Great Places to Stay
- The Airds Hotel, Port Appin, Argyll

Airds Hotel, Port Appin

The undulating coastline of Argyll between Oban and Fort William in the North West Scottish Highlands offers spectacular wild scenery for happy motoring and a relaxing holiday. On the shores of Loch Linnhe, the area around Port Appin features the Isle of Lismore, Ardnamurchan peninsula, ancient castles, wildlife and Ben Nevis mountain range. It's a place of history, legend and romance. Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, Kidnapped is based on the true story of the Appin Murder of 1752 and the story of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. It's worth spending a few days here to take in a few day trips here and there - you could even drive over to Mallaig and take the ferry to Skye. You can be as active or idle as you like with great boating and sporting opportunities nearby or just relax and look out at the sea views. This is photographers' country indeed.

The Hotel

The Airds Hotel has enjoyed a fine reputation for its warm hospitality and award winning restaurant for many years. This is a charming and homely old country inn dating from 1730 with just 12 bedrooms. Under the ownership and hands-on management of Shaun and Jenny McKivragan, the emphasis is on high quality in every respect but without formality and fuss. The hotel holds 4 AA Red Stars.

Alasdair Sawday's guide to the best British Hotels and Inns features Airds and begins the report thus:

"Faultless service, ambrosial food and warmly cosy interiors make this one of Scotland's most indulging country house hotels."

I could not agree more. The attention to detail is superb and the guest is pampered from the moment of arrival until departure. At the front porch is a row of Wellington boots for men, women and children as well as umbrellas to encourage you to go for an exhilarating country walk, whatever the weather. There are two lovely lounges, with a library of good books, games and open fires. The elegant Conservatory dining room creates the perfect ambience for a leisurely dinner. A gallery of paintings furnish the public rooms beautifully and many are for sale, including a series of Scottish landscapes by the owner's father, Terry McKivragan. Airds is a place to sit for a while with a book in front of a roaring log fire, to enjoy simply fantastic gourmet food, and sleep like a log after a day out in the Highland air.

The Bedrooms

There are currently 12 individual ensuite bedrooms - 6 doubles, 5 twins, and one suite. The pretty yellow and green suite (room 20) with loch view, separate sitting room, sofa bed and luxury bathroom, is extremely popular - people do like romantic weekends away - and it's always booked up for weeks ahead. Due to guest demand two bedrooms are being converted into a second suite. Rooms are freshly decorated with new carpets, Designer fabrics and wallpapers (Zoffany, Colefax and Fowler) with a choice of traditional floral chintz look or soft neutral colours, bed throws and cushions. Relax in your room with its two comfy armchairs or sofa, crisp Frette bed linen, soft duvet (or blanket and sheet if you prefer), bathrobes, flat screen TV with Sky satellite channels and a DVD player (choice of films at reception). All rooms have marble bath or shower rooms, while superior rooms have baths and separate shower cubicle. To add a true Scottish welcome, there is a small decanter of Whisky Mac (a delicious ginger spice concoction) for the weary traveller.

For those who wish a little more privacy and freedom to come and go, there is accommodation in a two bedroom garden cottage - ideal for families. Fully fitted kitchen with all mod cons, dining area, lounge with sofa bed, TV, DVD and stereo system. Breakfast is also included and the cottage is serviced by housekeeping staff each day. Guests may also of course dine at the hotel by arrangement.

The Restaurant
This is a real "foody" hotel where you will dine like kings and queens at breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (home made scones and fruit cake) and dinner. Head Chef, J Paul Burns has been here for nearly four years (as at 2006), and built up a fine reputation for his distinctive cuisine. Recent awards include 'Hotel Chef of the Year', the Médaille D'Or for Outstanding Dining Service from Hotel Review Scotland and Best Gourmet Menu Over £50 at the Scottish Chefs Awards.

