To the north, Highland Perthshire’s wild and wooded landscape is a patchwork of primeval peaks, pine-scented glens and moody moorland splashed with a purple paint pot of heather and grazed by statuesque stags and nimble sheep. Forested slopes are peppered with fairy tale castles, while glassy lochs and rushing rivers leap with salmon and trout. Further south, the low-lying Carse of Gowrie, in the shadow of the Sidlaws hills, is fertile farmland, enriched by silt deposited by the River Tay’s floodwaters, the climate perfect for soft fruit. In summer, ‘pick your own’ signs poke out of hedgerows in the gently rolling countryside sprinkled with farm shops and artisan food producers.
As a result, Perthshire’s larder is as rich and varied as its landscape, stocked with heather honey, raspberry and damson jams, succulent smoked salmon, wild venison, heather-grazed Scotch lamb and Scotch beef.
The county’s capital (and once the country’s), Perth, is an elegantly small city on the banks of the River Tay and home to Scotland’s first farmers’ market. It’s no surprise that Perthshire’s foodie credentials have inspired a raft of innovative chefs making the most of the ingredients on their doorstep – as well as visitors looking for a gourmet break. And to help them pinpoint some of the best places to eat and drink, VisitScotland has created an accreditation scheme, Taste Our Best – highlighting provenance, low food miles and seasonality.
Farmers’ markets, farm shops and farm stays
It was a local farmer, Jim Fairlie (the brother of the late chef, Andrew Fairlie whose eponymous restaurant in Gleneagles is the only one in Scotland to bag two Michelin stars), who founded Perth Farmers’ Market in 1999. Today, its jauntily striped stalls are still set up on the first Saturday of every month. A handful of the original stallholders such as Gloagburn Farm are staunch regulars, while others to check out include Birken Tree birchwater, Clootie Mctoot, a family-run business making traditional fruit clootie dumplings with a recipe handed down through the generations, Summer Harvest‘s cold-pressed rapeseed oil and Scarlett’s honey.
Explore Perth’s Provender Brown Deli where you’ll find shelves crammed with around 2,000 hand-crafted products, including a vast array of artisan cheeses. And check out some of the market’s producers’ home turf such as Gloagburn’s farm shop on the edge of Perth.
The farm has been in Alison and Ian Niven’s family since 1924. They started selling free-range eggs from the back door, now they have a butchery selling lamb, beef and pork – and award-winning sausages – from the farm, a bakery (stock up on their homemade oatcakes), deli and chic café.
To the south of Perth, Loch Leven’s Larder is another family-run farm shop and café championing local artisan producers, and proud of their provenance. After a slap-up lunch, head to the nearby Loch Leven Heritage Trail, a 21km circuit of the loch which is a National Nature Reserve and home to large numbers of migrating geese and wildfowl.
And if you’re looking for a cosy farmstay, head east to one of the hippest places to stay in Perthshire, Guardswell Farm. Along with a flock of Hebridean sheep, Angora goats and a chemical-free market garden, they have a smattering of cute cabins and cottages from £130 per night.
Distilleries, breweries and vineyards
Scotland might be whisky country but there’s more to the drinks scene than the single malt. In Perthshire there are microbreweries, artisan gin distilleries – there’s even a winery. Perthshire’s climate is perfect for soft fruit, and farms such as family-run Broadslap, near Dunning, in the Earn Valley, where you can pick your own strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. Some producers, such as small batch, Blairgowrie-based Bourtree jams and preserves turn these into jams and preserves – others make wine.
Ron and Judith Gillies have been turning strawberries, raspberries, brambles, rhubarb, elderflower and spring oak leaves into wine at Cairn O’Mohr since 1987. The Wild West-style winery is scattered with giant wooden sculptures, has a rustic café, tours and tastings – and a shop where you can stock up on a crisp and dry sparkling gooseberry wine, perfectly paired with smoked salmon and seafood.
The Loch Leven Brewery meanwhile, makes award-winning hand-crafted beers using locally sourced ingredients. There’s a tap room attached to the brewery if you want to sink a pint or a schooner, or opt for a growler or howler to go (refillable glass bottles).
Further north, outside Pitlochry, the Moulin Brewery was one of the first microbreweries in Scotland – attached to the Moulin Inn, in what was once an old cattle byre. Persie Gin distillery at the foot of Glenshee offers tours and tastings, and a range of gins with different flavour profiles including sweet and nutty, zesty citrus and herby aromatic. And, of course, there’s a smattering of whisky distilleries, too, to slot into a Highland road trip. Glenturret in Crieff is Scotland’s oldest working distillery dating back to 1763 – and now has a fine dining restaurant The Glenturret offering a gastronomic tasting menu. Edradour distillery in Pitlochry meanwhile is the smallest distillery in Scotland, still making single-malt whisky in a traditional farm distillery.
Just down the hill Saorsa 1875, the UK’s first vegan hotel, serves a five-course tasting menu, supper club-style, each night, the organic ingredients grown in their own garden or sourced from local farms – and it whips up a mean cocktail. Try an Auld Pal: Copper Dog whisky, Cointreau, sweet Vermouth, strawberries and verbena (B&B from £150).
