I'm not in the habit of glowing reviews. Just look at my SlowTrav contributions and you see...there just aren't any. I have the best intentions, but I don't seem to get around to it.
However, I feel compelled to tell all my travel buddies about a service I've discovered.
Sometimes, someone comes up with an idea, and you bopp yourself on the forehead and say, "Wow, why hasn't someone thought of this before?"
As I began research for our month long trip to northern Scotland this summer, I first found a very informative website called Undiscovered Scotland. It is quite comprehensive with maps and overviews of all areas of the country. It was the primary way we picked the four general areas we thought we would like to visit. But, it has its limitations. By its sheer volume of information, it is a given that it isn't always up to date. And after reading much of what was said about various attractions, restaurants, pubs, etc, I realized that the site never says anything negative about anything. Since no place is perfect, it tells me that the philosophy of the site is promotional more than informational. Still, it is the best site on the internet for getting a really solid overall impression of the country.
I don't even know how I came across Secret Scotland. I don't know if it was with a google search, or if there was a link to it on Undiscovered Scotland.
It took me a bit of time to figure out what their focus was. It was just so new to me. But here it is in a nutshell.
Secret Scotland creates customized tours for their independent travelling customers. Their strength is the depth of first hand knowledge they have with every single road, inn, pub, B&B, hotel, tourist attraction, museum, castle, etc. that they cover. If they haven't visited it, they don't talk about it. Period.
The vast part of their experience is point to point guides. Assuming that you would start at point A, drive to point B spend the night in an Inn or B&B, drive to point C and so on. Since we weren't interested in packing and unpacking every day and spending every night in a new bed, I almost didn't check any further into Secret Scotland, impressed though I was with their website. I especially enjoyed their own travel diaries which you will find a link to in the "about us" section of the site.
But, then I decided to give it a shot. I emailed through the site, asking if they were interested in putting together a plan for someone who wanted to spend a full self-catered week in each of four locations. The lovely, wonderful woman who answered my inquiry is Aurelia. A native of France, Aurelia co-owns the business with her Scottish husband, Mike.
I explained that we wanted an insider's recommendations, that left us with lots of flexibility. I told her about our travel style. What we liked to do. I gave her the link to my blog and to SlowTrav so she could gain some insight. She took that information and ran with it. She obviously spent hours studying our travel tastes. She even ferreted out the blog entry about the Budapest Card, commented on it and advised me the best way to acquire Edinburgh's version.
The result, for an embarrassingly small fee, is a downloadable pdf file of more than 100 pages of detailed information. It includeds a list of recommended day trips from each of our four locations. Recommended restaurants & pubs. Cautions against others. Picks and pans for tourists sites. Turn by turn driving directions with landmarks and mile markers. Hundreds of website links to all the places discussed.
Quite literally this is our very own, customized electronic guide book. We've downloaded it to a flash drive so we can plug it into our laptop to pull up info we need as we need it while we travel.
I'd like to clone Aurelia for every country we might visit in the future.