How to make the most of one of Scotland's most beautiful islands, by Mary Miers.
Largest and most famous of the Hebrides, Skye is undisputedly the apotheosis of the sublime. Thrust up by volcanoes, carved by ice and sea, its diverse and dramatic landscapes make it the ultimate destination for those in search of extreme sports, wild Nature or artistic inspiration. In addition to its geological wonders — the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, the Spar Cave, the Cuillin — the island has a rich Gaelic heritage, its stirring history chronicled in music, poetry and folklore, and in the evocative ruins of castles and abandoned villages. From the picturesque little town of Portree at its hub, five great promontories spread out like ragged wings, and always there’s the exhilaration of those views across water — to other headlands, neighbouring islands and the mainland massif. Skye has been accessible by bridge since 1995, but it’s more fun to arrive by sea and there are still several ferry routes in operation, notably the historic crossing from Glenelg.
Where to stay and eat
The Three Chimneys is unrivalled for its subtle infusion of croft-house vernacular and contemporary style. With it understated elegance—pale wooden fittings and bentwood chairs, sheepskin, le creuset stoneware and textiles in soft Hebridean hues — and menus concocted from local produce — seaweed cured salmon, Isle of Muck partridge, Bracadale crab tortellini, apple terrine with sea buckthorn cream — this six-bedroom hotel overlooking Loch Dunvegan deserves its reputation for outstanding cuisine coupled with sophisticated bothy style.
Atmospheric Hotel Eilean Iarmain’s Birlinn Restaurant and wood panelled Pràban Bar serve delicious local fare and form part of the famous Gaelic establishment created around an old harbour by the late Sir Iain Noble. Famous for its glorious views across the Sound of Sleat, the complex includes an art gallery, boutique, gin distillery and boutique whisky company (Pràban na Linne) with shop. Outdoor activities on the Eilean Iarmain estate include wildlife walks, argocat safaris, fishing and simulated stalking with Scott Mackenzie.
For contemporary Scots cuisine with a French twist, try Michelin-starred chef Michael Smith’s Loch Bay Restaurant at Stein.
For the café with the best view: An Crùbh on the Sleat peninsular, an impressive community enterprise with hall and shop.
What to do
Skye is punctuated with the strongholds of its two principal clans, the Macdonalds and the Macleods. Visit Armadale Castle, Gardens and Museum of the Isles; Dunvegan Castle and Gardens; and the cliff-top ruin of Dùn Scaith, with its
stupendous view of the Cuillin. For whisky lovers, the distilleries at Talisker (established 1830) and Torabhaig (opened 2017) offer tours. The island’s crofting history is brought to life at the Skye Museum of Island Life, while its internationally significant heritage of pre-historic fossils is the subject of the Staffin Dinosaur Museum. Otter lovers will enjoy the Bright Water Visitor Centre and Eilan Bàn, Gavin Maxwell’s last home.