Making our way north from Glasgow to a tiny village on Scotland’s west coast, the Highland landscape more than lives up to its dramatic reputation.
The drive along the banks of Loch Lomond, then through the truly awe-inspiring valley of Glencoe with mountains towering above us on either side, gets you in the mood to be immersed in this wild area.
Passing the imposing Castle Stalker, sitting on the loch, the location of our accommodation for two days was no less, but quietly, jaw-dropping. The Airds Hotel in tiny Port Appin, about 30 minutes from Oban, may be small, but it’s perfectly formed. A former 18th century ferry inn, it is now a highly-rated, luxury boutique hotel with just 11 bedrooms and suites.
Personal service is paramount. General manager Robert Templeton-McKay personally greets us when we arrive and shows us around the cosy lounge, with fire burning in the grate, and leads us to a room that has kept both touches of its original charm, mixed with elegant furnishings, all with a Scottish twist. Think Orla Kiely cushions, a beautiful pure wool throw, made in Scotland, of course, and not forgetting Hamish the Highland cuddly ‘cow’ toy who is put outside the door as a signal not to be disturbed.
I loved the thoughtful touches such as his-and-hers rain jackets to borrow, clothes brush, shoe horn, and a complimentary morning tea delivered on a tray carrying Wedgewood crockery and freshly cooked muffins. Luxury indeed.
Panoramic views across Loch Linnhe to the Morvern Mountains with the Sgeir Bhuidhe Lighthouse in the foreground await from the dining room. Here you experience Airds’ most famous claim to fame - its food. Chef Calum, who himself grew up on a tiny Scottish island, uses locally-sourced produce - including scallops, langoustines, mushrooms, hedgerow herbs and ingredients from the hotel’s garden.
The seven course tasting menu we experienced is an experience my husband and I will remember forever. Exquisite is not an exaggeration.
It started with Oyster au Naturel, Champagne and Lime Granita, then Warm Salad of Clams, Carrot, Courgette and Burnt Lemon, Seared Isle of Mull Scallop, Cauliflower and Truffled Brioche, Oban Langoustine, Wilted Samphire, Seaweed and Cucumber Beurre Blanc and Bergamot Gel, Pan Seared Turbot, Pommes Mousseline, Spinach, Mussel and Saffron Veloute, Apple Crumble Souffle with Drambuie Anglaise, finished with tea or coffee in the lounge and petit fours. My husband also chose to pair the dishes with the hotel’s recommended wines, declaring the Sticky Mickey dessert wine a triumph. The same verdict from me on the Apple Crumble Souffle (and everything else!).
The hotel has quite rightly been included in the Good Food Guide for 42 years.
It has an impressive wine offering and its own whisky bar, a great place to sink into the sunset at the end of a sightseeing trip or trying out one of the many scenic walks in the area. You know that you’re staying somewhere special when a packed lunch can be prepared for you in advance.
Just a short walk from the hotel is a shop to buy any essentials you need and a charming gift shop. A stop to read the information contained inside the ‘old’ lighthouse gives a concise local history, landscape and wildlife. A truly wonderful part of the world that I’m glad I discovered.
Things to do
Take a half-hour walk around the headland and down to the pier in Port Appin starting through a gateway next to the hotel. The views down the Firth of Lorne and across to Lismore island are beautiful.
Hire a bike and take it across on the nearby ferry from Port Appin pier to the island of Lismore, just a 10-minute journey, to explore ruined castles and pretty trails. There are ruins including a Viking castle and a 13th century church, www.isleoflismore.com
The hotel can book tickets.
Castle Stalker, just a five-minute drive away, can be visited by arrangement with the family who currently owns it. It was a hunting lodge for the Stewarts of Appin, whose kinsman was James V. Call 01631 730234.
More adventurous types can take a 25-minute drive to Glencoe Activities in Ballachulish to book RIB boat tours, gorge walking, even high-adrenalin canyoning or white water rafting.
Visit Oban Distillery, one of Scotland’s oldest sources of malt whisky, a 30-minute drive away and right by the sea, where you can see distillers at work, and enjoy a complimentary dram after your tour.
But activities are endless in this part of the world, including fishing, golf and boat trips to see wildlife, including seals.
Why did I wait so long to discover this gorgeous part of the world?
But, of course, if you want to combine your stay on the coast with a city break thrown in as an exciting added extra, lastminute.com offers a three-night stay at the 4* Hotel Indigo Glasgow (inc. flights from London) departing October 15, from £249pp.
Airds has won titles such as Luxury Hotel of the Year, Most Romantic Hotel in the UK, Best Fine Dining and Luxury Hotel Scotland. Airds’ excellence is endorsed by membership of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux, Pride of Britain and Luxury Scotland portfolios.
Airds’ Seafood Heaven package, from £560 per person (two sharing a classic double room), includes two nights’ accommodation, full Scottish breakfast each day, a lavish seafood platter on the first evening and a seven-course seafood tasting menu paired with wines on the second. Guests are offered Champagne on arrival and early morning tea or coffee with home-made pastries delivered to the room.
Reservations: 01631 730236. For more information visit www.airds-hotel.com