The autum light was just beginning to fade as we passed the iconic Eilean Donan Castle and headed towards Skye, the island’s familiar mountains beckoning us.
With our journey across the Highlands blessed with vibrant colours, it felt like the perfect time to be heading off to an island getaway.
As dusk fell, there was something reassuring about the first glimpses of Kinloch Lodge against its forest backdrop as we turned off the road between Broadford and Armadale.
The former hunting lodge of the Clan Macdonald has been a fixture of Skye’s landscape since it was built in the 16th century. A hotel for more than 40 years, it has long been renowned as one of Scotland’s best fine-dining destinations – thanks to a reputation forged under Lady Claire Macdonald, the award-winning cook and food writer, and Macdonald clan chief Lord Godfrey.
Since 2002, their daughter Isabella has been at the helm, while Brazilian-born head chef Marcello Tully has been presiding over Kinloch’s kitchen for almost a decade, securing Michelin-starred status for Kinloch Lodge for the last six years in a row.
Traditional Highland hospitality matched with a world-class food experience is promised during the festive season. A three-day package over Christmas includes specially-created seasonal cocktails to get the festivities under way, a seven-course tasting menu followed by a visit from Father Christmas bearing handpicked local gifts, a traditional Christmas Day lunch, and a hilltop picnic of hot soup and rolls, brownies and whisky cocktails.
We were welcomed to Kinloch Lodge with a glass of fizz in front of a roaring fire in the cosy whisky bar before a quick scramble up the hill to take in the unspoilt views of Loch na Dal and the lodge’s picture-perfect location.
Kinloch Lodge is described as “more of a home than a hotel” and amidst its understated luxury, there are numerous family historical artefacts to discover around the house. You can even trace the lineage of the Macdonalds all the way back to the 12th century Lords of the Isles.
The glow of candlelight ushered us into the drawing room where we sipped gin and tonics in front of a roaring fire and contemplated Tully’s five-course menu for the evening.
The dining room was buzzing with conversation and portraits of the Macdonald family’s ancestors looked on as dishes were presented with great charm and efficiency.
Kinloch Lodge has long prided itself on making the most of Scotland’s natural produce and these standards are clearly being upheld by Tully, who started his career when he was just 14, working in a French restaurant where he caught the eye of Albert Roux and went on to work in many of his best-known establishments.
Among the highlights on our first night were seared west coast scallops with warm roe mousse and squid ink purée, Black Isle lamb fillet with cashew nut and black olive, caramelised apples and pears, and dauphine potato, and Scrabster hake fillet, with caper and pistachio pesto, mussels, cucumber and shallot.
To finish, we were unable to resist the “very lemony tart,” accompanied with popcorn ice cream.
As we sunk into our chairs back in the drawing room, nibbling on home-made petit fours with our coffee, Tully emerged from the kitchen to introduce himself ahead of a visit behind the scenes the following day.
Not only does Kinloch Lodge offer a chef’s table experience looking on to the kitchen from behind a glass screen, it also has a range of cookery classes and workshops, including pastry and bread, sauces and mousses, butchery and filleting, and seafood. You can even learn how to make the signature scones that are served with the Kinloch breakfast.
As his team bustled around preparing lunch, Marcello showed us how to make canapés including chicken and Parma ham bhajis, spinach and smoked salmon bites, and “slightly spicy” pea soup, one of many dishes to feature his favourite ingredient, Tabasco sauce. A genial host, who loves sharing his craft, it was a hugely enjoyable couple of hours and made us realise the painstaking attention to detail that goes into every bite.
Just when we thought this foodie odyssey could not get any better, a second five-course masterpiece by Tully awaited us that evening.
Slow-roast shoulder of lamb was served with warm tarragon mousse, while Fort Augustus venison came with apple and parsnip, a leaf spinach and herb purée and chorizo. Our sensory experiences were rounded off with a vanilla crème fraîche panna cotta, with orange and mint sorbet.
After a day exploring the majestic Cuillins, which had their first dusting of snow of the season, every carefully-prepared morsel tasted even better than the night before.
Prices for a three-night break at Kinloch Lodge over Christmas start from £600 per person, including dinner, bed and breakfast each night. The hotel’s rates are reduced by 25 per cent from now until the end of March (excluding Christmas, Hogmanay and Valentine’s weekend), with prices starting at £129 per person.
Guests booking for three nights pay for dinner only on the final night, with prices starting from £333. Kinloch Lodge, Sleat, Isle of Skye IV43 8QY, tel: 01471 833 333, www.kinloch-lodge.co.uk