The Isle of Islay for malt whisky lovers
For aficionados of malt whisky, a visit to the Isle of Islay can take on the aspect of a pilgrimage. Some of Scotland's finest peaty malts are distilled on the island. A tour of the distilleries can be combined with Islay's beaches and tranquil scenic splendour to make a perfect break.
The Isle of Islay is known as the Queen of the Hebrides, and certainly its most famous product, malt whisky, has the royal seal of approval.
It's an island that is beautiful in any weather, but for practical considerations, it's best visited in summer. You can usually rely on the ferries from Kennacraig to make the crossing to Port Ellen and Port Askaig. You can't be quite so confident once the wintry weather begins (around October).
For those who want to get to Islay a little more quickly, flybe.com operate direct flights from Glasgow that can whisk you to the island in just 40 minutes.
There are eight distilleries on the island, with Ardbeg, Bowmore and Laphroaig among the most prominent. Most organise tours and tastings and offer the chance to buy some aged and rare malts.
The other main attraction on the Isle of Islay is the birdlife. The island is an ornithologist's paradise. Buzzards, peregrines, golden eagles and guillemots are among around 100 species that can be seen. Check islayinfo.com for details of habitats.
Anglers are drawn to Islay by the chance to catch trout. The local brown trout population has been augmented with imported rainbow trout, and estates offer fishing breaks on the island's lochs and rivers.
Notes of peat and caramel
It's not all about the whisky, but it has to be said that the perfect end to a day on the Isle of Islay usually involves savouring the fine aroma and complex tastes of an aged malt, while watching the sun dip into the water. Islay can be a sensory experience to remember for years afterwards.