Travel Smarts

TRAVEL SMARTS

July 10, 2005

Heights of Scotland

Rugged scenery attracts royals, commoners alike

You don't have to be royal to enjoy a majestic time in the Scottish Highlands near Balmoral, the sweeping estate where Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, spent their recent honeymoon.

All you need is an appetite for healthy outdoor pursuits and enough time to appreciate the beautiful scenery of purple heather-clad glens, rich pine woods and flowing rivers.

Anyone in a rush risks being frustrated by the twisty, narrow Highland roads that can turn a trip of several dozen miles into a long drive, albeit one the traveler is unlikely to forget -- not least because of the locals' alarmingly fast driving.

A good route into the eastern Scottish Highlands is the A93 road that starts outside the historic city of Perth and almost immediately passes Scone Palace, the crowning place of Scottish kings, including Macbeth.

The first part of the drive takes you through lush green pastures dotted with sturdy cottages in whitewashed stone and slate roofs.

Rolling fields give way to small but steep valleys patterned with shaggy grass, heather and rocks. Frequent parking spaces line the smooth-surfaced road, allowing vacationers to stop and take in the eerie sense of isolation. Apart from sheep, the inhabitants you are most likely to see in this region are the wild deer that gather within easy viewing distance.

As Balmoral Castle draws nearer, the rugged landscape changes again, making way for dense pine forests, small stone bridges and the bubbling River Dee that gives its name to the region, Royal Deeside.

The small village of Crathie is the stopping point for a visit to Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II's Highland retreat and favorite summer holiday destination.

Balmoral is open daily to visitors from late March until early August. A visit includes access to the castle gardens and the ballroom -- the only room in the castle open to the public.

About a nine-mile drive from Balmoral lies Ballater, a pretty town of gray stone houses, cozy pubs and friendly shops, many of which bear gilded coats of arms, indicating royal patronage.

Bed-and-breakfasts are plentiful in Ballater. Salmon fishing, mountain biking, hiking and golf are among the many activities on offer. The spectacular Loch Muick is easily reachable from Ballater, and a walk around the lake takes several hours.

For more information about the area, visit the Web site www.royal-dee side.org.uk. For information about Balmoral Castle: www.balmoralcastle.com.

ROUTE 66 STILL GIVES KICKS IN ARIZ. TOWN

In its heyday 50 years ago, Route 66 brought people from every corner of the world into Williams, Ariz., a small ranching town in the northern part of the state. On Aug. 19-20, the Cool Country Cruise-In and Route 66 Festival re-creates the era of sock hops, Elvis and the historic road that's at the center of 1950s nostalgia.

"The festival celebrates Route 66 as the 'Mother Road,' " said Dave Pouquette, 63, a Williams native and sponsor of the festival since its inception. "The trip down Route 66 was fun. You could see the alligator farms and buffalo farms, mom-and-pop shops, snake pits, all kinds of crazy things to get people to pull off that road and spend money."

In its ninth year, the festival will feature customized hot rods from the 1950s and 1960s, a sock hop, hula hoop contests and a battle of 1950s rock 'n' roll bands. While the festival harks back to 1950s culture, it also celebrates the history of the road that carried countless visitors toward Los Angeles. Many stopped in Williams along the way.

In 1984, however, Interstate 40 bypassed the historic road in Williams, a blow to small nearby communities that depended on tourism. Williams was also struggling until the Grand Canyon Railway opened in 1989, Pouquette said.

The festival usually draws about 1,000 people, but Arizona doesn't have a monopoly on the idea. Similar Route 66 festivals are also held across the country. Events are scheduled in California, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and Illinois.

Riding around London

The London Visitor Travelcard from Britrail lets you pay a flat fee for unlimited rides on the London Underground, known as the Tube, and London buses. Seven-day passes are $78, $34 for children ages 5 through 15; three-day passes are also available.

For more information: 866-274-8724; www.britrail.com.

Desirable destinations

The most sought-after destinations and vacation rental resorts, from VacationSpot.com:

n Orlando, Fla. (family fun)

n Gatlinburg, Tenn. (family fun)

n Myrtle Beach, S.C. (sand / surf)

n Honolulu (sand / surf)

n Daytona Beach, Fla. (sand / surf)

n New York City (city escape)

n Las Vegas (city escape)

n Miami (romance / nightlife)

n Paris (romance / nightlife)

n Branson, Mo. (romance / nightlife)

-- From wire reports

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