At the westernmost edge of the Great Glen stands the Airds Hotel – the perfect get-away-from-it-all Scottish hotel
As you enter the edge of Loch Linnhe you know you’re in for a treat — it has its own castle, perched on a rock in the middle of the beautiful sea loch.
We were on our way to Airds Hotel, a charming white-painted former roadside inn. It’s at the end of the peninsular next to a pier and there’s a regular ferry service across to the nearby island of Lismore.
It’s all grace and friendliness from the start, as a very smartly dressed butler takes our luggage and ushers you into a lovely sitting room with a roaring log fire and the offer of tea served with homemade shortbread or a glass of prosecco.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that other guests were there and more than happy to chat and share their experiences — Airds has a 70% returning customer base. So lovely are the views from the sitting room (and especially the dining room) that people come back year after year.
Suitably refreshed we were shown to our very comfortable room – many of the rooms have loch views. The big beds are super comfy and guests are provided with Bulgari toiletries, fruit, and a decanter of Whisky Mac with wee glasses — all of which make you feel right at home.
To roam or relax?
Now we had a decision to make: should we explore the area, or settle down in one of the two pretty sitting rooms and play cards or a board game? We decided to have a snoop around first. Downstairs there is a snug little whisky bar with a fine collection of gins, or if you prefer, there’s a seat in the conservatory looking onto the loch lighthouse with the snow-tipped Morven Hills in the distance. You may even catch sight of the majestic Glen Coe.
This is Clan Stewart country: the local castle perched on a rock in the loch, now privately owned, is Castle Stalker. Castle Stalker was built in the 1440s by Sir John Stewart and was a Stewart stronghold for 200 years, until the clan went off to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden. The hotel can arrange private tours of Castle Stalker from time to time.
With its 11 rooms and two cottages, the hotel is very smoothly run with every need anticipated — there are wellies in all sizes at the front door, cagoules and umbrellas in the wardrobe. And if you can drag yourselves away from the fireside (which we did eventually), there is so much to explore outside.
Located half way between Oban and Fort William, the village of Port Appin is a sweet collection of houses with a pier and an hourly ferry that takes passengers across the five-minute strait to the island of Lismore. Island sightseeing by private Land Rover is available. The hotel has bikes you can hire, or you can simply walk. The island also has a ruined castle, abundant wildlife, wild flowers and beautiful cottage gardens.
In the summer months, it is also possible to take boats from the pier to the nearby island of Mull or even to Skye, (although this would be a very long trip).
Closer to home, there are stunning shoreside strolls towards the headland and a local wildlife sanctuary.
As evening approaches, it’s time for drinks and canapés round that fire again, or on the front lawn, which runs down to the loch edge (when weather allows).
Head chef Chris Stanley and his team produce almost everything on site, providing a great seasonal evening menu.
We started our meal with amuse-bouche – delicious pumpkin veloute, or pork cheek with spiced apple – followed by lemon sole with scallops and a shellfish mayonnaise, and a loin of venison with pear, beetroot and elderberries served with dauphinoise potatoes. So far, so good but when it came to puddings things got very exciting — you get two, one of which is delivered to your table compliments of the house. The desserts we actually ordered included a hot apple pie soufflé with caramel Creme Anglaise, poured on top for us at the table, plus an iced yoghurt parfait, blackberry and gingerbread delight.
The coffee and petit fours are served back in the lounge in front of that, oh-so-important fire, where everyone chats late into the night. You can, of course have a quick trip outside to check out the night sky, with hardly any light pollution it is one of the places in Britain where it is possible to see the Northern Lights and the Milky Way.
The next morning our tea or coffee was delivered to our bedside on a pretty tray with lovely china and an apple Danish to keep us going until we headed downstairs to the dining room for our full Scottish breakfast.
While tucking into your salty porridge with lashings of fresh cream, followed by kippers, smoked haddock, or bacon and eggs, you can gaze out onto the loch. You might be lucky enough to see the Hooper swans flying in perfect formation onto the water, which beautifully reflects the monroes beyond. Quite simply, it’s the Scotland you’ve always dreamed of.