The Hebridean Heaven – Islay Whisky Experience on the  island of Islay. Some in the ‘whisky know’ state that “Somewhere in the world, right now, somebody is drinking Scotch whisky produced on a small island off Scotland’s rugged west coast.”

The island of Islay is thousands of miles from the bars and clubs of New York and San Francisco, but the ancient Gaelic names of the smallest villages on this Hebridean idyll read like a roll call of the international bartender’s most exclusive shelf.

Getting to Island of Islay
Take the winding road east from Port Ellen, one of two ferry terminals on the island, and in little more than ten minutes you will drive past Laphroaig, through Lagavulin and on to Ardbeg.

Islay Distilleries
At each of these small settlements, you will find small, carefully whitewashed distilleries that have grown up over centuries and which, by a combination of nature, alchemy and time – not to mention the gentle hand and keen nose of the distiller – turn out some of the most sought after liquid in the world. There are five more of these magical places, across the island, many of which provide tours and quality refreshment.

If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to taste a recently distilled, peat-fired spirit that will not see the light of day for another 20 or 30 years and which may live almost as long on your palate.

Water of Life
However, ‘uisge beatha’, or ‘water of life’ – as whisky is often known – is not always the first characteristic of Islay to intoxicate the visitor.

Island Life 
There is the near-perfect silence, at some times of the day, particularly late in the long summer evenings, the quiet can wrap you up, and is more comforting than any blanket. The stillness can make periods of daydreaming feel almost compulsory.

The Island
There are many more attributes that draw visitors to Islay, bring them back time and again. Of these, the warmth of Islay’s people is perhaps most significant. There are only 3,500 of them spread across the island’s 239 square miles, and together they represent the beating heart of a fragile rural economy for which tourism is the lifeblood, and farming is the sweat and tears. Islay’s history is rich, and there are many ancient and fascinating places to explore.

Port Charlotte
The hotel of the same name is an outstanding embodiment of Gaelic hospitality and entertainment, with an excellent local menu and traditional live entertainment that can often go on until the sun rises over the neighbouring island of Jura, where George Orwell completed his iconic novel, 1984.

The island’s largest town, has the Harbour Inn, that offers a quieter but no less comfortable base from which to see this island. Port Ellen’s Islay Hotel has been completely rebuilt, and there are many self-catering options.

Islay Beaches
For those who prefer to relax, Islay’s beaches are special. Saligo Bay on the island’s west coast is particularly so and because it can’t be seen from the road, you are unlikely to be bothered by many other people.

Year round, huge waves roll on to the unspoiled golden sand and rocks that are surely as old as time itself offer some protection from the occasional chilled wind from the ocean.

How to get there…
Islay is best reached by air:

  • Served by two daily Flybe ( flights from Glasgow International Airport.
  • Private jet

Leave a Reply