An Insider’s Guide To The Isle Of Skye
An Insider’s Guide To The Isle Of Skye

An Insider’s Guide To The Isle Of Skye

Off the west coast of Scotland, Skye is a 50-mile-long island of sea cliffs, jagged mountains, fern-covered moors and spectacular waterfalls. In short, it’s one of Britain’s most beautiful destinations – all year round. Whether you fancy a late winter escape or are already looking ahead to next summer, here’s where to stay, what to eat and everything to do once you get there – according to our managing lifestyle editor Heather...
By Heather Steele
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Image: MILOVAIG HOUSE; Richard Gaston

LUKE STACKPOOLE/UNSPLASH

STAY

Available through Sand & Stone Escapes, Milovaig House is a striking two-bedroom former crofters’ cottage on the edge of the sea, right up in the remote northwest of the island. Alongside a modern extension featuring floor-to-ceiling windows made for stargazing and wildlife spotting, the rest of the traditional property has been given a lovely Scandi makeover that suits Milovaig’s hillside surroundings – picture white-washed walls and sheepskin rugs. The lovely touches continue with a generous welcome hamper filled with local bread, jam, eggs and a bottle of something fizzy in the fridge, and a Nordic-style wood-fired hot tub from where – in the right conditions – you can watch the Northern Lights. For something similar on a bigger scale, look to Kip Hideaways’ West Coast Cabin, which sleeps eight. Also in the northwest of Skye, on the Duirinish Peninsula, Hillstone Lodge is a stylish B&B with views over Loch Dunvegan. There are three guestrooms to choose from, all of which have double beds with luxury linens and views. Perfect for relaxing after a day’s exploring, rooms have the kind of five-star touches you’d expect at a top hotel, like fluffy bathrobes and slippers, toiletries from Noble Isle, plus complimentary fruit and cake.

For a romantic trip or solo getaway, Supernova is a beautiful house overlooking Loch Harport and the village of Carbost. Once a chapel, the property has been restored with many of the original features intact, including two entrance doors and beautiful arched windows. It has a reversed-level design, so the living areas make the most of the views, while the king-size bedroom and its en-suite sit on the ground floor at the bottom of a spiral staircase. Guests can fire up the barbecue during the summer months and enjoy those views (just don’t forget the insect repellent for those pesky midges). Mint Croft has two beautiful cottages with some of the best views on the island. On the Waternish Peninsula overlooking Loch Snizort, each cottage sleeps two, with lovely antiques, custom furniture, local tweeds and designer linens. The Blackhouse Cottage, which has a traditional turf roof and stone walls nearly a metre thick, offers an open-plan living and dining area, a bathroom with a rain shower, and a spacious bedroom with a super-king bed and sitting room. Guests can relax with the views on the outside patio, then fire up the indoor wood burner during the evenings.

Milovaig House
Milovaig House

Richard Gaston

If a hotel is more your thing, Kinloch Lodge is a family run property in a truly spectacular location. Tucked away on Skye’s southern shores, the lodge feels totally remote – you’ll need a car to reach it, but it’s worth any journey. Once a 16th-century hunting lodge, the Kinloch is now home to an impressive hotel that pays homage to its historic roots and is dedicated to creating a home-from-home experience – if your home was a gorgeous sprawling mansion on the edge of a loch. For over 50 years, the hotel has been run by chef Claire Macdonald and her husband Lord Godfrey – and now her daughter Isabella is at the helm. Inside, bedrooms have been decorated in colours and textures that reflect Skye's distinctive landscape, while a bar with boardgames, a cosy fire and family portraits waits after dinner. Guests can eat in the restaurant or dine al fresco beside a firepit looking over the nearby loch during the summer months. Don’t miss Sunday lunch when guests can feast on roast whisky-aged venison or Highland beef. 

Attached to The Three Chimneys restaurant (more on that later), House Over By on the edge of Colbost is another food-focused option. A stylish place for a couple of nights, it has six luxury suites, all spacious and furnished with six-foot wide, king-size beds and lots of locally crafted design details. Each one comes with a direct sea view and access to the garden and its pathway to the seashore. The en-suite bathrooms feature a large, double-ended bath and power shower, plus a selection of Temple Spa toiletries, warm bath towels, bathrobes and slippers. 

