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The Isle of Islay: A Spirit of its Own

The sign for Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides, with a view to the Paps of Jura behind

The Isle of Islay on the rugged west coast of Scotland is renowned for its strong, peaty single malt whisky. If you're a whisky fan, nothing beats a dram of smoky Laphroaig or Ardbeg at the end of an evening (preferably in front of an open fire!), tingling your taste buds with salty, delicious flavours of the sea and earth.

With 8 working distilleries, all of which welcome visitors and offer guided tours, Islay is a dream destination for both the whisky connoisseur and novice student. But as we were quick to discover, it's also an incredibly beautiful island with turquoise bays, unique wildlife and quaint villages. After spending 3 unforgettable nights on the island, here are our top recommendations:

Sine on Islay

Searching for the Perfect Dram

Go on a search for the perfect dram as soon as the ferry arrives. As the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides, it takes about two and a half hours to travel to Islay from Kennacraig on the mainland. You'll find distilleries all over the small island, making it easy to taste and tour several as soon as you arrive.

While the whiskies of the southern distilleries - Ardbeg, Laphroaig, and Lagavulin - are the most powerful, saturated with peat-smoke, brine and iodine, those of the northern distilleries - Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain - are, by contrast, much milder. Bowmore and Caol Ila are somewhere in between, so you may just have to try a few to find your dream dram!

Lagavulin Distillery on Islay

Feasting on Fresh Seafood

With crystal clear waters, Islay is a seafood heaven, and we would highly recommend taking the opportunity to sample the local larder. Delicious oysters, mussels, scallops, lobsters and langoustines caught by local fishermen are served all over the island, and sometimes paired with golden drops of single malt.

For locally-sourced fish and seafood, we can recommend the award-winning Harbour Inn in Bowmore, where contemporary Scottish cuisine is served with panoramic views over the bay. The whisky bar is also pretty comprehensive!

Oysters and whisky on Islay

Climbing the Paps of Jura

After enjoying your share of fabulous whisky and food, you may just feel like stretching your legs and going on an adventure. A short ferry journey from Islay you will find the wild and sparsely populated Isle of Jura, with rugged mountains and bogs. 

If you are looking for a challenge, we would highly recommend climbing the Paps of Jura, the three iconic mountains on the western side of the island. They are steep-sided quartzite hills, rising from sea-level to over 700m, offering majestic views of the Inner Hebrides. Celebrate your achievement at the only hotel around - The Jura Hotel.

Walking the Paps of Jura

Discovering the Unique Wildlife

Inspiring nature and wildlife experiences are also found closer to home on Islay, where the diverse landscape accommodates over 250 bird species. With miles of sandy beaches, peat bogs, rugged coastline and farmland, it's not surprising that the wildlife here is plentiful and unique to the island.

Basking seals are easy to spot from the coast, the islands are home to 6,000 red deer (Jura takes its name from the Old Norse 'dyr-a' which translates to 'deer island'), and we almost fell over an adder while out walking! For rare-bird enthusiasts, Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve is one of the best places in the UK for birdwatching. If you feel like taking to the sea, Islay Sea Adventures offer wildlife-spotting boat tours.

Red deer on Jura

Joining a Local Festival

It is said that the locals on Islay are among Britain’s most friendly, and you certainly can’t make it down the street without a few greetings and well-wishes. This becomes even more obvious when the whole island comes together from time to time to celebrate various festivals and events.

The Islay Festival of Music and Malt (late May) and Islay Jazz Festival (mid September) are some of the most popular ones, and accommodation becomes fully booked a year in advance. However, should you have the chance to join in the festivities, you will truly receive a warm welcome (and free whisky!).

Islay Whisky Festival at Ardbeg Distillery

A Spirit of its Own

Come for the world-class whisky, stay for the island spirit. Ever since monks started brewing whisky on Islay in the early 14th century, the island has set itself apart and embraced its unique status as the maker of Scotland’s most powerful, thunderous dram. With so much whisky to sample and so little time, this is one island not to be missed!

Sine Nielsen
P.S. Keen to discover your own favourite whisky? Book our Islay & The West Coast Whisky Trail and experience the spirit of Islay for yourself. 
 

Explore the Islay Whisky Trail with Absolute Escapes

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