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Where to go in the West Highlands

We track down the best spots for the freshest produce and most venerable whisky in this remote corner of Scotland

Published 23 Apr 2018, 21:00 BST, Updated 14 Jul 2021, 12:35 BST
Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker

Photograph by Getty

Why go
To seek the sublime — mountains rise above fjord-like lochs that carve out emerald islands. This top-notch topography influences everything here from the activities (mountain climbing, scuba diving) to the kitchen table (local langoustines, Highland beef, foraged 'shrooms). Even the whisky has notes of sea salt.

We like
A dram of Scotch, sipped at the source. Oban Distillery, which is one of Scotland's oldest and smallest, has been making the caramel-coloured elixir since 1794. Book a tour to learn about whisky making and Oban's unique terroir, which imparts salt, orange peel, honey and a peaty smokiness to its 14-year-old single malt; I tasted it with crystallised ginger — a winning combination.

What to do
Skim the surface of the lochs for a new perspective on this watery wonderland. Under the tutelage of Tony from Seafreedom Kayak, try a six-mile loop of Loch Creran, crowned by snow-covered peaks. As you cut across the expansive waters, curious seals will often follow in your wake. Other routes include one around the castaway 13th-century Castle Stalker — you may recognise it from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Where to eat
Pull up a pew at Michelin-recommended Aird's restaurant for dishes like Inverawe smoked salmon with crispy avocado. Chef Chris Stanley focuses on fresh ingredients and plenty of plates to amuse your bouche. "It should be something that you can't do at home," Chris tells me. The Creagan Inn is another good option, dishing up hearty pub grub, local brews and stunning loch views.

Where to stay
Checking in to Airds Hotel feels like attending a shindig at a well-to-do pal's country house. My first port of call was a glass of red in the lounge: a cosy corner with stacks of books, a popping fire and mounted stag head. There are 11 rooms and suites; mine had a marble-backed tub, a decanter of whisky mac and Loch Linnhe views. But the piece de resistance was the restaurant's inventive dishes.

Don't miss
The limestone Isle of Lismore — hop in a rugged 4×4 with Robert from Explore Lismore for a whistle-stop tour of the island's brochs (fortified farms), rare plants, castles and parish church, once a major monastic centre. A sweet stop involves coffee with raspberry and almond cakes from The Dutch Bakery on Lismore, run by Robert's partner Iris out of a red telephone box. Blockbuster views, meanwhile, stretch to Ben Nevis. "That's what's special," Robert says. "When you're on Lismore, you're looking out at Scotland."

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Published in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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