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Isle of Skye for whisky tourists

From imposing snow-capped mountains to black sand beaches, Skye is a stunning island where you can discover warming whisky and an even warmer welcome. Victoria Grier shares her recommendations and enjoys a stay at Kinloch Lodge.

From shore to moor, up craggy hills or down to the coast, any adventurer to Skye, the largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebridean archipelago, will be beguiled by the natural wild beauty on this magical island. Shrouded in Norse folklore and famed for its unique smoky whisky, a visit to the misty isle is a treat for the senses.

One of the main attractions for visitors to Skye is to sample the delights of its whisky. Talisker, the world-famous single malt, is made at the distillery of the same name on the west coast of the island. Known for its smoky saline notes, it has been the flagship flavour from Skye since 1830.

A decade ago Torabhaig distillery opened in the south of the island, breaking the century-long dominance of Talisker. The spirit from this young upstart packs a peaty punch with subtle hints of citrus zest, vanilla and floral heather, expanding the breadth of offering on Skye for those who love a wee dram.

Pouring Torabhaig Whisky in front of an open fire

Torabhaig whisky

Distillery tours

Both distilleries offer visitor experiences year-round, with Talisker open Monday to Sunday 10am-5pm, offering tours and tastings at its newly refurbished visitors’ centre. A 30-minute tasting costs £15 per person. For a special 90-minute experience where visitors can draw whisky straight from the cask, the cost is £150 per person.

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Torabhaig is open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm and Saturday-Sunday 10am-2.30pm (closed weekends during winter months). A 45-minute tour starts from £12 per person, with chocolate pairing and warehouse tours also available.

Natural beauty

Skye is not just about Scotch however. Hiking, climbing, fishing and wildlife are in abundance, ensuring engaging, elemental offerings too. A good place to start is the visitor centre in the island’s main town, Portree.

Head to the north of the island to explore the enchanting Fairy Glen woodland and see the iconic Neist Point Lighthouse. To the east, you’ll find the spectacular rock formations of Quiraing and The Old Man of Storr, along with the An Corran Beach with its black sand and preserved dinosaur footprints – all showcasing the magical nature of this ancient isle.

The Old Man of Storr rocks on the Isle of skye

The Old Man of Storr Credit: Alan Novelli / Alamy Stock Photo

In the west, the Fairy Pools is a popular spot for wild swimming. Offering aquamarine mountain spring water, along the River Brittle, they are overlooked by the imposing Cuillin mountain range, providing the perfect setting for a refreshing dip. On the rocky coastline to the south live sea otters, porpoises, seals and golden eagles.

Where to eat

Visitors are spoiled for choice on this culinary-led island. The Three Chimneys is a renowned dinner spot, offering dishes such as Loch Dunvegan langoustines with beetroot, horseradish and oyster mousse. The restaurant recently partnered with Talisker to create a unique pop-up dining experience at the distillery.

Scorrybreac (which translates to ‘speckled rock’) is an intimate restaurant above the harbour in Portree. It offers beautifully presented local, seasonal fare such as wild venison and hand-dived Skye scallops.

Where to stay

Accommodation on Skye varies widely. The traditionally decorated Mint Croft luxury self-catering cottages are cosy and well-appointed. Or for something more contemporary, opt for the design-led Harlosh collection, two modernist masterpieces with a dramatic coastal location, sleeping two or six.

Those looking to be pampered should make a beeline for Kinloch Lodge. This year the family-run hotel is partnering with Torabhaig distillery, offering ‘A Sense of Place’ experience. Hosted over three nights, with prices from £1,990 based on two sharing, it includes a tour and tasting at Torabhaig distillery, a picnic lunch, foraging session and cocktail masterclass, with locally sourced seasonal dining.

Kinloch Lodge hotel by the water

Kinloch Lodge

A local clan’s shooting lodge, Kinloch Lodge was converted into a hotel by Godfrey Macdonald, the 8th Baron Macdonald of Sleat and the 35th high chief of Clan Donald, along with his wife, cookery writer Lady Claire Macdonald OBE in 1972. Today, Kinloch Lodge is under the stewardship of their daughter Isabella Macdonald, who regularly regales guests with amusing tales of growing up in the hotel.

When to visit

The weather is warmest and sunniest on Skye from May to September with temperatures peaking at around 17℃. Lows of 4℃ and snow can be expected in the winter months. Both island distilleries are open year-round, however some restaurants are closed in the off-peak season.

‘A Sense of Place’

The best rooms at Kinloch Lodge overlook the glassy waters of Loch na Dal, and the hotel also boasts a celebrated restaurant with a sumptuous, historic dining room. Here head chef Jordan Webb and his team focus on high quality local ingredients. A passionate forager, Webb can often be found on the Loch’s shoreline or in his own herb gardens and polytunnels at the hotel, harvesting produce (see below). Specialities include local langoustines, Shetland cod, Highland beef and west coast lobster.

Post-dinner, residents are encouraged to retire to the drawing room to share a dram or two. Guests from all corners of the world share stories of their pilgrimage to Skye, as you enjoy a smoky Penicillin whisky cocktail in front of a roaring fire.

For breakfast, warming bowls of porridge are supercharged with a nip of Torabhaig whisky, while hearty Scottish breakfasts feature local black pudding – good preparation for a day exploring the island.

Two men foraging on a beach

Kinloch Lodge head chef Jordan Webb (left) on a foraging expedition

As part of the Sense of Place package guests are whisked off to the Sleat Peninsula for a tour of Torabhaig and a walk out to the ruins of nearby Knock Castle, an old Clan Donald fortification that sits impressively on the sea cliffs. Picnic lunch includes treats such as whisky-cured smoked salmon sandwiches, gooey chocolate brownies and warming Whisky Mac cocktails.

If Skye’s whisky, walks and elemental landscapes, paired with Kinloch Lodge’s high-class hospitality and high-end culinary offerings appeal, this trip will be a dream come true.

How to get there

The international airports of Edinburgh and Glasgow are a five- to six-hour drive, while the nearest local airport is Inverness, a two-hour drive. Car hire is the preferred option to explore the island with SIXT, Europcar and Alamo based at Inverness airport. Tour operator Rabbie’s runs three-day guided tours from Edinburgh.

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