Think the Outer Hebrides and you’ll conjure images of beaches that look more akin to Caribbean islets than the west coast of Scotland. In rain or shine (and believe me, you’ll experience both in quick succession most days) their beauty is overwhelming.
Even as we arrived by ferry into Tarbert, the island’s charms were laid bare. To the north of us, rocky peaks postured for prominence. A lunar landscape along its east coast was permeated by fjords and inlets, while to the west, the machair stretched out to swathes of powdery white sand. As we drove south, the landscapes further evolved into undulating hills.
Among the small croft houses dotting these slopes are Blue Reef Cottages. Dubbed “Hobbit houses”, the twin properties are built into the hillside of owner Rhoda Campbell’s family croft, bridging island traditions and contemporary living.
Budget or boutique?
With a sauna and jacuzzi, the one-bed cottages are decidedly boutique and kitted out with couples in mind; whether as a romantic getaway or as a short retreat away from the family.
The overzealous use of Scottish fabrics in Highland hotels can sometimes be a misstep, but this is perhaps one of the few times that copious Harris tweed furnishings don’t feel twee. If anything, given it was all spun just up the road in Luskentyre, it rightly takes pride of place, from bed throws to curtains. You’ll be spending most of your time mesmerised by the panoramic windows in the living room area, a peat fire blazing in the stove while you watch the rain clouds roll in off the Atlantic. We stayed in Taigh Iain, which looks out towards the northern peaks of the island and Taransay.
Wining and dining
Guests have a choice between doing their best impression of Tom Kitchin in the cottage’s well-appointed kitchen or dining out at some of the island’s best restaurants. You’ll have to toss a coin to choose who will be designated driver as you’ll need wheels to get anywhere, but it’s worth it. The North Harbour Bistro on Scalpay offers some of the best seafood dishes on the archipelago. Self-catering has its obvious advantages but that shouldn’t mean you have to miss out on tasting what Harris has to offer. Croft 36, a ten-minute drive south in Northton, specialises in sustainable, seasonal island produce, with delicious handmade ready-meals like venison pie or crab-stuffed pasta. For the kitsch factor, it’s housed in a timber shack complete with honesty box.
Worth getting out of bed for
With beautiful landscapes on the doorstep, it would be remiss to indulge indolent impulses. A short walk down the hill from the property is the sweeping beach at Scarista, perfect for an early morning stroll to work up an appetite for breakfast (or brunch if you’re in full R&R mode). The go-slow vibe of island life means that walks on deserted beaches like Luskentyre and Hushinish are wholly guilt-free. What’s more, their pearl-white sands and cerulean water are the essence of Harris. You could also nip in to see one of the island’s weavers at work crafting the island’s tweed in their home workshop or take a tour around the Isle of Harris distillery in Tarbert to taste the gin that is setting the heather alight around the world.
Our host, Rhoda, thought of everything when it came to final flourishes. On arrival, we found a welcome hamper of fine local produce to get us started in the kitchen, including renowned Charles Macleod Stornoway black pudding and peat-smoked salmon, as well as eggs and milk. A bottle of Bollinger champagne also added a touch of class. Expect Molton Brown toiletries, bathrobes and slippers at your disposal for that spa feel.
A luxury bolthole for two well worth the effort to get to, Blue Reef Cottages offers temporary refuge from the stresses of the daily grind in one of the most gloriously isolated parts of Britain.
• A two-night stay in one of the two self-catering cottages off-season will set you back £550. Blue Reef Cottages, Scarista, Isle of Harris, HS3 3HX. For more information and reservations, visit www.stay-hebrides.com.