

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When it comes to artsy restaurants, Riche sets the bar high | Photo: Riche

Untie your tongue (did you really try?) and saunter down nearby Birger Jarlsgatan, one of Stockholm’s grandest streets, to arrive at Riche just in time for dinner.

The lively restaurant describes itself as ‘the heart of all things fun in the city’ and it’s easy to see why: Stockholm’s cool kids convene here every Saturday night to dine and drink together until 2 am.

While we’d happily order Riche’s divine baked turnip with pickled pumpkin, coco beans and ginger every night, there’s an extensive menu catering to all tastes. Also, the hip eatery boasts a drool-worthy wine list – Rosé all the way!

Dance at King Kong

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King Kong – what better place to show off that new outfit you bought in Bibliotekstan? | Photo: King Kong, Facebook

Still standing? Make your way down to King Kong in Mariatorget to celebrate a fabulous day in the Swedish capital alongside what we think might be half of its queer population. No seriously, this place gets packed!

King Kong is exclusively hosted on Saturdays by none other than the dynamic duo of Peter & Erik Present – you’ll have heard of them if you’ve researched Stockholm’s LGBTI nightlife. Schlager and Eurovision classics send dancing queens and drag queens into a frenzy here, often blowing first-time visitors away (hold on to your wig, sister).

Whatever you do, don’t head back to your snug bed at the Nobis Hotel before they’ve played ABBA’s Dancing Queen: it’s an offense around here.

This article was sponsored by Stockholm LGBT.

For more LGBT+ travel inspiration from the world’s most Open City, visit www.StockholmLGBT.com or follow the conversation on social media at #stockholmlgbt

See also

Reveal your inner Dancing Queen at Stockholm’s spectacular ABBA experiences

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Stockholm LGBT – welcome to the Open City

Author: GSN Contributor

The post 24 hours in Stockholm: the perfect day in the Swedish capital appeared first on Gay Star News.

Inside The Dinah Shore, the wildest festival for lesbian and bi women

Every year thousands of lesbians, bisexuals, queers, trans women, nonbinary and allies converge on Palm Springs, California for the notorious five-day event known as The Dinah Shore.

The Dinah Shore has existed as a haven for lesbians and bisexual women since its inception in 1991. Women flock here for the euphoric sense of community and a non-stop party with music, dance acts, drinks and special acts.

However, Dinah Shore – hosted on 4 April until 8 April in 2019 – has slowly transformed into one of the best music festivals in the US, with powerhouse acts on their line up every year.

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Enter Dinah

Thursday through Sunday, The Dinah is split up into two halves of the day. The first half is the world-famous pool party at the Hilton Hotel.

From 10am to sundown, DJs keep the crowd and the famous Dinah Dancers – a collection of dancers from all over the map who are as aesthetically pleasing as they are talented – moving. They keep the vibe fun, flirty, and upbeat.

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The stage hosts the likes of Rosa Garcia from The Real L Word and Kaycee Clark-the winner of Big Brother. They’ll keep the ladies entertained before stage acts like Kodie Shane, Bri Steves, Dorian Electra, and Kiana Lede take over. These powerful acts cement exactly why the Dinah Shore has become one of the best lesbian music festivals.

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The second part of the day takes us just down the road to The Palm Springs Convention Center, where they host the truly epic parties. This year, the Friday party kicked off with comedy acts Chaunte Wayans, and the hilarious Fortune Feimster. The Friday night’s theme was The Black and White Ball, followed by Saturday’s theme of The Hollywood Party.

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Everyone dressed to impress and once the main stage opened, we were led into a neon-soaked room. The Dinah Dancers, accompanied by the best DJs, ignited the evening with hard hitting beats and hypnotic hips. Leikeli47 stormed the stage Friday night to an absolutely ridiculous crowd of women ready to party and dance. With her signature ski-mask on and booming beats, she brought the house down.

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Saturday provided one of the true highlights, with Grammy award-winning artist, Daya, leading the audience on a pulse-pounding montage of all her hits. Don’t Let Me Down and Sit Still Look Pretty were the show stoppers. But her new single, Insomnia, was a great surprise that got the crowd jumping. Once the acts finished, the Dinah DJs and Dancers took us into the early hours of the morning each night.

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It’s the community

It’s hard to say what the best part of the weekend was. There were too many moments, too many incredible acts, too many great songs, too many wonderful people to pick just one.

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But there are a few takeaways from this weekend. Firstly, The Dinah Shore is one of the best weekends dedicated to the lesbian and bisexual community in the world. From the workers keeping everything running smoothly and safely, to the Dinah Dancers and DJ’s working their butts off all weekend to ensure everyone is having a good time.

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Also, the musical guests giving their a-game on stage. And The Dinah Shore attendees, who made the atmosphere so welcoming it felt like no one was a stranger.

Ultimately, the kindness, love, and inclusivity in Palm Springs was something I’ve never experienced. Strangers became acquaintances, acquaintances became friends, and friends became family, and I, for one, am excited to do it again next year!

All words and photos by Megan Williams.

See also

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Calling all gaymers: new exhibit explores the queer history of video games

Author: GSN Contributor

The post Inside The Dinah Shore, the wildest festival for lesbian and bi women appeared first on Gay Star News.