Islay has seen a boom in tourism in recent years, thanks in large part to its great distilleries. Many peat pilgrims, predominantly from Europe, arrive in the summer with campers and tents, but if sleeping under the stars isn’t your thing, there’s a range of longstanding spots that’ll provide a taste of how the island has always been.
An increasing number of B&Bs have popped up in response to the influx of visitors, and the hotels are busier than ever. So whether you’re on a budget or ready to splurge, you can find somewhere to rest your head that’ll suit your style. These are five great places to stay in Islay.
This family-run hotel smack in the middle of the island’s main village has been recently renovated, so despite the plain exterior, expect to find sleek yet snug rooms with new beds and doors made from Islay wood. Of particular note are the bathroom fixtures: The sinks in the rooms are either made from stones from the island’s beaches or teak wood. And heated floors and tropical rain showers are just a few of the extras.
Power move: Keep your Sunday nights free. Sundays are community nights, and the hotel hosts roasts in the winter and barbecues in the summer.
This four-bedroom cottage-style hotel, the island’s only five-star gold accommodation with the AA (the Scottish version of AAA), strikes a balance between cozy and posh. Keep your head on a swivel for unique details, like the plush leather sofas, roaring fireplaces and the eye-catching wallpaper, which is hand-printed in Glasgow. Located on a sprawling expanse of property across the road from the airport, away from the villages, it’s an ideal perch for watching the Northern Lights in March and April.
Power move: An elaborate breakfast is included each day with the price of a stay, and whatever you do, don’t miss the baked goods. Co-owner and baker Emma Clark’s treats earned her a top baker nod from The Guardian newspaper.
You could say the village of Bowmore is the island’s capital. Restaurants, bars, shops and, of course, an iconic distillery line the main boulevard. But all signs of urban life disappear at the recently renovated, quaint seven-bedroom Harbour Inn, which is owned by Bowmore. Located next to a stunning, tranquil pier with an observatory that looks directly onto the island of Jura, the rush of the waves is a dependable lullaby. The rooms are adorned with tartan patterns, and the lobby features comfortable couches and a working stone fireplace.
Power move: Bowmore also owns five guesthouses in the distillery’s historic cottages across the road, each with several bedrooms and a kitchen. It’s ideal for longer stays.
No-frills and cozy as can be, this is part of a fourth-generation-owned establishment that also includes a lively pub and restaurant. Located in Port Charlotte, across the street from a gorgeous loch facing Bowmore, its nine recently renovated rooms run the gamut from double beds and twin beds, each of which has a shared bathroom, to en suite rooms in separate buildings around back. The grand Scottish breakfast, prepared each morning by the hotel’s owner, is reason alone to stay here.
Power move: Traveling with a group? This is the place to book. There are two separate buildings behind the main building, each featuring two king-size beds. The pair of rooms can be booked together for families or couples at a reduced rate.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Plenty of peat fanatics–and, for that matter, scotch fanatics—have dreamed of sleeping in a distillery. Ardbeg won’t let you sleep in the still house, but you can wake up to wafts of peat if you book a stay at the utterly charming, single-story cottage that’s located in the middle of the distillery complex. It dates back to 1815, and for many years, it was the home of the distillery manager. Today, it stands refurbished and offers plenty of modern amenities (kitchen, laundry, under-floor heating) and even more Old World charm. It sleeps up to six in three en-suite bedrooms.
Power move: You can hear the ocean waves nearly anywhere you stay on Islay, but Seaview Cottage is unique for the enclosed garden surrounding the building. The living room is a cozy enough space for a dram, but this is one of the few spots where you can sit outside and enjoy the soundtrack—and smells—of a working distillery.