Supernova
Supernova
Kinloch Lodge
Kinloch Lodge

Coruisk House is an adults-only guesthouse in the village of Elgol. The rooms are stylishly rustic with four-poster beds, whitewashed furniture, free-standing baths in the en-suites, and incredible views over the Sound of Sleat to the mountains beyond. Guests are greeted with a glass of prosecco to enjoy in the cosy sitting room in front of the wood burning stove. Coruisk House has an award-winning restaurant where guests can enjoy fresh, locally caught lobster and fish like lemon sole. Book a boat trip to explore the surrounding waters and visit the harbour to spot wildlife like dolphins, puffins and basking sharks. For something a little different, the Cowshed Boutique Bunkhouse is a fun hostel for a girls trip or family holiday. Overlooking charming Uig Bay – there are excellent views from the lounge – it has three types of accommodation to choose from. Pods sleep two while dorms house up to six in cosy bunk beds. The hostel even has mini pods for dogs if you want to bring the whole family.

If you’re a Grand Designs fan, you’ll know Skye is no stranger to eye-catching eco homes. Four-bed Skye Window House is the original, and is available to book for week-long holidays. As its name suggests, this is a view-focused property – and it’s close to the Skye Bridge, making it easy to reach and a great base to explore the island. You’ll find Harlosh Black H in a much more remote location up in the northwest. Architecturally striking, this all-black and glass property sleeps two and is just the place to hunker down in style and watch the ever-changing weather unfold. If you have a big group, look at The Tin Sheds, a pair of design-conscious houses in Dunan on the eastern edge of the island. Taken together, they’ll sleep 12 – ideal for epic New Year’s Eve gatherings or big birthday celebrations.

Milovaig House
Milovaig House

Richard Gaston

EAT & DRINK

For a real taste of the island, Edinbane Lodge is a great place to dine – and stay. Run by Scottish Chef of The Year 2023 Calum Montgomery, the restaurant is set within a 16th-century hunting lodge, which was completely renovated and restored in 2018. There’s a dinner tasting menu which evolves with the seasons and is driven by the natural produce of the island. A meal at The Three Chimneys is another must. In an original Skye croft house on the edge of Colbost, guests can gaze out over the sandy shoreline and towards Dunvegan Castle. Most of the kitchen’s ingredients are sourced from the crofters, foragers, fishermen and farmers living within a few miles of the restaurant. Dishes might include scallops with roe parfait, coast herbs and rapeseed oil; scorched Dunvegan langoustine with tempura oysters; Dunvegan crab with peas, smoked almonds and yoghurt; and smoked haddock ravioli with buttered leeks. 

Michael Smith was head chef at The Three Chimneys for years, helping it win a Michelin star. Today he heads up award-winning Loch Bay with his wife Laurence. In the fishing village of Stein, dishes are created using local seafood and ingredients – expect the likes of lobster with chanterelle mushrooms and picked apple, hake with razor clams and summer vegetables, and strawberry and iced whisky tart. For something more causal nearby, make a reservation at The Stein Inn, a lovely pub with rooms. Menu highlights here include seafood chowder with homemade butter croutons, beer battered fish and chips, monkfish with salsa verde, and almond praline ice-cream.

The Three Chimneys
The Three Chimneys
Kinloch Lodge
Kinloch Lodge

For Scottish fine dining in the capital of Portree, try Scorrybreac, located above the harbour. Headed up by chef Calum Munro, who embraces French influences, the food is simple yet elegant. Count on dishes like hake with chicken beurre blanc, lamb with carrots and cardamom, Dunvegan roe deer with smoked cauliflower, and rhubarb and lemon posset. Close by, within the Bosville Hotel that occupies a trio of 19th-century cottages, Dulse & Brose also champions the best of Scottish produce. Once you’ve enjoyed dishes like slow-cooked lamb with buckwheat salsa, seafood chowder, and crispy brie salad, head to the hotel’s Merchant Bar for a dram of whisky or a Scottish G&T.

Skye has more award-winning, fine-dining restaurants than you might expect, and it also does casual dining very well. Carbost has two great options. The Oyster Shed is just that – a huge, chilly shed serving up whatever was caught by local fishmen that morning. Naturally, the oysters – shucked in front of you – are a must, but we also loved the hot-smoked salmon and lobster with garlic butter, both served with chips. At the other end of the village, Café Cuil is a favourite for brunch. Run by Claire, a Skye native who started the café in Hackney before she moved home, it serves Scottish-influenced brunches and lunches – think Scottish smoked mackerel on sourdough toast with seaweed sauerkraut, crowdie and cucumber; Scotch pancakes with rhubarb and gingernut crumble and gorse flower mascarpone; and Highland shakshuka with slow-roast tomatoes, veggie haggis and a fried egg. Birch is a top contemporary spot in Portree. The team make great coffee and cakes – its caramel shortbread is ideal hiking fuel.

