Travel wishlist: the Isle of Skye - Scotland on Sunday travel

Picturesque PortreePicturesque Portree
Picturesque Portree
Cuisine and countryside make the perfect combination for a staycation

2020 is VisitScotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, celebrating the lifeblood of the country’s lush landscape. Nowhere could this be truer than the glorious Isle of Skye, where the waters have helped to create the island’s world-class culinary reputation as well as its fabled beauty. The quality of Skye shellfish is renowned across the globe, while the coasts are so clean that one homegrown company, Isle of Skye Sea Salt, simply dehydrates fresh seawater to produce the exquisite, nutrient-rich salt. Cuisine and countryside make the perfect combination for a staycation – doesn’t everything taste better with a view? Let’s hope it’s not too long before we get to enjoy it again.

Visiting in late February, during the onslaught of Storm Dennis, we witness all four seasons in one day simply driving across to the island (the snow sprinkled Cairngorms and wild Great Glen horses are particular highlights of the journey). Once over the bridge, we head straight for the Quiraing and, in true West Coast fashion, we’re forced to shelter briefly in the car as the heavens open.

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Each rain shower, gust of wind or emergence of sun leaves you with an entirely new image. My partner, a photographer, is in his element as the clouds shift, altering the light and shadow every few minutes. Standing on the same spot for five minutes feels like watching time-lapse footage.

Highland Cattle thrive on SkyeHighland Cattle thrive on Skye
Highland Cattle thrive on Skye

My mind is elsewhere, standing on the majestic Quiraing. I feel like Michelle Pfeiffer’s witch queen in Stardust (it is here she consults her runes to guide her on a quest for a fallen star).

Hunger, rather than magic, is the higher power that steers my quest onwards and we make for the sanctuary of Duisdale House Hotel. The inn on the southern Sleat peninsula offers 18 luxury rooms; ours overlooks the bay with a view to the mainland. Duisdale is like a home from home with its open hearths and plush furnishings.

Head chef Miles Craven, who also leads the kitchen at Toravaig House on the same peninsula, extends this comfortable attitude to his restaurant: no flowery or elaborate language on his menu, no requirement to dress up to the nines, though of course guests are welcome to if they wish.

The menu of local specialities changes daily, depending on the catch and the weather – for instance, storms stir up silt on the seabed and make it difficult for divers to see. Scallop divers are “basically fumbling in the dark”, and it’s impossible to maintain unity of size. “So my scallops are fewer and a little smaller that day – there’s a story behind it. That’s comforting and that’s Skye,” says Craven.

Fine dining at the Three ChimneysFine dining at the Three Chimneys
Fine dining at the Three Chimneys

He reels off a shopping list of local suppliers: foragers from across the way, scallop-divers half a mile down the coast, mussel catchers from neighbouring bays. My partner (designated omnivorous taste tester for the weekend) later samples the delights of the oak-smoked scallops served with crispy pork belly and soy and pomegranate dressing. From my veggie perspective, the twice-baked Isle of Mull cheddar soufflé is the stand-out dish from our meal here, but the food and service throughout is faultless. Himself pledges to never eat venison again after demolishing the Duisdale’s Highland venison loin with artichoke cream, as all other efforts would simply disappoint.

If Duisdale is a home, our accommodation for the second night – the House Over-By, belonging to The Three Chimneys – is a haven. The minimalist country-chic hotel is beautifully appointed with clean lines and a neutral palette, so nothing distracts from the beautiful shores of Loch Dunvegan through the window. Still, every comfort is provided for, including homemade mulled cider on offer to warm us up on arrival. In fact, we barely do anything but eat: freshly baked biscuits await in our room, afternoon tea followed by an illuminating wine tasting in the lounge and, after returning from our meal at the restaurant, a nightcap of whisky and tray of warm milk, truffles and cinnamon for a “build-your-own” hot chocolate. Roll me back on to the mainland!

The Three Chimneys was taken over last year by the Wee Hotel Co, led by Scots-born international hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray, which has since set in place plans to almost double the House Over-By’s six-room capacity by converting a neighbouring house on the hill.

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The destination restaurant, like Duisdale, focuses on using island suppliers (including buying beef, lamb and pork from Orbost Farm mere miles down the road). However, for head chef Scott Davies, quality trumps proximity: “We do place an emphasis on sourcing local food, but an even bigger emphasis on getting the best… It just so happens a lot of the best stuff is here.”

The spectacular Quiraing, a stunning landscape often used as film and TV locationsThe spectacular Quiraing, a stunning landscape often used as film and TV locations
The spectacular Quiraing, a stunning landscape often used as film and TV locations

The Three Chimneys has overhauled its traditional offering to introduce more flexibility. Out with the eight-course taster menu and in with an almost tapas-style array of small plates, allowing guests to build their own menu. The Kitchen Table is still available for diners who prefer the classic tasting set-up with all the trimmings, which tonight includes ourselves, but there is more choice for guests to please their own palette or appetite. Davies adds that this arrangement also taps into the growing trend for healthier eating and reducing food waste.

Guests staying at the House Over-By are automatically booked a table at the destination restaurant next door and we are splendidly well catered for throughout our stay. Our meal is a culinary conveyor belt of such excellence that choosing a favourite dish feels slightly like showing partiality to one of my own children. We’re treated to delicacies from land and sea including cured monkfish with chilli yogurt and smoked eel, scorched Dunvegan langoustines accompanied by delicate oyster mousse, a tower of salted celeriac and sweet pear with island cheese, and a truly spectacular stacked orange and rosemary cake which looks like a millinery feat.

I’ll wager guests travelling to the island solely for a meal at The Three Chimneys will not be disappointed, but this is the kind of fast tourism the establishment is working to discourage. As we depart the next morning, after a three-course breakfast, I admire the trifled layers of the landscape – aquamarine loch, black rock, forest-green moss, grey mountainside, peaks of pure white snow – and vow to make my next stay last longer than a weekend.

Rooms at Duisdale House Hotel started from £89, based on two people sharing and including a full Scottish breakfast.

(01471 833202,

The standard room rate in The House Over-By at The Three Chimneys was £365, based on two people sharing and including a full Scottish breakfast. A table in The Three Chimneys restaurant is automatically reserved for guests when booking a room. (01470 511258,

Duisdale House Hotel and The Three Chimneys are closed temporarily due to Covid-19.

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