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Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance | Couples Vacations on the Isle of Islay

The Isle of Islay in Scotland is recognized for its unique Islay Scotch whisky. The smell of peaty smoke being discharged from an Islay distillery is so unique that one’s entire perspective on Scotch may be completely changed upon one inhale. Nevertheless, this little Scottish island sitting in the Inner Southern Hebrides of Scotland has so much more to offer visitors than simply Scotch and distillery tours.

Islay is commonly referred to as the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ because of its soft sandy white beaches, dramatic sea cliffs, and impressive sunsets. Anyone who’s heard of Islay (pronounced eye-luh) will most likely associate the island with the smoky and peaty single malt whisky that’s distilled there—but very few know that it’s a great place for a couples vacation, especially if you’re looking to combine Islay Scotch whisky and romance.

During half of our trip, we stayed in the Laphroaig pod, at Storm Pods. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

During our recent tour of Islay, we were quite amazed at the beauty of the island and a little angry at ourselves for not visiting it sooner. We met a few other travel couples on vacation and were amazed to hear their stories.

This Lagavulin distillery sits right on Lagavulin Bay. That’s us with a cute couple that we met from Houston, Texas. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

One couple was there on their honeymoon. Another couple was fascinated with spirits, especially Islay Scotch—they went on to show us pictures of their massively stocked bar at their home in Houston, Texas. Another couple was celebrating a special milestone birthday.

The Carraig Fhada Lighthouse. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

Our hostess Emma at the Glenegedale House also mentioned how many years ago a group of couples began staying with them each time they visited Islay. With each passing year, one by one, their families began growing. Nowadays, the entire group still visits but must rent out the entire property to accommodate all its new members. She describes it as one big, happy family reunion.

The boardwalk at Finlaggan. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

It’s quite amazing to hear about how special the Isle of Islay has become to this group of friends and family. And after visiting, we understand why. There’s so much more than Islay Scotch whisky here.

Islay Distilleries | Elephant in the Room

Let’s face it, the main reason tourists flock to Islay is to visit the Islay distilleries—there’s no denying this. The internet’s inundated with information dissecting each distillery and it’s scotch, identifying differences in notes and level of peatiness, etc.

Islay’s Lagavulin Legend. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

Without getting into all of the idiosyncrasies of Scottish whisky, understanding the basics and features of each distillery will go a long way into maximizing your time during your visit.

The burning of peat at the Laphroaig distillery is a smell you’ll never forget and dream about after you’ve left the island.

Think of many of these as insider tips or helpful suggestions. Let’s take a moment to examine the elephant in the room and then we’ll follow up with all of the other great things to do. Especially, the romantic ones!

Islay Whiskys

Most couples will visit for one or two days and try to squeeze in as many distillery visits as possible. Two nights is simply not enough time to fully enjoy the island. You can easily spend a week on the Isle of Islay—but I digress, for now.

It also includes a complimentary glass for you to take home. This is not some small sample, more like a proper shot of whisky.

Islay’s Scotch is famous for being a single malt because it’s only made using barley. The local peat, which when burned adds notes of smokiness, seaweed, and sea air to the whisky. Also, to qualify as Scotch, it must be aged for a minimum of three years, distilled in Scotland, and aged in oak barrels.

How Many Distilleries Are on Islay?

There are currently nine distilleries on Scotland’s ‘Whisky Island.’

The Ardbeg distillery. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

However, there will soon be 10 with the opening of the Farkin distillery. The nine distilleries are:

  1. Ardbeg
  2. Ardnahoe
  3. Bowmore
  4. Bruichladdich
  5. Bunnahabhain
  6. Caol Ila
  7. Kilchoman
  8. Lagavulin
  9. Laphroaig

What Are the Best Islay Whisky Distilleries to Visit?

Of course, if you have a passion for a specific Islay whisky we encourage you to visit that distillery. However, each distillery has something special to offer tourists.

The Lagavulin distillery from the street. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

As a result,  if you’re novices like we were, here’s a list of the ‘best-of-the-best’ Islay whisky distilleries to visit according to their specialty:

  • Islay whisky tasting: Lagavulin Warehouse Demonstration
  • Cocktails: Laphroaig
  • Lunch: Ardbeg
  • Scenic views: Caol Ila
  • Café: Kilchoman
  • Distillery tour: Bowmore
  • Newest distillery: Ardnahoe
  • Least peaty: Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain
  • Most remote:  Bunnahabhain
  • Most diverse: Bruichladdich (peated and unpeated Scotch and gin)
A visit to the Isle of Islay should not be rushed. Plan extra time here so that you can rest and be thankful. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

It can be fun to visit all of the distilleries. However, it can get quite expensive and monotonous to participate in more than a couple of distillery tours. With that in mind use the above ‘best-of’ list to help build the itinerary that makes sense for you.

