Andy Mossack takes the ferry over to Islay and finds out why the legendary Machrie Hotel is so special.
On an island with nine world-famous whisky distilleries picking which ones to visit is going to be a tough decision. Fortunately, when it comes to choosing a luxury hotel on Islay, it’s not much of a dilemma as there is a standout candidate in The Machrie.
This once-dilapidated Victorian hotel has been reborn, courtesy of Gordon Campbell Gray (once of Islay now a globe-trotting hotelier of note), into a contemporary luxury destination for golfers and locals alike. So much so it is whispered in hushed terms of reverence akin to Islay royalty.
It’s hard not to disagree, frankly. After a short drive from the ferry at Port Ellen, you can spot its whitewashed walls way in the distance, a beacon of light standing quite alone on a huge spread of prime Islay dunes adjacent to the seven-mile stretch of Big Strand beach at Laggan Bay, the longest beach on the island.
Campbell Gray’s rebuild has merged parts of the original with a thoroughly modern extension that incorporates plenty of floor to ceiling window space capturing Islay’s magnificently remote landscape in all its natural glory. It holds hands with its elderly parent so well you don’t really know where one starts and the other finishes. Creative works of modern art flourish throughout the hotel along with the owner’s particular passion for silken print scarf displays. I particularly loved the small sheep in the entrance alcove wearing a COVID mask, and a yellow wellington boot on each leg.
Past the sheep and you’re in the tiny lobby lorded over by Lorna and her reception team who I must thank for their top tips on what to see. The hour hike around the American monument loop was simply spectacular as was our visit to the ruins of the ancient Macdonald Clan seat during their reign as Lords of the Isles.
Our room up on the first floor was spacious and understated in a style they call Scandi-Scot., clean lines, soft carpets, luxurious bed linen and Hypnos super-size King beds and a yellow Roberts radio on a side trestle table. Not a lot to distract you from the view outside of the golf course framed by the sea behind. There are 47 rooms including suites and lodges, and the ground floor guestrooms open out to small private patios.
There are some delightful places to sit and relax in comfy sofas beside roaring fireplaces. The very rouge Courtyard lounge, the soft tones of the Stag lounge, and out on the restaurant terrace; all of them providing glorious views to die for.
Talking of the 18 Restaurant, it’s clearly the beating heart of The Machrie. A beautiful space featuring a high timber-vaulted ceiling and glass roof, a long bar with seats and some very colourful chairs. It’s where golfers come to drown their sorrows or toast their wins on a tough links course that challenges even the lowest handicapper. And it’s where diners come to enjoy proper Islay hospitality. Its reasonable rates ensuring regular local patronage, so important out of season when well-heeled golfing guests are off to warmer climes.
Having the good fortune to have tamed the course, I celebrated in style with the signature starter of an Isle of Mull Cheddar souffle (£8) with parsley crumble and grainy mustard sauce. Having gotten off to a flyer, I was tempted to try the Islay Ales battered haddock and chips (£16) for my main but spotting the opportunity to taste a hit of Islay single malt, I opted for chicken breast with pearl barley, wild mushrooms, sweetcorn, haggis and Bowmore whiskey sauce (£22).
Needless to say, I went to a very restful bed that night dreaming of birdies and Bowmore, a pretty good combination If I may say.
Fit for royalty even.
Tell me more about The Machrie Hotel on Islay
The Machrie Hotel, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7AN Scotland.
T: +44 1496 302310 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rooms from £145 including breakfast.
The Machrie also has a Linger Longer offer package, with 15% off room rates when guests book for 4 consecutive nights.
Islay is situated in the Inner Hebrides and can be accessed by a short flight from Glasgow operated by Logan Air, or by CalMac ferries from Kennacraig to Port Askaig or Port Ellen which takes about 2 hours.