Dinner is a serious affair where you will be offered a plate of tasty, tiny canapés to accompany your chilled glass of champagne or gin and tonic. A four course dinner is served with a good choice. To start, perhaps, Seared Scallops, with braised Pork Belly, caramelised apple and walnuts, Chicken Liver terrine with bramble and ginger sauce (most imaginative) or Scottish Smoked Salmon with tomato salad, flavoured with a dash of horseradish chantilly. Produce is sourced locally with a focus on seasonal fresh food. Next a coffee cup portion of rich and creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup which was simply heavenly. Then the main event - Roast Loin of Venison with Red cabbage, gratin potato, root vegetables, mushrooms and port wine sauce - a veritable feast. Fish lovers are well looked after - perhaps Baked Halibut with a Crab crust, on a nest of Herb Mash and a fennel and shellfish sauce. You have the strong impression that the chef and kitchen brigade are passionate about cooking in the manner they create well composed yet unfussy, flavoursome dishes. A Vegetarian menu can also be provided if given prior notice: Baked Stuffed Red Pepper, Cream of Butternut Squash soup and Warm Goat's Cheese and Vegetable Gateau.

For pudding there's an enticing list of sweet treats. Tried and tested is the Raspberry and Drambuie ice cream which is an unusual but exquisite combination. Alternatively Bitter Chocolate Tart or platter of Farmhouse Cheese and biscuits. Coffee and petit fours are served in the lounge. Service throughout dinner is carefully orchestrated by the maitre d' and a team of young girls, smartly dressed in long tartan skirts. A good selection of wine by the glass and bottle accompanies your meal.

Breakfast! The first meal of the day is treated with the same respect as dinner, so take time to enjoy a leisurely banquet. First a glass of real freshly squeezed orange juice, selection of cereals and fruit or porridge with a dram of whisky. This is very special and highly recommended. Then scrambled eggs with Inverawe Smoked Salmon or the full Scottish breakfast of bacon, eggs, black pudding and mushrooms, and a basket of toast and preserves. 10/10 for a pot of tea which is freshly brewed with quality leaf tea (Taylors of Harrogate) - not tea bags. Coffee, served in a large cafetière per person is hot and strong. A perfect start to the day.

What to See and Do
For those who love those fabulous old grey stone Scottish castles, this is the ideal location. Just around the corner from Airds Hotel is the stunning Castle Stalker standing proud since the 13th century on a tiny island just offshore. Now privately owned but guided tours can be arranged. For history lovers, visit Glencoe to find out about the famous battle at Glencoe Centre or enjoy an exhilarating walk up the Lost Valley. Take the 50 minute drive north to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK with a gondola ride to the restaurant near the summit, or head south to the busy ferry port of Oban for shopping (Scottish gifts, tweed, whisky) and the Sealife centre to see seahorses, otters, seals and sharks. From the fishing village of Mallaig, take the ferry over to the isle of Skye, with its own superb castles and the famous Cuillin Hills.

A short walk from Airds hotel at Port Appin you can take a passenger ferry over to the island of Lismore, perfect for a long walk or cycle ride as well as exploring historic sights and ancient cathedral.

Airds Hotel can arrange a specially chartered wildlife boat trip to see seals, dolphins and birds of prey. Nearby, the Linnhe Marine Watersports Centre offers motor and sailing boats for hire, windsurfing boards and water skiing. Pony trekking is also available

More Information
For more information or to make a reservation see the Airds Hotel Web site or e-mail


The Airds Hotel is a true hideaway country inn, off the beaten track, yet just a few minutes drive off the main A 828 Oban to Fort William road. It is certainly the most idyllic spot to stay and linger awhile and from where to explore the fabulous North West coastline, visit Mull for the day, climb Ben Nevis, learn to sail or wind surf, or simply switch off and take it easy. You will find a genuine warm welcome from the owners, Shaun and Jenny McKivragan, hotel managers Martin Walls and Janette Macdonald and all the staff. While there is a top professional standard of hospitality you will also find a relaxing, romantic Country House ambience. This is a place for the discerning traveller who enjoys impeccable service balanced by comfortable smart/casual style.

Here are a few Guest Reviews

"The staff are very professional and help to make the experience so special. We had very comfortable night's sleep, followed by a top notch breakfast...the Scottish porridge with the wee dram is not to be missed. We definitely plan to return for a longer stay."

"Food that is absolutely fabulous."

"The Airds Hotel is welcoming without being effusive and attentive without being obtrusive."

Vivien Devlin, British Guild of Travel Writers
November 2006

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