Western Scotland comprises some of the most charming landscapes in the entire nation, including a winding, rugged coastline, a string of scenic islands and a forested mountainous interior.
Popular with tourists, accommodation options are plentiful within the region. Here are a few choices to make your stay even more memorable and a few places to see and enjoy.
Deep in rolling Scottish countryside, two miles from the quaint port of Oban, known as the Gateway to the Isles, stands Aspen Lodge, a luxury bed and breakfast.
Stepping through French doors on to the open terrace of our guest room, one of three on the property, we were rewarded with picturesque views over the surrounding hills, from Glen Lonan to Ben Cruachan, with morning mists creeping slowly over the hillsides creating an evocative Celtic atmosphere.
Opened just a year and a half ago and run by Carol Bennett and her husband, Bobby, Aspen Lodge is a choice base from which to explore the Argyll region and the Isles, with Carol being no stranger to the hospitality sector, having been brand ambassador for Oban Scotch.
Our room, a twin, the Duart Room, named after a Scottish castle as all the rooms are – namely Stalker and Kilchurn – was spacious, complete with flat-screen TV, soft sofa, desk and glass-topped coffee table. Bathroom robes, a walk-in shower, island toiletries from Arran Aromatics and thick, fluffy towels, plus underfloor heating, helped make arrival on a wet Scottish autumnal evening a warm and welcoming one.
A diverse selection of food starts off your day here, ranging from traditional classics such as haggis, black pudding, tatai (potato) scones and smoked salmon to homemade pancakes with fruits, cereals and eggs cooked in a variety of ways. It can be enjoyed either in the breakfast room or served to your own guestroom, with terraces providing alfresco options on warm mornings.
Being so close to Oban, with its abundance of cafes, restaurants and souvenir stores, a day trip here is a must. Just outside the town stands Dunollie Castle, on a site fortified since the Bronze Age overlooking the main entrance to the bay while the local whisky distillery was founded in 1794 and offers tours and tastings. A natural rock formation, Fingal’s Dogstone, is connected in legend to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. You can also take a boat from Oban to the nearby Scottish islands.
In the village of Fionnphort on the Island of Mull, a stone’s throw from the sea, this guesthouse-cum-holiday cottage property sits in a serene garden setting facing the mountains.
With the stone pier for the ferryboat to Iona and Staff Islands in the Inner Hebrides off the Ross of Mull an easy five-minute walk away and a sandy beach a mile off, the location of this guesthouse is one of its prime attractions.
But not the only one.
It’s owners, transplanted English couple, Julie and Patrick Alderson from Lancashire and Yorkshire respectively, bring to the guesthouse their own friendly brand of hospitality finely honed as former owners of a cafe in Fort Augustus near Loch Ness before taking over here earlier last year.
Patrick, the chef of the household, serves up a fine dinner and breakfast, which we enjoyed in a spacious room while gazing out to Iona. Breakfast choices included yogurt and berries, porridge, a full Scottish grill with sausages and eggs, or pancakes and bacon with maple syrup. Dinner comprised cheese soufflé and salad, salmon pate with oat crackers, chicken, mushrooms, red cabbage carrots, and delicious desserts of toffee pudding, ice cream and pavlova.
Caol-Ithe has four guest rooms, all on the ground floor, all pleasantly furnished. It also offers self-catering cottages.
Our room faced a well-tended garden and was furnished with a double bed, built-in cupboard, Tassimo coffee machine, a small wall TV and a dressing table. The separate bathroom had a combined shower and tub.
The area around Caol-Ithe is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with kayaking, snorkelling, hiking, bird-watching and dolphin and shark-spotting high on the menu. Leisure boats nearby take visitors not just to Iona, a tranquil island and historic centre of Gaelic monasticism under the leadership of mystical Colmcille, but also to Staffa Island, famous for Fingal’s Cave, whose natural acoustics inspired romantic composer, Felix Mendelssohn, after a visit, to pen his overture, The Hebrides.
Located among rolling hills on the western coast of Mull, this 18th century, 50-room stately home and expansive estate is steeped in history.
Built on profits made from harvesting sea-kelp and selling it for fertiliser and iodine, this is the family seat of the Maclean clan, now listed as an historic category B building by Historic Environment Scotland. Bestowing added pedigree, the family’s crest and motto are carved in stonework above the front façade.
Overlooking the Hebrides and Treshnish Isles, Torloisk House is awash in historic artefacts ranging from first-edition books, four-poster beds, marble fireplaces, paintings and ornately-carved chairs, tables and wardrobes.
Sitting in a cosy drawing room gazing at glass-fronted shelves stacked with old leather-bound books, I’m transported back to a bygone era, a time when scores of cooks, maids and gardeners satisfied the whims of rich aristocracy, a Scottish version of Downton Abbey. Outside, along a ceiling in the hallway is a long line of brass bells, each one once used to summon a servant to a particular guestroom.
Torloisk House, which also offers guests a self-catered cottage, Normann’s Ruh, stands opposite Loch Tuath which separates the Isle of Mull and the island of Ulva and forms part of the Loch na Keal National Scenic Area.
It is located only 13 miles from Tobermory, the main town on the Isle of Mull. Here you’ll find cultural attractions such as the Mull Aquarium, An Tobar, an arts center housed in a refurbished Victorian primary school overlooking the bay, the Mull Theatre and the Mull Museum. Outdoor attractions include the Baliscate Standing Stones, providing evidence of ancient settlements, and Aros Park, reached along a scenic footpath.
Imagine a sunny day, an azure blue sky and colorful fishing and sailing boats bobbing gently on a glistening sea – that was the resplendent vision before me as I lay on my bed gazing out from my hotel window in the Argyll Hotel on Iona Island.
Owned by two local couples, the hotel’s front door is barely 10 meters from the Atlantic, and on this particular picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, the ocean was so calm waves rippled softly, gently caressing the rocks outside.
Our first-floor room, number 3, was cosy, complete with armchair, a small desk, built-in cupboard and framed paintings of island settings decorating the walls. Varnished wooden doors, skirting boards and mirror-frames granted the room a delightful sense of rusticity mirroring the Old World essence of Iona itself.
With the stone pier less than 100 meters away, reaching the hotel from the ferry is easy, with or without baggage. It’s even closer to Martyr’s Bay Shop where you can buy island souvenirs.
As for hotel dining, choose a table near the window with views over the ocean. Or feeling in need of warmth, settle nearer the open fire in the main room and toast yourself while admiring the miniature paintings on shells adorning the mantelpiece. After our day’s hike and swim, we opted for a thick, wild mushroom soup and then some hogget. Never heard of it? Neither had we? Surprise yourself and try. It’s a hardy island lamb delicacy. No better choice of after-dinner drink than a peaty Scotch from the wooden old-fashioned bar in the corner to help one relax after a day’s wandering.
As for Iona itself, a tranquil retreat from the hubbub of modern life, ragged outcrops of rocks enclose a multitude of white sandy stretches that offering dramatic views, hidden coves ad wide-open spaces. Then there’s Iona Abbey. Once a simple structure made from turf, daub and wattle, it has undergone major restoration. Beside it is the ruins of the Iona Nunnery, with its cloister gardens and a stone carved ‘sheela na gig’ on its outer wall, an ancient figurative carving of a naked woman indicating female power and influence in Celtic times. A small graveyard a short walk away, Reilig Odhrain, is thought to be the final resting place of medieval royalty of Norway, Ireland, and Scotland, including the eleventh-century king Macbeth of Shakespearean fame.