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To many lesbians or gay men, a weekend break means either a shoddy little B&B in Brighton, or a couple of days of sleaze in Amsterdam. This is due partly to a lack of imagination, but also to a widespread misapprehension that same-sex couples can only holiday at 'gay' hotels, that are often anything but gay to stay in. While most chain hotels are bland enough for any resident to go unnoticed, many of the smaller, family-run, more characterful hotels are waking up to the 21st century and welcoming gay couples with open arms, as OutUK correspondent Steve Bustin has been discovering.

For instance, the Ballachulish Hotel, part of the 3-strong Freedom of the Glen group in the Western Highlands of Scotland, has been attracting lesbian and gay visitors among its clientele for some time now.

A typical baronial-style country house hotel, with roaring fires and huge vistas, thanks to a stunning loch-side location near Fort William, the Ballachulish has 4-star facilities and service that would keep any queen happy - and they know it.
The Ballachulish Hotel has a stunning loch-side location.
John Jennett, manager of the Ballachulish hotel, explained the common sense business ethos behind their targeting:

"Some time ago we realised that same-sex couples had a propensity for taking more short breaks because they may have less family ties and higher disposable incomes. Equally, we find that in percentage terms more couples are likely to have an interest in the cultural heritage or scenery of the area. We realised that the gay market makes sense - even on a purely commercial basis not just in the UK but across Europe and the USA in particular."

He continues: "Of course just because there is market there doesn't mean it is there for the taking. We never assume that couples will be a man and a woman - whereas many hotels still do - and recognise the offence that this causes to same-sex couples."
Roaring log-fires at The Ballachulish Hotel.
"Gay couples certainly know how to enjoy themselves and this is reflected in they way they often choose our romantic Celebration rooms as they often appreciate the extra toiletries and personal touches such as spa baths, bathrobes and CD players."

SCOTLAND'S WESTERN HIGHLANDS

OK, so mention Scotland as a weekend destination to most wannabe sophisticated queers and they'll be claiming rain-sodden tartan nightmares before you can say 'Sassenach'. However, those in the know have discovered Scotland as a year-round short break of choice, and the Western Highlands are typical of the areas now being targeted by discerning gay travellers.

You can of course fly to Scotland on a variety of airlines. However, you've then got to get from the airport to the out-of-the-way location of your choice. If you want to travel with a bit more panache, and be delivered right to your destination without wasting a day travelling, you should be taking the Sleeper. Imagine boarding a train in London, having a drink in the lounge before retiring to your cabin, while the dullness that is Southern England whizzes past in the darkness. When your breakfast is bought to you in bed, you raise the blind to see mountains, lochs and amazing views spread out before you. It is one of the most stylish and fun ways of getting north of the border.

Although the sun does bring the landscape to life, the Highlands are now open for business in all seasons, and in fact clouds and mist bring a brooding romanticism to the mountainous terrain. In winter, Ben Nevis and Glencoe both have great skiing, with runs catering for beginners right through to experts, and a burgeoning snowboarding culture. In summer, it's worth taking the 15 minute cable car ride up Aonach Mhor in the Nevis range, above the permanent snowline, where you can take in the amazing views of the glens. Whatever the season, the delights of hill walking may not be immediately obvious to the average urban queen, but the sense of achievement when you find yourself on a summit, breathing crystal clear air and seeing for miles cannot be understated. If you don't like heights, many of the lochs play host to watersports, from sedate boat trips and fishing expeditions to windsurfing and jet-skiing.

If activity just isn't your 'thing', then take to the roads for some of the most dramatic drives in the country. The Road to the Isles winds its way through heather-clad moors and mountains to Mallaig, from where you can take the ferry 'over the sea to Skye', while the drive through Glencoe can seem cold, sunless and forbidding on even the sunniest days, adding to the drama of the landscape.

Like so much about Scotland, the cuisine is very different to, and far better than, the tourist clichés allow for. If you really want it, you'll be able to get haggis, but make sure you take time to enjoy some amazing seafood. Crannog, a seafood restaurant on the shores of Loch Linnhe in Fort William serves local crab, langoustine and oysters that would put many famous restaurants to shame.

If you can see beyond the city limits, and your criteria for a break is that heady mixture of relaxation, activity, good food and great views, then Scottish country living is only a night away!

For more details on the Caledonian Sleeper contact Scotrail on 0141 335 4260 or www.scotrail.co.uk. For details of rates and availability at the Ballachulish Hotel, contact 0185 582 1582 or visit Booking.com.

Revised November 2015

 

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