Back in May myself, Stuart and 6 of our friends headed off for a weeks holiday to the beautiful Island of Islay. Our main reason for visiting was for the Annual Feis Ile – an 8 day festival of all things whisky and music related – not for the faint hearted I assure you! But we ensured that we took in some of the wonderful things that Islay has to offer as well.
Unfortunately Islay isn’t the quickest to get to, unless you fly. We had a nice leisurely sunny drive up the side of Loch Lomond after work and spent the night in Inverary before setting off early the next morning to get our ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen, along with a couple of hundred other eager whisky fans! The crossing to Islay is lovely; calm with fabulous scenery.
Our residence for the week was the lovely An Cuan, a self-catering house owned by Emma and Graeme who run the Glenegedale House B&B next door. Situated between Port Ellen and Bowmore just across from the airport, some may say it is out of the way but we thought the location was great! The airport didn’t give us too much trouble either with only something like 2 scheduled flights a day it was pretty quiet! Last time we visited Islay it was only for a weekend and we camped at Kintra Farm down on the beach which was superb – you can’t beat views like this!
During Feis Ile week there are various music events across the island; these are mainly in the evening so during the day each distillery has an nominated ‘open day’. There are eight distilleries on Islay and one on Jura (two distilleries share their open day) and on top of the whisky. Islay Ales also host an open day too! See what I mean – definitely not for the non-whisky lover!
I am not going to go into too much detail on what went on but here are a few highlights! The festival kicked off with two gigs – one music related and the other whisky (and music) related, we went to the latter where the fabulous band ‘The Blueswater’ entertained us in the Lagavulin Malt Mill – of course a few drams of Lagavulin were consumed along the way!
Lagavulin distillery kicked off the open days on the Saturday with music, food and lots of sunshine – not to mention great views
Sunday took us to Bruichladdich, first of all for a tasting with Master Distiller Jim McEwan (which you can read all about here) and then for their open day – which I have to say was great fun and probably the most mental of them all!
Monday was Caol Ila, and the format was the same as Lagavulin’s. You can do tastings, excursions and tours, but we didn’t do this for every distillery as I don’t think we would have made it 8 days!
Next up was Laphroaig, a pretty distillery set in a gorgeous little bay. Here we had a tasting of Laphroaigs Duty Free offerings – in very generous measures and in some cases seconds! One of our party is pregnant and they offered her little bottles to put her samples in so she can enjoy them after the baby is born – what a great idea!
We then hopped in a taxi to take us to the North of the Island for a tour and tasting at Bunnahabhain. We all slept well that night!
Wednesday was a busy day for us, with an early tour of the Port Ellen Maltings, followed by the open day at Bowmore and then an open day at Islay Ales! Islay Ales is set in the grounds of the lovely Islay House Estate. In the courtyard there was a marquee where you could taste the Ales and listening to music – even get up and dance if you felt like it! This was a more relaxing day and we took the opportunity to have a walk round the grounds of the estate, which is well worth the visit
Kilchoman and Jura shared Thursday as their opens days, we popped along briefly to Kilchoman before leaving our cars overnight in Port Askaig (we took a taxi home!) and hopping on the 5 minute ferry over to Jura. The distillery is in Craighouse, the only village on the island. Here we had a Tasting in the dark with Richard Paterson the Master Distiller followed by many free drams and a chance to explore Miss Cakehead’s whisky themed edible garden – which was just like a smaller non chocolate version of Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory!
Friday was Bunnahabhain’s open day, but since we had been there earlier in the week we decided to not go and to take in some of the sights Islay has to offer. We headed down to Portnahaven / Port Wemyss which is the south end of the island overlooking the lighthouse on the Rhinns of Islay. Here we visited Burnside Lodge B&B where Kate bakes cakes freshly everyday and you can enjoy them in her garden looking out over the Rhinns.
Saturday was our final day and we ended it in style at the Ardbeg Open Day. There was music, inflatable football, tours and tastings going on – it was also the hottest day of the week, so we soaked in the atmosphere and the sun before hitting the road for our ferry back to the mainland. We sailed out of Port Askaig and had a stunning trip up the Sound of Jura – raising a dram as we went!
Besides whisky, Islay is the perfect places to get away. There are many many stunning beaches, it’s great for cycling and walking (with the Paps of Jura for those that like a challenge), there is a lovely walk round The Oa to the American Monument where you can spot wildlife on the way. The Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve is worth a visit, along with Islay Estate, Kildalton Cross and Claggan Bay. I am sure there are many more things to do on the Island and maybe you can share them with me for my next visit!
We Travelled: By Car & Ferry from Kennacraig with Calmac
- Munchie Box, Bowmore
- Lochside Hotel, Bowmore
- The Islay Hotel, Port Ellen
- Ardbeg Distillery Cafe, Ardbeg
- Kilchoman Distillery Cafe, Kilchoman
- Burnside Lodge B&B, Port Wemyss
We got about the Island: