Travel: Isle of Eriska
IF THERE'S one thing that speaks of the ultimate in discreet luxury, it's a spell on a private island. Mel Gibson, Claudia Schiffer and Diana Ross all have one, and now you can too, for a weekend at least. Yes, you don't need to be pals with Richard Branson to experience the kind of exclusivity and privacy that your very own patch of water-locked land offers.
For Scotland has its own Necker Island in the form of Isle of Eriska, a discreet 300-acre island about 15 minutes north of Oban. Slap in the middle is the appropriately named Isle of Eriska Hotel and Spa, a five-star retreat that has played host to everyone from Dame Judi Dench to Dame Maggie Smith. Accessed via a short, rumbly bridge, once you check in you simply won't want to return to the mainland. n
Wining and dining?
It might be wise to take a pair of loose trousers on this trip. Guests can have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner on the island, each one richer and more filling than the last. The hotel's fine dining restaurant uses some of the best local suppliers around so expect the freshest seafood (I munched on some of the juiciest scallops I've ever tasted) and the sweetest honey. After a brisk walk around the island, the sinful afternoon tea is a must.
In order to up the privacy even further, we opted for the luxurious two-bedroom Lilac Cottage within the hotel's grounds, far enough away for extra discretion, but conveniently close to the main house. Even in the spacious cottages, guests enjoy attentive room service including a turn-down, and when we decided to dine in our cottage one evening, waiters were dispatched immediately with a three-course meal. In short, we enjoyed all the benefits of both hotel and self-catering accommodation, with none of the down sides of either. Ooh, and there's a hot tub in the garden if you're in the mood for steaming up a romantic weekend.
Worth getting out of bed for?
While nearby Oban offers plenty of distractions, the best way to enjoy a stay on the Isle of Eriska is to take advantage of the seclusion and remain on the island for your whole trip. Sybarites will adore the spa with its swimming pool, sauna, steam room and gym, while those looking to make the most of the fresh air and peace and quiet can take advantage of the six-hole golf course and putting green, and can try out clay pigeon shooting, fishing, tennis, croquet and mountain biking. There's a slower pace of life on Eriska, however, so we opted out of the activities, and instead donned the green wellies available to guests before strolling to the highest point on the island, from which the views are truly spectacular and the rest of the world seems a million miles away.
Budget or boutique?
Think understated opulence, and forget overly chic country hotels playing the heritage card; this is the real deal. It's neither too slick nor too perfect, getting the blend of homely and grand just right. Decor is classic and a little shabby chic, without being showy, and staff have that knack of effortlessly blending first-rate service with discretion.
Guests retiring to the cosy drawing room for an after-dinner tipple are usually lucky enough to see the island's resident badgers, who sneak up to the house most evenings for a saucer of milk. On warm nights, the doors of the drawing room are thrown open so guests can join the furry visitors for a leisurely drink on the terrace.
If you're in the market for a secluded five-star country house hotel, few in Scotland can match Eriska. Rates start from 325 per night for a standard double with king size bed and bath for room and breakfast for two people inclusive of vat. Call 01631 720371 or visit www.eriska-hotel.co.uk.
• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on November 7, 2010
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