As with most people this year, the chance to get away and explore Scotland has been a welcome one for me. Islay, with its beautiful beaches, wildlife and renowned whisky distilleries, is top of many bucket lists and for those looking to staycation in style, a stay at The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links is ideal.
Located just an eight-minute drive from the Port Ellen ferry terminal, and about five minutes from the airport, this hotel is also home to an 18-hole championship golf course, spa and fine dining restaurant.
The stark white hotel, akin to the neighbouring distilleries, looms large from the flat landscape - and is accessed via a single track road. This ensures that The Machrie is always easy to spot, despite Islay’s ever- changing weather, and makes for a welcome abode thanks to attentive staff and little luxuries.
Budget or boutique
This is a boutique offering, with summer rates from £235 per couple on a bed and breakfast basis.
A golf hotel may throw up ideas of stuffy clubhouses or traditional decor but The Machrie has a light, colourful and modern look in its interior, which reminded me of Kit Kemp’s Firmdale Hotels. White walls are brought to life with large artworks, and a palette of burnt orange, green and yellow reflect the landscape outside the many large windows and light filled spaces. Plaid is juxtaposed with aztec rugs, while cushions with soaring bird prints sit plump on velvet sofas.
In the bedrooms, including our executive room, interior designer, Peter Young Design , has gone for a minimal beach house look, with whitewashed wooden headboards and simple Scandi walnut furniture. A splash of colour comes from an orange armchair, printed cushion and the lightly patterned carpet, which looks inspired by the nearby beach.
References to a Scottish lodge are subtle and few - antler pendant light fittings and a contemporary deer’s head located above the fireplace in the aptly named stag lounge - being the only nods to traditional expectations.
The Machrie complies with all government requirements, regulations and standards as well as adding a few of their own. See website https://www.campbellgrayhotels.com/machrie-islay-scotland/covid-19-measures/
Wining and dining
The Machrie has one restaurant - 18 - where guests can tuck into breakfast, lunch and dinner. With large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the 18th green and down to the beach, it’s a treat on a sunny day. Pre-dinner drinks on the restaurant balcony in the late afternoon sun was almost like being abroad.
At the time of our stay, head chef Darren Velvick (who worked alongside Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing ) was at the helm, and serving up simple dishes that showcased the fresh produce available on Islay. Seafood is at the menu’s heart and dishes such as the Gigha halibut, Islay Ales battered haddock, Octomore farm beef and Islay scallops were a highlight.
Post dinner drinks, or drams in our case - the bar is well stocked with a variety of Islay and Scotch whiskies - can be enjoyed in the stag lounge.
Worth getting out of bed for
There are so many things to see and do on Islay, from whisky distillery tours and tastings to wildlife spotting, cycling, boat trips and beach walks.
Enthusiastic walkers will enjoy the scenic walking routes and coastal paths along secluded beaches or up in the hills, offering soaring views of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, experienced golfers will delight in the newly-renovated Championship course, designed by DJ Russell , and practice their swing at the range adjacent to the hotel.
The Machrie have unveiled their ‘Explore Islay Breaks’, which provides a variety of activities on land and sea. Highlights include an expedition with the hotel’s new e-bikes or fat bikes, picnics on the beach, fishing trips, or spending an afternoon sampling the whiskies for which Islay is famed.
The offer also includes bespoke day-trips with Kayak Wild Islay. With either half or full day trips available, a guide introduces guests to the areas of abundant wildlife, allowing them to spot seals, herons, arctic terns, black guillemots, puffins and even the elusive otter in its natural environment. The silent mobility of the sea kayaks enables participants to get up close to wildlife whilst searching for bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, basking sharks and orcas.
Additionally, The Machrie has partnered with 4x4 Hire Scotland to offer a road trip experience, with a choice of Land Ranger vehicles.
There’s Scottish shortbread in the well stocked tea caddy in the room as well as wonderfully scented Gordon Castle toiletries. The staff, especially on reception, are very friendly and helpful and can help organise trips. The spa also offers a range of treatments, and the hour-long invigorating massage was exactly what was needed after a morning travelling.
Nestled in the dunes of an untouched seven-mile beach on Islay, lies The Machrie’s rooms, suites and standalone self-catered lodges provide a stylish and spacious base for those longing for a remote, island staycation in Scotland.
The Machrie Hotel and Golf Links, Isle of Islay PA42 7AN, (01496 302310