Back to cook school
There’s no shortage of field-to-fork experiences in Perthshire along with cookery classes and even melt-to-mouth chocolate workshops with Charlotte Flower Chocolates. Based just outside foodie enclave Aberfeldy on the banks of the Tay, you’ll learn about the history of cocoa, the foraged flavours that work well with chocolate and how to make a ganache. Aberfeldy is also home to artisan coffee roaster Glen Lyon set up in 2011 by Fiona Grant in a bothy at the end of a 10-mile single-track lane in the glen. Now based in the village with a shop and café, you can stock up here on hand-crafted, small-batch, ethically sourced coffee. There’s a farmers’ market in the square the first Sunday of every month, a whisky distillery, Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery which not only offers regular tours but a whisky and chocolate tasting, and a cosy bookshop, gallery and café, Aberfeldy Watermill.
Nearby Ballintaggart Farm, a rural restaurant with rooms and cookery school with a kitchen garden and orchard has gone through some changes during the pandemic. The regular feasts and weekly cookery classes are on hold but you can still book a room (B&B from £155). Hole up in country-chic Ballintaggart (think soft grey tweeds and a smattering of sheepskin) – or sister property, the Grandtully, down the road. In 2018, this old Victorian hotel was transformed into a contemporary eight-bedroom gourmet bolthole, the restaurant showcasing the best of Perthshire’s natural larder and artisan produce in its daily changing menu of seasonal Scottish dishes. Tuck into Murthly Estate venison carpaccio, smoked walnuts, nasturtium aïoli and pickled shallots or cured monkfish, Market Hill farm tomato, nasturtium and sea purslane.
To work up an appetite, Highland Safaris on the edge of Aberfeldy offers a range of walking, cycling and 4×4 wildlife-watching trips into the mountains and ancient Caledonian forest. The two hour 30 minute mountain safari costs £47.50 (adult) and includes a warming dram of Dewars whisky and shortbread in a mountain bothy.
Foodie hub Dunkeld
The River Tay is one of the most famous salmon rivers in Scotland and picture postcard village Dunkeld on its banks with its quaint cobbled streets and a medieval cathedral is also home to an artisan smokehouse set up to smoke local anglers’ salmon and trout. The fish is kiln-smoked over whisky barrel chippings after being dry cured in salt for 24 hours. You can also buy Islay whisky-cured salmon, infused with 16-year-old malt whisky, and smoked salmon pâté in the small shop.
The river is also now home to beavers and Perthshire Wildlife’s beaver safaris on foot or by canoe weave in the history of beavers in Scotland along with their importance for the local ecology. A half-day safari costs £175 for two to five people.
Other gourmet highlights in the village include the Scottish Deli, an Aladdin’s cave of local artisan produce from preserves to cheeses, which in the evening turns into a buzzing tapas bar. Great British Bake Off contestant Flora Sneddon also chose Dunkeld to open her stripped-back, Scandi-chic bakery. You need to swing by the Aran Bakery early if you want to bag a spelt and sesame sourdough loaf, bacon roll with rhubarb ketchup, cheddar and kimchi toastie or cardamom bun as they sell out after lunch.
And the recently revamped gastropub The Taybank is the place to bed down in the village. During lockdown, owner Fraser Potter’s project was to turn the old car park into one of the biggest beer gardens in Scotland, sweeping down to the waterfront. Protected by a giant canvas awning, there’s a rustic chic wooden bar and pizza oven. Inside the pub, famous for its live music, there’s an upstairs bar and restaurant dishing up its take on gastropub staples such as Taybank venison burger, smoked Applewood cheese, tomato chutney and chips, with dreamy river views. After dinner, stumble up to bed in one of the five sleek bespoke bedrooms (B&B from £150).
Time for tea
The Tea Garden near Crieff is a small plantation of 1,200 tea bushes producing black, white and green teas. Check into the self-catering cottage during the summer and you can try your hand at tea-plucking. For the rest of the year, the Scottish Tea Factory just down the road is where its leaves are processed and you can book a tutored tasting to learn about the wide range of flavour profiles, from delicate white teas to grassy greens and fruity oolongs.
The tea factory is based on Comrie Croft and threads the tea tastings with an introduction to the history of tea as well as offering hands-on blending experiences.
Other foodie highlights in Crieff include the award-winning Strathearn Cheese Co – check out the Strathearn, a rennet set cheese matured for four weeks and washed in a Glenturret whisky brine, farm shop and deli, the Crieff Food Company and independent family-run Campbell’s Bakery, founded in 1830. Don’t miss its strawberry tarts made with local Perthshire berries.
Nearby the Barley Bree, an old coaching inn in the pretty village of Muthill, was turned into an award-winning restaurant with rooms by French chef Fabrice Bouteloup and his wife Alison (Bree is the Scottish word for soup and Barley Bree is a play on words meaning whisky). He dishes up French cuisine prepared with local Scottish ingredients: think slow-cooked ox cheek with rosemary polenta, broccoli, shallot and onion marmalade. B&B from £110.
For more ideas for the perfect Perthshire break, head to visitscotland.com/perthshire