Things to Do | Couples Vacations on the Isle of Islay

Romance may be found around nearly every corner on the Isle of Islay. However, if you’d like to loosen up before snuggling up you should head over to Lagavulin for the ‘Lagavulin Warehouse Demonstration.’

A list of the whiskies we tasted during the Lagavulin Warehouse Demonstration. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

At about 39 USD per person, this excursion is a steal. Many of the whiskies you’ll be sampling when bottled retail for well over 200 USD each.

Lagavulin Warehouse Demonstration

This experience walks you through the maturation process and is a great alternative to a distillery tour. Instead, you’ll head to the warehouse where the whisky ages. You’ll be sampling the whisky right from the cask. The ‘Lagavulin Legend,’ Ian MacArthur hosts this intimate experience.

Apparently, a 10:30 whisky tasting makes it a wee bit easier to wake up out of bed!

Upon arrival, you’ll receive a complimentary dram (or shot). Then during the tasting, you’ll receive five more.  At the end of the demonstration, you’ll have the ability to taste your favorite, one additional time. That’s a whopping seven tastings. Don’t worry. They give you glass vials for any drams you’d like to drink at a later date.

The man. The myth. The legend. Ian McArthur ladies and gentlemen.

There’s no other experience like this on the island and it’s considered a ‘must-do.’ Ian is a hoot and entertains the attendees with his witty stories and Scottish charm.

Ian siphons the whisky from a seven-year-old cask.

Now that your belly’s nice and warm, it’s a great time to tour the island. Before departing Lagavulin Distillery make sure to head to the coastline to view Dunyvaig Castle. After the demonstration, you’ll probably want to head over to the nearby Ardberg distillery for a romantic lunch.

Persabus Pottery Painting Workshop

While it may never get as hot and steamy as Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in the movie Ghost, this pleasurable activity can be quite a romantic endeavor.

The Persabus Pottery Painting Workshop takes place in this cute white cottage.

You begin with the unglazed bisque shape of your choice. You then have the option to either create your own unique piece or replicate one of Rosemary’s masterpieces. Rosemary will guide you through the personalized workshop—providing tips and tricks to releasing your inner Picasso.

It was great chatting with Rosemary while we painted our pottery. We were able to learn so much about her and the island.

To get utterly romantic, we decided to dedicate and paint a heartshaped dish to present to each other. The Persabus Pottery Painting Workshop is a great way to translate your love or simply your vacation to the Isle of Islay into a meaningful memento.

Audrey’s adding some finishing touches to her piece.

We sat across the table from one another and didn’t allow any snooping so that it would be a total surprise. On the back of the heart dish, we each wrote a message along with the date and location.

Having a laugh during the process.

During the workshop, Rosemary discussed her life on the island with her husband Donald, who she refers to as The Happy Farmer.  As we all worked, we fell into an easy conversation over hot coffee while enjoying the warmth of the fire.  We also appreciated Rosemary’s local recommendations as to how we should spend our time on Islay.

Adding the Finishing Touches

It was a lot of fun and a great surprise to see what each of us painted.

Our finished pieces were then glazed and fired. Keep in mind that it takes at least 24 hours for this process to take place so make sure you complete the painting at the beginning of your trip. We were incredibly pleased with how well the dishes turned out—such great souvenirs!

Persabus Farm Jewelry Workshop

Charlotte Hannett runs a small jewelry workshop in the building next to the Persabus Pottery Painting Workshop. It’s here that you can purchase jewelry that she designs and makes by hand.

A cute piece of jewelry by Charlotte Hannett.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, there’s probably no better souvenir than a piece of handcrafted jewelry. Charlotte told us that she loves Islay so much that she even spent her honeymoon here on the island. Our suggestion? Consider remembering your time in Islay by bringing home a custom piece of handmade jewelry as a special memento.

Machir Bay and Saligo Bay

There are many beautiful beaches on the Isle of Islay. However, two of the most dramatic are Machir Bay (also known as Machrie Beach or Kilchoman Beach) and Saligo Bay. Machrie Beach is easy to reach via a short walk from the parking lot.

The thing I miss most about Scotland is the way the grass dances in the wind. The sand dunes near Machir Bay.

The wide beach is about 1.5 miles long and is the ideal place for a walk or a sunset. Make sure to touch the lovely white sand which is incredibly soft and fine. Nearby sights include the Old Kilchoman Parish Church, Grannies Rock, Dun Chroisprig (Iron Age fort), and Kilchiaran Bay.

Many of the locals consider Saligo Bay to be the most beautiful, especially for photography. The angle that the light hits the beach here apparently creates the most interesting lighting conditions. The large rocks on the beach add character and depth to the photography. Just a bit north of the bay is the Sleeping Giant rock formation.

Best Places for a Romantic Walk

The Isle of Islay is a wonderful place to walk because it’s so quiet and remote. Also, there’s so little traffic so it’s easy to access trailheads.

The road leading to the American monument. The road will take you within about one mile of the monument.
  • American Monument: This two-mile roundtrip walk will take about 1.5 hours to complete. The monument sits atop a high cliff on the Oa (pronounced Oh) Peninsula. Built in 1920, and dedicated by Woodrow Wilson, the American monument commemorates two ships (the Tuscania and Otranto) that sank off the nearby coast. From a height of about 450 feet, the short trek provides walkers with the some of the most spectacular views of Islay and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Three Distilleries Pathway: This relatively new walk covers 4 miles and begins in Port Ellen and links the popular distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. You can cut this walk in half by only visiting the distilleries.
  • Soldier’s Rock and Kintra Circuit: If you’re looking for a challenging walk then this may be the one for you.  Covering 5 miles and taking about four hours this walk traverses through moorland, derelict villages, and you’ll need to cross burns and fences. The view of Soldier’s Rock and the coastline are spectacular though and make it well worth the trek.
  • RSPB Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve: This is probably the most diverse section of Islay. The reserve provides walkers with the opportunity to see a vast array of Hebridean birds and other wildlife. It’s considered an extremely special reserve because it’s on a working farm. Guided walks are available.

Kildalton High Cross and Kilnave Chapel

The magnificent 8th-century Kildalton High Cross stands next to the ruins of the Kildaton Church. It was erected about 1,300 years ago and stands in its original location.

Carved about 1,300 years ago, the Kildalton Cross is one of the finest and most complete early Christian crosses in Scotland.

Look closely and you’ll see carvings of angels, David and the Lion, birds eating grapes, Cain killing Abel, and the Virgin Mary with Christ. Across the street, on unconsecrated grounds is the Thief’s Cross.

The Thief’s Cross is just across the street from the Kildalton chapel and cross.

Both crosses are considered two of the most impressive in all of Scotland. Another beautiful cross to see is located at the Kilnave Chapel on the northwest of Islay. Most visitors to the area are on their way to the nearby RSPB visitor center and many overlook this historical gem.

Looking down and inside the Kildalton Church.

It’s estimated that the Kilnave chapel was built during the late 1300s or early 1400s. The chapel was also the location for the Battle of Traigh Ghruinneart, fought between the Clan Donald and Clan Maclean.

Finlaggan

Finlaggan may not seem like spectacular ruins or relics at first glance. However, it provides an interesting glimpse into the world of the late middle ages.

Finlaggan and the boardwalk leading to it.

Finlaggan was the center of the Lordship of the Isles. During the middle ages, this was the site where the inauguration of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles took place.

We captured this shot on a windy chilly day after a tour of the nearby distillery. As one of our hosts stated, “It’s kind of nice to tour the island with a small bit of whisky in your stomach to keep you warm.”

There are a few remains, some stone ruins, and some grave markers. However, the museum is full of interesting information which includes high-tech virtual reality reconstruction of the site. Finally, all of this sits in a beautiful heather moor setting. Brilliant!

Other Notable Things to See and Do

  • Museum of Islay Life: Showcases life on Islay from the Mesolithic period to modern-day.
  • Islay Woollen Mill: Cloth designed by the Islay Woollen Mill has been featured in many Hollywood blockbusters including Rob Roy, Forrest Gump, and Braveheart.
  • The Singing Sands & Carraig Fhada: The soles of your shoes will sing when walking on the Singing Sands. Make sure to see the nearby Carraig Fhada Lighthouse.
Kilarrow Church or the”Round Church” overlooking the town of Bowmore.
  • The Round Church: Impossible to miss. Overlooks the town of Bowmore.
  • Islay House Community Gardens: Free to visit the garden where vegetables, fruits, and herbs for the Islay community are grown.
  • Islay Wildlife Information & Visitor Center: Interesting exhibits and tips on how to spot the local wildlife.
  • Machrie Golf Course: Considered by many to be on the best courses in all of Scotland.

Where to Stay

Luxury: Glenegedale House—we enjoyed a short but sweet stay at the Glenegedale House with Emma and Graeme.

A view from the street of the Glenegedale House.

Is there a more lovely couple in all of Scotland than Emma and Graeme? Doubt it. The location is perfect and the hospitality is simply wonderful.

Lovely bedroom with a beautiful view of the Sea of the Hebrides.

