Isle of Islay
Visitor Guide to Islay in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland - includes details of travelling around Islay and enjoying the Islay's coast and famous distilleries.
Islay (pronounced eye-la), the most southerly of the Hebridean islands and one of the most populous, with around 4,000 inhabitants, has one very important claim to fame - single malt whisky. Islay produces a very distinctive, peaty malt and connoisseurs are in for a treat, as the island has no fewer than seven working distilleries. Aside from whisky, people also come here to watch birds. The island is something of an ornithologists' wonderland, and from October to April plays host to migrating barnacle and white-fronted geese flying down from Greenland in their thousands for the winter.
If that leaves you cold, then there's always the spectacular coastal scenery, from the wild Mull of Oa to the glorious beach at Laggan Bay. Compared to other islands like Skye, Mull or Arran, Islay receives few visitors, mainly due to its distance from the mainland, giving it a really isolated feel.
Local Sights & Activities for Isle of Islay
The Western Isles are home to some of the classic whisky distilleries whose distinctive peaty flavour are world renowned. Here is a quick list of the main Islay whisky distilleries.
Ardbeg Distillery from the seashore - credit
Though the whisky distilling process is basically the same everywhere, some distilleries have more beautiful locations and more interesting tours. Islay's seven distilleries enjoy the most scenically stunning settings and are full of character and history. Islay also offers the unique opportunity to visit several of Scotland's most impressive distilleries in one day, and their distinctive peaty malts are considered to be among the finest.
Laphroaig (pronounced 'la-froyg') is the closest to Port Ellen, and its wonderful setting is summed up by its name, meaning "The beautiful hollow by the broad bay" in Gaelic. According to many this is the ultimate in malt whisky and is at its best after dinner. The free distillery tours are by appointment only, Tel. 302418.
Lagavulin (pronounced 'laga-voolin') is a mile along the shore by the romantic ruin of Dunyveg Castle. Their 16-year-old single malt is one of the classics and also makes the ideal after-dinner tipple. They also offer a very interesting tour (£3), Monday-Friday by appointment only, Tel. 302400.
Ardbeg distillery is a mile further east and produces a robust and powerful single malt. Established in 1815, it was closed for a while, but was recently acquired by Glenmorangie and runs tours (£2) Monday-Friday from 1030 till 1530, and also on Saturday and Sunday June-August, Tel. 302244.
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay and still uses all the old traditional methods to produce its fine single malt, also at its best after dinner. Their hour-long tours are the most professionally done and even include a video. Tours (£2) all year round from Monday-Friday at 1030 and 1400, in the summer months at 1030, 1130, 1400 and 1500, Tel. 810441.
Caol Ila (pronounced 'coal-eela') was founded in 1846 and lies close to Port Askaig, with great views across the Sound of Islay to Jura. Unlike most of its island peers, this single malt is best before dinner. Tours of the distillery (£3) all year round by appointment only, T840207.
Bunnahabhain (pronounced 'bun a havan') is the most northerly of the distilleries, set in a secluded bay with great views across to Jura. Free tours are also by appointment only, Tel. 840646.
Bruichladdich (pronounced 'brook-laddie') is in the village of the same name on the road south to Port Charlotte. Recently voted distillery of the year by the readers of America's Malt Advocate. They offer tours (£3) all year round Mon-Sat at 1030, 1130 and 1430, see website: Bruichladdich.
Isle of Islay Hotels & Accommodation
Local Holiday Cottages in Islay
Tigh Cargaman offers wonderful views over Kilnaughton Bay and the Oa (pronounced “Oh”) peninsula, and on clear days the hills of Antrim, Northern Ireland are clearly visible. The beach is at the end of the garden (over a road), and the island Maltings and the old Port Ellen Distillery are close by.
Tigh Cargaman Holiday Cottages have three cottages built in 1842 for the Port Ellen Distillery manager and available all year around.
Contact is 01496 302345 or website
Accommodation and hotels in Port Charlotte
Accommodation is somewhat limited in Port Charlotte. The best place to stay is the Port Charlotte Hotel, Tel. 850361, Fax. 850361. 10 rooms. Restored Victorian inn with gardens and conservatory on seafront; their restaurant features local seafood and is the best around. There's also a B&B E Mrs Wood, Tel. 850225, open Apr-Oct; and a SYHA hostel, Tel. 850385, open Mar to end-Oct, next to the Wildlife Information Centre. Aside from the hotel, the best place to eat is the Croft Kitchen (Tel. 850230). It's a coffee and gift shop by day and moderately priced restaurant by night, open Mar-Oct daily 1000-2030, best to book in season.