IAN CYLKOWSKI/UNSPLASH

VISIT

A trip to Skye is best spent exploring the pretty villages and towns, and walking along its many beaches and lochs. On the east side, overlooking a sheltered bay, Portree is the capital. This beautiful town is surrounded by hills, including Ben Tianavaig and Fingal’s Seat, and is home to the Old Man of Storr, a large pinnacle of rock that’s one of the island’s most famous landmarks and walkable for most. While in Portree, you can book a tour to explore the island, and visit the churches and pretty harbour, fringed by high ground and cliffs. Head to the Skye Candle Company, which now doubles up as the island’s visitor centre – it also runs concerts and film screenings, and makes a good pizza.

Best known for its majestic castle, Dunvegan is on the west coast. The castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. Tour the grounds, walk through the beautiful formal gardens and even take a boat trip to see the Loch Dunvegan seal colony. The village operates regular seal-spotting boat trips outside the castle, plus longer cruises to the tiny islands of Clett, Mingay and Isay. A lovely afternoon can be spent walking around Dunvegan’s historic buildings, visiting the cake shops, and discovering the quirky galleries and castle trails. While you’re there, be sure to visit nearby Coral Beach, a peaceful spot with beautiful views towards the Outer Hebrides. A great option for a family walk, the beach is made from white coral-like seaweed that turns the sea a brilliant blue when the sun comes out. Take a picnic to enjoy on the beach, you could even try a swim, and explore the coastline towards Lampay Coralline.

Uig is a sheltered bay north of Portree. With several excellent walking routes, the village has a dramatic landscape featuring a double waterfall in a deep glen and a few small lochs. Visit Caisteal Uisdein, a towering 17th-century castle, then head on a walk around the village to the waterfalls or woods, the latter of which is a more challenging route. Uig beach is another must-see, with its white sand and blue waters. While here, The Fairy Glen is a lovely area to explore. Created by a landslip, its unusual terrain makes it a fun visit if you have children in tow.

JOHN CROZIER/UNSPLASH

SCOTT CARROLL/UNSPLASH

On the other side of the Trotternish Peninsular (which is well worth a day’s driving around, not least to see Kilt Rock and Highland cows), Staffin is known for its unique geology and spotted houses. Beneath Trottenish Ridge, the landscape around the village is ruggedly beautiful, with a huge forest featuring pinnacles and rock formations, and a sandy beach where dinosaur footprints were discovered just 20 years ago. Just beyond, the Quiraing, with its towering Tolkienesque spires, is one of Skye’s must-dos. There’s a circular walk of just over 4 miles that takes around two or three hours to complete and is challenging in parts – but it’s well worth it. If you don’t fancy the trek, the views from near the carpark are pretty special.

Other hiking highlights on the island are Neist Point, the most westerly point of Skye, with a picturesque lighthouse and some of the best sunsets on the island. Famously visited by Sir Walter Scott in 1814, Spar Cave is just east of Elgol. The cave is 80m deep and has intricate rock formations inside. You’ll need to plan your trip during low tide if you want to visit it on foot, but it can also be seen via a boat tour. The Fairy Pools are a collection of beautiful crystal-clear blue pools on the River Brittle. A great spot for wild swimming in the warmer months, it takes about 40 minutes to reach them on foot from the carpark, passing waterfalls and remarkable rock formations along the route.

Finally, for a fun afternoon, head to the Talisker Distillery in Carbost for a whisky tasting and tour. Skye also now has a second distillery, Torabhaig, offering plenty of its own single malts to try. Either one works well if Skye’s unpredictable weather finally catches up with you.

When To Visit

Skye is a great place to visit year-round. In winter, the rugged landscapes come into their own and less-than-perfect weather is all part of the experience. It’s also much quieter, especially on the roads. If you’re thinking of travelling to the island in the summer – when the weather’s warmer, boat trips can be booked and wildlife spotting is at its best – know that accommodation and the top restaurants get booked up early in the year. And we’ll say it again: don’t forget the insect repellent, when midge season is in full swing from May to September.

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