They were recently awarded as the most hospitable B&B or Guesthouse in the Highlands and Islands.

View looking out from the dining room at the Glenegedale House.

Glenegedale House is an outstanding luxury guesthouse because it’s one of those places that make your visit feel like it’s a special occasion.

Everyone can start their morning the way they prefer.

Let’s put it this way, even Paul Hollywood (of GBBO) would be impressed with Graeme’s homemade fresh baked bread.

Glenegedale House Scottish Sharing Platter

Scottish Stave Sharing Platter at Glenegedale House.

Don’t forget to ask about starting the day with some Islay Scotch and porridge or finishing the night with a traditional Scottish Stave Sharing Platter. Highlights include Isle Of Kintyre Laphroaig Mature Cheddar, Argyll Smoker’s salmon both cold and kiln roasted over barrel chips, and hot and cold smoked salmon from Argyll Smokery in Dunoon.

Budget: Storm Pods—consider a bit of glamping while on the Isle of Islay.

Enjoying a cup of morning coffee on the deck of our Laphroaig Storm Pod.

The Storm-pods provide the feeling like you’re camping right on the beach, with all of the creature comforts that only a home can provide.

The view looking out towards Lagavulin Bay from our glamping pod.

We stayed in the Laphroaig pod which was named after the nearby whisky distillery. All of the pods provide stunning views of Lagavulin Bay.

Where to Eat

The Islay Hotel: We went a bit crazy with the ‘Beef and Reef’ at The Islay Hotel but in our defense, we had to.

Caramelized butter: all butter should taste this good!

You see, all of the ingredients are locally sourced and produced.

Crab Cakes, Marinated Fennel, Watercress, Smoked Chilli Mayonnaise. These were made fresh and were outstanding.

The seafood comes from local fishermen, who are a part of the Islay community and friends of the hotel. The beef comes from locally sourced cows.

The scallops were phenomenal. Audrey’s not a huge fan of scallops and she was head over heels.
Sirloin Steak, Herb Crusted Tomato, Watercress, Fries, Peppercorn Sauce.

We have to make a special shout out to a couple of dishes that were truly spectacular—the crab cakes, scallops, and the caramelized butter were some of the best plates we’ve had in the world.

Getting to Islay

The easiest and fastest way to reach the Isle of Islay is to fly in directly from Glasgow. With only three flights per day, it’s a good idea to book the thirty-minute flight early. The Glenegedale House is directly across the street from the airport and car rental, making it a convenient location on the island.

The slower and more scenic route is to ferry in from Kennacraig, a few miles south of Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula. The one-way trip will take about two hours.


Thinking About Extending Your Vacation?

Thinking about extending your vacation? Consider heading over to the Crinan Hotel. It sits on one of the most stunning sites in all of Scotland. Crinan is famous for its location on the Crinan Canal, which is nicknamed ‘Scotland’s most beautiful shortcut.’

Love the sky blue sailboat with the Crinan Hotel in the background.

This is a very special place in Scotland. There is a marvelous network of lock gates, paths, and the most darling lighthouse we’ve ever seen. It looks like something out of a Department 56 village! Let’s not forget about the Crinan Hotel which offers stunning views of Loch Crinan and the Duntrune Castle.

The Ross family has owned the Crinan Hotel for nearly 50 years. This family of artists showcases their pieces around the property. During our overnight, we appreciated “sleeping among the art.”

The Crinan Canal Lighthouse is the most darling lighthouse we’ve ever seen. It looks like something out of a Department 56 village!

It’s an interesting area of Scotland to explore for a day or two. The waterfront setting made it the ideal time to enjoy some of Scotland’s outstanding seafood. The Crinan Seafood Bar had some of the best seafood stew we’ve ever eaten.

The Loch Crinan Seafood Stew was some of the best we’ve ever had. So fresh! Probably the best seafood stew we’ve ever had.

Epic Rainbow

Following our overnight stay, we were just about to depart the Crinan Hotel, when a member of the staff came out to our car with a piece of paper.

Just the most epic rainbow. Thank God we forgot to pay our bar tab.

We immediately knew we forgot to pay our bar tab. We hurried back in with exclamations of, “We are so sorry!”

The end of the rainbow.

On our way out, the most amazing bright rainbow appeared directly in front of us. As we savored the view with the hotel staff, we all shared a laugh when Harry joked, “Thank God we forgot to pay our bar tab.” It was the perfect ending to our three-week tour around Scotland.

Taking a stroll along Machir Bay, one of Scotland’s best beaches on the Isle of Islay. The sand here is so unbelievably soft and fine. | Islay Scotch Whisky and Romance

Have you visited the Isle of Islay in Scotland? Please share your experience or questions in the comments section.

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