The enchanting Isle of Islay has more sheep than people, eight whisky distilleries and a stylishly restored historic hotel with sea views and a challenging links golf course.
Called the Queen of the Hebrides, Islay is an island off the west coast of Scotland known for world-class whisky, woolen mills and a wildly beautiful coastal landscape. Yes, that’s how they spell whisky in Scotland. No ‘e’.
Most travelers to Scotland first choose to visit the historic sites of Edinburgh, the golfing mecca of St. Andrews, or try their luck spotting “Nessy” on Loch Ness.
But, for those ready to explore the charms of rural Scottish life, the Isle of Islay is a perfect retreat.
Purple heather covers the hills in late summer and pretty bluebells fill the forests in spring.
The climate is relatively mild due to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. Seals and otters play in the surf along the windswept beaches.
Winding roads lead past quaint country cottages, grassy fields filled with grazing sheep and tidy towns with whitewashed buildings.
Celtic crosses and stone ruins are a reminder of ancient clan history to be discovered. Want to know more? A “wee dram” or two of the island’s coveted single malt Scotch will help you get to know the friendly locals in no time.
Whisky and Woolens
Islay is best known for the peaty, smoky taste of its single malt whiskies. Deliciously educational distillery tours along the ‘whisky trail’ are a big draw for visitors.
Top shelf Islay whiskies include Laphroaig, Bowmore, and Bruichladdich also home to Botanist gin, created from twenty-two foraged island botanicals.
Fashion fans should stop at the Islay Woollen Mill, established in 1883, to admire the fine art of weaving tweeds. Originally used for cozy country jackets, caps and waistcoats, today tweed throws and scarves are popular. Fabrics designed here have graced British royals and Hollywood stars including the costumes worn in the film Braveheart.
Hotel Home in the Hebrides
An ode to Scottish style- including Islay tweed on the sofa and a metal stag’s head over the mantle- is not forgotten, but the décor at The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links is decidedly fresh and modern.
This newly renovated and expanded historic hotel with 47 rooms and suites greets guests with a stately Victorian-era entrance and then wows them with a modern expanse of windows overlooking the links and dunes beyond.
Nestled along a seven-mile-long beach, the Machrie is the design creation of native Scotsman and world-renowned hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray.
Tea Time and Tee Times
An elegant afternoon tea with sandwiches and scones is served in the spacious Stag Lounge.
Cocktails and nightcaps are served fireside.
There are over 25 Islay whiskies to choose from and even more from other parts of Scotland. Locals often gather to dine and celebrate, as the hotel is very much a part of the community.
The stunning 18 Restaurant & Bar with vaulted ceiling and golf course views provides a sunny spot for breakfast and a romantic setting for dinners. Locally provisioned seafood stars on the menu including Islay harvested oysters, hard-shelled brown crabs, sea scallops and of course Scottish salmon.
The artful dishes feature island-grown produce and herbs.
The 18-hole golf course originally designed in 1891 has been modernized. Today golfers enjoy the best of traditional links golf, a putting course, and state-of-the-art electronics to analyze their game with the expert guidance of golf professional David Foley.
If the wind kicks up on the back nine, don’t worry someone will be out to deliver a warming shot of whisky served on a silver tray to help keep you motivated.
The Machrie has a lovely spa, well-equipped fitness room and boasts a screening room, the only cinema on the Isle of Islay. Don’t forget to say hello to the cute little lamb in the lobby.