The Scottish Highlands are always a draw for visitors and in the late autumn/early winter the changing colours are spectacular.
If you are unlucky it can be bleak and bitterly cold – but we more or less won the weather lottery during our visit in November.
Our first port of call was Port Appin, just north of Oban on the west coast.
The reason – a two-night stay at the renowned Airds Hotel, owned for the last 15 years by Shaun and Jenny McKivragan.
Both had good careers in London and wanted a lifestyle change. They came to visit the Airds once or twice, and, as the saying goes, liked it so much they bought it.
The Airds is on the banks of Loch Linnhe and has great views from the front across the bay to the snow-capped mountains. The iconic Castle Stalker is also nearby.
The hotel is modern, elegant and well furnished with variety of rooms. The reputation of its restaurant has spread far and wide.
Let’s be honest – it is not cheap. Prices ranged from £305 per room per night at the time of our visit. Dinner bed and breakfast is included.
We were given the Master Suite and it was huge. It comprised a bedroom with super king-sized bed, a huge lounge and balcony, and bathroom with walk-in shower, bath and his and hers sinks.
There are lot of nice touches – free fruit, and chocolates, a small bottle of Whisky Mac and plentiful free toiletries are just a few. The atmosphere is quiet and sophisticated and the restaurant keeps customers coming back.
The three AA rosette restaurant has been a continuous presence in the Good Food guide for 40 years,
Evening at the Airds revolves around dinner. The mouth-watering menu is very appealing – venison, lemon sole, grouse, smoked salmon, you name it. All served with style and panache under the supervision of head chef Chris Stanley.
And the courses just keep coming. Canapes, amuse bouche, and then your chosen starter. A top-class selection of bread, finest Wedgewood china everywhere, then your chosen main, then a surprise bonus sweet, then your sweet of choice. Blimey, this is fine dining and although the portions of course are not huge, there would be something wrong with you if you had any room left before cheese, biscuits and coffee.
The busy port town of Oban is around 20 minutes away and a little further away is Fort William.
Further afield is stunning Inveraray, with its castle and jail, but our next stop, however, was the hotel voted the most romantic in Scotland. Ardanaseig stands on the banks of Loch Awe. The setting couldn’t be more Scottish – a spacious country home tucked away in acres of land.
The current building was created in 1834 and it is reached by a single track. One road in, one road out. Nothing around for miles – except you, the loch, the wildlife and other guests and staff.
A grand entrance hall with sweeping staircase and a roaring log fire greets you. It is a magnificent building with a great period feel. Despite that it is not stuffy in the slightest –and the staff are easy and cheery.
Of course this standard of accommodation doesn’t come cheap. The cheapest room was £235 at the time of our visit, rising to £265 for the master loch view suite, which was ours for the night. It was furnished in period style, including a chaise lounge, and comprise of a huge bedroom, and separate bathroom and bath and toilet.
It had a king-size bed, a flat screen TV with freeview channels and DVD player, two cosy robes, a hairdryer, iron and ironing board and luxury Scottish toiletries.
You can relax with a drink in the high-backed chairs with a stunning view of Loch Awe and the mountains beyond. As dusk falls it is utterly still , quiet and isolated.
Wander into the woods and you may even see deer.
Down at the loch side is the Boatyard – a private lodge for honeymoon couples or someone wanting a romantic break; each year it seems to wow the judges of the Good Hotel Guide.
The Ardanaiseig Restaurant is noted for its imaginative use of fresh West of Scotland produce.
A welcoming log fire welcomes you to the bar area and the long dining room over-looking the Loch, is a great place to eat.
The menu is varied – featuring scallops, mackerel, rabbit, sea trout. Generous portions, great service and a surprisingly informal feel made it a very enjoyable experience.
The food is cooked and served with great care and attention and we could see clearly that it would make a fantastic wedding and events venue in a stunning setting.
*Airds Hotel & Restaurant’s two-night Spring Getaway is priced from £252 per person and includes ½-board accommodation (2 sharing). Call 01631 730 236.
*Ardanaiseig is to re-open in 2018 as an exclusive use venue for weddings and other events, its owner announced.
Call 01866 833333