Sitting by the fireside in a quiet lounge inside the Isle of Eriska hotel, it’s hard to imagine a more classically Scottish room. The iron grate around the roaring fire has a thistle design, the ‘flower of Scotland’, in it. The armchairs are covered with a smart tartan, as are the menus. A silver tray of tea is served on the table, which comes with a plate of crumbly Scottish shortbread. A glass cabinet just ahead of me is filled with bottles of fine Scottish whisky.
The effect is elegant and classic but there are plenty of modern touches, too, at the Isle of Eriska, from the design of the luxurious hillside lodges to the food in the fine dining restaurant. It all makes for a very memorable, comfortable, relaxing and peaceful Scottish getaway.
Just 20 minutes north of Oban, which is known as the ‘Gateway to the Isles’, Scotland’s Isle of Eriska hotel is located on a small island, separated by water from the mainland and reached by a wooden bridge. It’s surrounded by 300 acres of land, with deer roaming wild and, occasionally, if you’re very lucky, sightings of a local golden eagle.
It’s a Relais & Châteaux hotel, managed by ICMI, who also own the renowned Inverlochy Castle in Fort William. The main house, which dates as far back as 1884 and has passed through the hands of various families over the centuries, makes a big impression on arrival, looking halfway between a country mansion and a castle, with a corner tower and white frames around the windows and glass conservatories. Inside, friendly staff welcome us into rooms that are warmed by real wood fires. There’s a large lounge, which is very peaceful during the day, with a grand piano, chess set and a large fireplace at the heart of lots of chunky sofas and armchairs. There’s more fireside-seating in the room next door, beside the grand dark wood staircase, before we reach what the manager describes as “the most important room in the hotel”: the bar. Like many of the rooms, it has a lived-in feel and warmth, with photos and paintings of Scottish scenes on the walls, comfy armchairs and a bar that is, of course, well-stocked with whiskies. There are playful furnishings, too, though including lampshades with two webbed duck’s legs as the stand. There’s also a light-filled conservatory, looking out onto the neat lawns.
The bedrooms inside the house are spacious and grand, with a traditional feel, containing solid-looking, dark wooden cabinets, wardrobes and desks, big beds adorned with colorful pillows, and smart tartan sofas. Despite the history of the house, there’s nothing here that feels worn or fusty. Big windows look out onto the surrounding lawns and trees. The main house would make a very pleasant stay, but instead, we follow the manager up the driveway in our car to Hillside No 5, one of the recently completed, modern hilltop lodges and have no regrets at all.
Our lodge is named Ratty, after a character from the children’s book The Wind In The Willows. It’s a different style altogether from the hotel, a spacious lodge with wooden floorboards and underfloor heating to take out any chill from the Scottish weather. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a gas fire that ignites at the flick of a switch. It’s a modern living space, with a large fridge, sink and cooking area in the adjoining kitchen. In the lounge, a big silvery grey sofa and a purple armchair have plenty of space to stretch out on in front of the TV (with DVD player) and fireplace, some of the cushions decorated with the faces of Scottish stags. Walls have a few paintings of nature scenes hanging on them, capturing Scottish hills and water. There’s a circular glass coffee table, as well as a writing desk.
The view is special, looking out of the windows, past our private wooden deck area, onto the waters of Loch Creran and the mountains beyond. Several times during our stay, we see a vivid rainbow curving over the landscape. The deck has loungers and comfy seating for summer days, and a Jacuzzi to be used in almost any weather, all positioned to take in the view. There’s a feeling of stillness here and being far away from it all.
The windows in the bedroom also look out onto the loch. There’s plenty of space around the large comfortable bed, which has a purple headboard. There are two separate his-n-hers wardrobes and sets of drawers. The clean, bright, white bathroom also has lots of room, with tiled floors, double sinks, Penhaligon’s Quercus products, a rainshower and a large bathtub. In short, it’d be hard not to relax here.
There’s plenty to do in the hotel grounds, with a 6-hole golf course, clay pigeon shooting, mountain bikes to borrow, as well as a spa, gym and swimming pool. But we take it easy, spending our days exploring the island on foot and chilling out at our hilltop lodge with a good book and the view.
In the evening, we sit by the window in the dining room and see a young deer walking across the lawn outside. Service in the restaurant is excellent: thorough, fast and friendly. The elegant room has a quietly celebratory ‘special occasions’ feel, while the menu draws on ingredients from across Scotland, from a saddle of roe deer to Loch Fyne crab. We enjoy delicious starters of roasted Orkney scallops with cauliflower, hazelnuts, sea vegetables and brown butter cappuccino and a presse of tomatoes with avocado. Although the ‘baked turnip’ main sounds intriguing, I go for the olive oil-poached loin of cod with grilled leeks, confit potatoes and a leek and oyster sauce, while my girlfriend has the fillet and belly of Ayrshire lamb – both mains perfectly cooked and flavorful.
The desserts look appealing, including Scottish strawberries or white chocolate and raspberries, but I don’t see anyone in the room go for them, as everyone, ourselves included, have been distracted by and drawn to the cheese trolley being wheeled around. The waiter neatly plates our selections from Scotland and beyond, including Isle of Kintyre (flavoured with Laphroaig whisky), a nutty Lord Of The Hundreds and the soft Stinking Bishop, along with grapes, biscuits and a glass of Malbec.
After a peaceful night’s sleep up on the hillside, we’re back in the dining room for breakfast, among the striped walls and orange lights. It’s another classy experience, with lots of silver cutlery, tea prepared with proper leaves, and impeccable, helpful service. There’s a small table with cereals, fresh juices, yoghurt and fruit to help ourselves too. We also order from the menu, including smoked kippers with poached eggs and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, both showcasing just how good the local produce is in Scotland. In fact, it’s hard to know which element makes us the most reluctant to leave: the fantastic food, the loch view from our hillside lodge, or the warmth of the hotel’s real log fires.
Isle of Eriska, Benderloch, near Oban, Argyll, Scotland, PA37 1SD.
A standard double starts from £295 ($384) and a Hilltop Reserve costs from £450 ($585).
(01631 720371, firstname.lastname@example.org)