Balmoral Estate Scotland
Balmoral Estate is owned by the Queen, and Her Majesty is the landlady when you rent one of seven holiday houses across the estate, which are situated near majestic Balmoral Castle or in secluded nooks a few kilometres away.
A 20,000ha estate cradled by the wild hills of Scotland's Royal Deeside, Balmoral was purchased for Queen Victoria by her beloved Prince Albert in 1852, and has been a favourite royal retreat ever since.
The Queen and Prince Philip spend the summer months at the estate, situated in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park 12km west of the picturesque town of Ballater, which explains the many "By Royal Appointment" signs I see on local shops and businesses.
Royal Deeside is a captivating combination of lochs, glens, forests and some of Scotland's renowned tower-houses including circa 1620 Braemar Castle, seat of the Clan Farquharson.
At Balmoral, cottages and lodges that were once the preserve of royals, courtiers and VIPs now give holidaymakers access to the place Queen Victoria described as "my dear paradise in the Highlands".
They include three-bedroom Karim Cottage, built in 1890 for Queen Victoria's Indian private secretary Abdul Karim. Colt Cottages are two semi-detached bungalows a few hundred metres from the castle, while three-bedroom Connachat Cottage sits beside an estate road on the edge of Ballochbuie Forest, which supports one of the largest remaining areas of native Caledonian forest.
Rhebreck Lodge has views towards Crathie Church and Balmoral's private golf course, while charming Garbh Allt Shiel Lodge, where it's said Queen Victoria sometimes spent the night, is 8km west of the castle.
If you are holidaying with a crowd, Alltnaguibhsaich Lodge, overlooking serene Loch Muick, is the largest property available for rent – it has a princely eight bedrooms, a drawing room and a sitting room.
At Balmoral you can walk through stately gardens and woodlands, tramp over grouse moors, fish for salmon in the River Dee, tour Royal Lochnagar whisky distillery, join a four-wheel-drive safari across the estate, and dine on delicacies such as grouse stuffed with haggis at local eateries.
WATCH: The Queen and her grandchildren at Balmoral...Story continues after the video.
Did Prince William and Duchess Catherine spend their first weekend as a married couple at Llwynywermod, Prince Charles' secluded Welsh farm in Carmarthenshire, following their wedding at Westminster Abbey in 2011, as some tabloids suggested?
"They might have," a local tells me, with a wink.
Residents of this scenic corner of south-west Wales are protective of their royal neighbours, who purchased their 77ha property in 2006. From the ancient sheep drover's town of Llandovery, a narrow road winds 7km to the village of Myddfai (pronounced muth-vey) amid verdant sheep-dotted hills and dales so idyllic you can easily understand why the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may have retreated here.
Myddfai is a picturesque collection of stone cottages overshadowed by St Michael's Church, dating from 1285, which Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall attend when they stay at Llwynywermod, their official Welsh residence.
Central to the couple's estate, which is just down the road, is a three-bedroom farmhouse that was the coach house of a 14th-century mansion, now in ruins, once owned by a relative of Henry VIII's ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn.
You can sample Llwynywermod's royal life at West Range and North Range, luxury two- and three-bedroom barn conversions forming part of the courtyard adjacent to the royal couple's modest abode. The comfortable, eco-friendly cottages have stone-flagged floors, open fireplaces and stylish rooms designed by Camilla's sister, interior decorator Annabel Elliot, featuring Welsh textiles and furniture.
Visitors to Llwynywermod are free to wander the estate, where red kites wheel around treetops and the gardens are designed by Prince Charles.
Jeff Wadley, the estate manager, says all seasons of the year are special at Llwynywermod. "Wildflowers are everywhere in summer; autumn sees a multi-coloured landscape; winter frosts and snow are magical, and bluebells carpet the hills in spring."
The estate is situated on the fringes of the Brecon Beacons, a 1350sq km national park of stark mountains, grassy moorlands, forests and enchanting villages, where you can discover anything from Celtic standing stones, Bronze Age relics and Roman ruins to Welsh castles.
Dining opportunities abound at venerable pubs, including The Castle in Llandovery, which dates from the late 1600s, where we dined on Welsh lamb and wild mushroom linguine.
It's no secret that, in 2015, Prince William moved his family far from the spotlight to Anmer Hall, a Georgian manor located 3km from Sandringham, the Queen's private Norfolk estate.
The village of Anmer is surrounded by clusters of forest, where trees are ablaze with golden-hued leaves in autumn. Wood pigeons flutter across the road as we drive through town past a string of brick-and-flint cottages and an ancient church.
Situated near the West Norfolk coast – proclaimed an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" – the 8000ha Sandringham Estate is bordered by The Wash, a vast estuary system that is a haven for birdlife. A royal home since 1862, Sandringham was purchased for 21-year-old Prince Edward – later King Edward VII – by his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Sandringham House is not for rent but you can feel like part of the family at Garden House, which overlooks ornamental gardens adjacent to the Queen's sprawling mansion, or at
The Granary, which is a luxury barn conversion in the nearby village of Great Bircham.
"Unlike Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, which are both official residences of the monarch, Sandringham is privately owned by the Queen; it's her country retreat," says Helen Walch, Sandringham Estate's public enterprises manager.
For garden lovers, staying at comfy, three-bedroom Garden House means you are in the midst of 20ha of woodland walks, lakes, rare trees and blooming gardens.
Visitors can tour Sandringham House, its rooms housing 17th-century tapestries, trompe l'oeil ceilings and gilded furniture, and the stables, which store royal carriages and cars, including a miniature Aston Martin driven by Prince Charles as a child.
North Norfolk is an alluring combination of glorious beaches, marshlands, quiet lanes and timeless villages, and when you drive along twisting roads to beaches such as Holkham, it's easy to see why generations of royals have spent time here. From Holme-next-the-Sea, a 75km long beach stretches to the town of Cromer. Along the way are nature reserves teeming with birdlife, and coastal and rural footpaths to explore, including the Peddars Way, a 2000-year-old Roman route.
Norfolk has earned a reputation as a culinary destination, boasting an array of "gastro-pubs" and several Michelin-starred establishments.
Snettisham is famous for pink-footed geese and the Rose and Crown Hotel, dating from the 14th century, which was voted UK Pub of the Year in 2015. Here we dined on creamy fish pie and Brancaster moules marinière.
The Feathers Hotel in Dersingham was named in honour of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who once owned it (the feathers stemming from his heraldic badge). On the menu is game pie – combining rabbit, venison, pheasant and partridge – and traditional steak and kidney pudding. The nearby Dabbling Duck, Kings Head and Gunton Arms are more delicious reasons to join the royals at their Norfolk sanctuary.