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Award winning hotel on the west coast with excellent restaurant but still finding its feet after ownership changes
Something of a legendary hotel on this coast line that does not have a michelin star at the moment but is fighting hard to regain it. Service excellent, food excellent and charming accommodation.
The Summer Isles is a magical small hotel in the wilds of Sutherland, high on the northwest coast of Scotland. Make your way 240 miles north of Glasgow to Ullapool, and a further 25 miles of single-track road will get you there.
A weekend at The Summer Isles satisfies more than gustatory appetites. Wending your way down the slow, single track road you will pass some of the world's greatest scenery with deep, still lochs, the colossal Stac Pollaidh peak, and glimpses of wheeling seabirds, seals and otters.
In this wild land you are only 40 miles from Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point of mainland Britain. Achiltibuie itself is a wonderful little west coast community of whitewashed cottages strung along the shoreline. As the hotel's brochure says “There's a marvellous amount of nothing to do here.”
The Summer Isles Hotel sits directly on the shore road, with breathtaking views across to the Summer Isles and then to the Hebrides. I stayed in the newly refurbished Boat House suit, which enjoys uninterrupted views. Whilst modern, the refurbishment has retained the charms of beamed ceilings, exposed stone walls and flagstone floors. Other rooms are in log cabins and turf-roofed cottages, and whilst cheaper, they are showing their age with pine-clad interiors rather absorbing the wonderful west coast light.
The Summer Isles kitchen has a Michelin star, and is presided over by chef Chris Firth-Bernard. Scallops, lobster, langoustines or crab from the cold offshore waters feature nightly, along with venison and lamb from the hillsides and big brown eggs from the Irvine's hens. Delicious breads come straight from the oven, and the 400-strong wine list runs the gamut from £15 southern French and Chilean quaffs, to trophy wines like Pétrus, Romanée-Conti and Screaming Eagle.
Though there's a certain formality about the dining room, this is a place to wear walking boots and wind-cheating clothes by day, and dress up a bit for dinner after a long soak in your over-sized bath. There's also a busy bar at the side of the hotel, where you can rub shoulders with locals and sample the Skye Brewery's excellent cask ales, or an array of Island whiskies.
The set, no-choice dinner is not cheap at £47, but offers good value for five course, coffee and service. One starter I particularly enjoyed on my two-night stay was a fine fish soup, creamy and light, touched with saffron, and studded with chunks of locally netted salmon, turbot and lobster. Though a haunch of Roe Deer venison was dark and delicious, it was a scintillating poached lobster that stole the main course show. This was an object lesson in simplicity, with copious, impossibly fresh meat presented with minimum intervention.
Puddings and cheeses are brought round on trolleys, followed by coffee served in the lounge. By 10:30 we had the place to ourselves: all those hearty hill-walking guests had retired early, no doubt exhausted by the marvellous amount of nothing to do.
Closed November - March. Rooms from £130 per night, bed and breakfast.
There are 3 bedrooms in the original house. Outbuildings and cottages have been converted into further bedrooms and suites in order to afford the best views of the bay.
Log House suite at the Summer Isles
Detached house of Norwegian pine with an open plan living room with wood burning stove, small kitchen, one double and one twin bedded room. Shared bathroom. Sea views. TV. Sleeps 4/5
Boat House Suite
Converted stone croft house sleeping 2/4 people. The whole of the ground floor is living space with wonderful views of the islands. The bedroom is reached by spiral staircase. Luxurious bathroom on ground floor. TV. Sofabed downstairs for 2 children.
A detached house approximately 2 minutes' walk from the main hotel set in its own grounds with wonderful views of the hills and islands. Open plan living area with log-burning stove, underfloor heating, fully fitted kitchen, 3 bedrooms (all en-suite), sauna, whirlpool bath. Sleeps 6.