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Isle of Islay

My husband and I are planning a week in Scotland at the end of September. We've allocated at least two nights visiting the Inner Hebrides. Our focus will be relaxation and visiting a few distilleries. Our favorite Scotch distillers, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Caol Ila etc. are on the isle of Islay. I find little information about Islay itself. Should we stay in Port Ellen, Bowmore, or Port Askaig on the island? Are we crazy to be going to Islay rather than to Oban to see Mull and Iona? Can anyone please give us their feedback on Islay? How does it stack up against its northern cousins, Mull, Iona, etc? Any feedback would be most appreciated.

Posted by
2940 posts

I've not been to Islay, but I did visit the ferry terminal on the western coast of Kintyre. I also ran across a lovely book about the migratory birds of Islay and Jura which was in the library of the Stonefield Castle Hotel in Tarbert -- full of excellent photographs.

All in all, it looks enticing for those who want to get away from the tourist beaten track.

Posted by
103 posts

Thank you for your feedback! Off the touristic beaten path is exactly what we're looking for. Our best experiences have been in places barely mentioned in tour books; Modena, Portsmouth, Saverne, Carnoustie. We find it easier to connect with locals off the beaten track which is why we travel. That encourages us to venture forth....

Posted by
33 posts

We just got back this past Sunday from a two week trip to Scotland, with the last week devoted to Islay. It was absolutely fabulous, so I definitely think its "worth it" ... but it does depend on what your goals are and how it fits in with the other parts of your trip. (Getting to the island itself is a bit time-consuming.)

I would stay in either Bowmore or Port Ellen. There isn't much in Port Askaig. Bowmore is most central to the entire island, has slightly more restaurants, several cute shops, and a distillery in-town (we stayed in Bowmore and I loved walking out the door and breathing in the a hint of smoking peat from the distillery.) Port Ellen has the dock (if you are traveling by ferry), and is very convenient to Laphraoig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg (there is a walking path from town to the three distilleries, although the path runs along the road and didn't seam that scenic from the car.)

We visited all eight distilleries during our week. I HIGHLY recommend the Water to Whisky Experience at Laphroaig. Its expensive, but soooo worth it. Caol Illa was my least favorite tour ... it has a much more modern, industrial feel to it. If its one of your favorite whiskys, I would recommend just doing a tasting in the (tiny) visitors center and then walking along the water which gives great views into the still house. If you are driving, be sure to ask for containers to take home your samples (all the distilleries provide them, but you may have to ask). If you want to taste some rare/unique drams, I'd recommend scheduling a Whisky Tasting at the Ballygrant Inn (24 hour notice required), although be forewarned that the service there isn't the best. The Bowmore Hotel also had a really nice Whisky List (and far better service and food).

While the whisky is great, don't forget to explore the Island itself! We didn't visit Oban, Mull, or Iona so I can't really compare. But I can say that Islay was absolutely beautiful and gives you a little bit of everything ... open moors, sandy beaches, rocky ocean cliffs, and rolling hills (no mountains on the island, but on a clear day you can see the Paps of Jura). There are lots of cattle and sheep roaming around, and if you get to some of the more remote areas you can see even more wildlife. Some of my favorite areas included the American Monument, Machir Bay, Finlaggan, and driving along an unnamed road towards Ardtalla.

I'm not sure how it will be at the end of September, but restaurants and distillery tours were all fully booked when we were there at the end of August. I'd recommend booking dinners at least 24 hours in advanced and booking distillery tours ASAP.

Posted by
2940 posts

Ooh, you're making me jealous! Someday I really hope to go there.

I hope you'll post your review on the "Trip Reports" section of this forum too.

Posted by
1345 posts

There are twelve distilleries on Islay, with another on the neighbouring island of Jura. Jura is also where George Orwell finished the manuscript of '1984'.

If staying on Islay, Bowmore is probably more central.