Line-fresh seafood served on the terrace. Far-stretching empty sands. Cool clear waters inviting you in. On the Hebridean Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-la) – with its rugged Rhinns and sheltered bays – adventure, awe, and a landscape teeming with nature await.
Big on sea, sky, wildlife and flavour, here’s a quick lowdown on the best of Islay in summer…
The flash of an island hare, seals sunning themselves in the bay, and the lively call of rarely sighted sea birds – wildlife reigns across Islay’s landscapes, waters and skies.
Dolphins and wild otters appear regularly on Islay’s wildlife boat tours. Time it right, and your skipper may catch you a glimpse of a whale pod migrating to colder climates. While navigating the islets and skerries by boat or kayak, seize the opportunity to take in Islay’s Special Area of Conservation. Only visible from the sea, the area is home to some of Scotland’s most elusive species, including red deer, white-tailed eagles, and even basking sharks.
Back on land, set out on foot to visit the seals soaking up the rays below Eye Catcher – the Portnahaven Lighthouse. Or walk to The Mull of Oa, a rugged headland where wild goats scale cliff faces with impressive dexterity.
Beyond the grassy contours and rolling dunes of The Machrie’s world-class links golf course, a seven-mile swathe of sand sits just a short stroll away. Fling a towel over your shoulder and explore it barefoot or weave 4-inch wide tracks along the shoreline on a fatbike (our team can arrange these for you).
With 130 miles of coastline and 23 beaches, from vast sands to gentle inlets and bays, Islay’s beaches are ripe for hiking, beachcombing, bathing and settling in with a good book. If you’re feeling adventurous, some of the island’s most beautiful beaches lie on its north coast, where you can look westwards to the open Atlantic or east across the narrow channel to Jura, watched over by the impressive Ruvaal lighthouse.
Secluded inlets, wide open meres, still-water lochs and surf breaks; across Islay, clear waters beckon paddlers, kayakers, wild swimmers and divers to take the plunge.
While some of the island’s beaches have strong currents and aren’t suitable for swimming, Laggan Bay (the huge bay by The Machrie), Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal are more sheltered. And with the same Gulf Stream that warms the sea off Cornwall and Devon flowing up along the west coast of Scotland, you might find the water warmer than expected.
Thinking of bringing your surfboard? Large northern swells can lead to some punchy beach breaks, which line up left off the point to the north of Machir Bay and draw surfers here all year round.
The clearest starry nights appear when the sun has set low enough beyond the horizon that it doesn’t affect your observations and the moon is on a waxing or waning crescent.
With just over 3,000 widely dispersed inhabitants, Islay’s night skies are about as pure as you can get. Vividly bright stars blanket the northern Scottish sky, where the naked eye is all you’ll need to inspire awe. Bring a telescope and you’ll see far-flung galaxies and nebulae. Lucky stargazers have also caught sight of the Aurora Borealis’ dancing lights several times in recent months. Make an evening of it, and we’ll fill you a flask to keep you warm as you sit under big skies. It’s always worth checking Dark Sky to see when might be a good time to head out.
Peat-smoked whiskies and day boat seafood, island game and local patch-grown vegetables – on Islay Scottish flavours are served with a unique island essence. Islay makes up part of the ‘Whisky Coast’, with nine distilleries dotted around the island – including the world-famous Laphroaig and Ardbeg. These distinct spirits have been said to turn the tastebuds of many a non-whisky drinker, and also make for a warm-bellied ramble along the Three Distilleries path starting at Port Ellen.
Back on the plate, nothing quite beats a hand-dived scallop caught just moments before, charcoal-seared and whisky-doused, or vibrant orange platters of local crab served up on the boat while you wait, on one of Islay Sea Adventures’ Seafood Ocean Tours.
From the land, expect local furred game, including venison reared by generational farmers, served alongside organically grown produce dug a stone’s throw from The Machrie’s kitchen, creating a Scottish patchwork palette for food lovers to savour.
Days of summer
We’ve been working closely with The Machrie and Islay’s local businesses to create island experiences that showcase the best of the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’. As well as fatbiking across ‘Big Strand’ and a wildlife boat tour with Islay Sea Adventures (included in all our stays), here are some other options our concierges can arrange for you: