When you’re invited to review a 5 star hotel located on a private island, well…it would just be rude to say no. This is the situation I found myself in a couple of years ago, when a last minute place on a press trip to the Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa popped up.
Sounding like something straight out of a fairytale, the Isle of Eriska Hotel and Spa occupies its own island, reachable only by the old bridge from the mainland near Benderloch, just north of Oban…or if you happen to own your own boat you can always pull up in style at the hotel’s private jetty. Three journalists, one PR and a three hour drive from Glasgow later, we arrived via the bridge (no one had a boat free) and cornered the tree lined driveway to see what appeared to be a castle, complete with its own piper welcoming us in at the front doors. That was the start of what would be a make-believe weekend.
Inside, looking like a cross between Monarch of the Glen and Downton Abbey, the Isle of Eriska’s décor was the real deal rather than the heritage style adopted by many ‘country chic’ hotels. You feel as if you’ve stepped into the family home, which, technically you have. The Buchanan-Smith family have spent the past thirty years shaping the island and the hotel, creating the perfect luxury hideaway with every detail designed to offer guests the finest in service, location and activities.
Upstairs, the bedrooms have been modernised to offer guests all the comforts of a new hotel, without losing the original features or character of the house. The room I was given for the weekend had a bed that could sleep four comfortably and a bathtub big enough to swim in, but the true appeal was in the little details; the old bookcase filled with tomes on the local area and well-read classics, family pictures hanging on the wall, and some Molton Brown toiletries thrown in – just to make sure you don’t forget you’re in a five star hotel. I also had a great view of the grounds, looking out onto the garden and the woods, and I was lucky enough to see deer running across the clearing the next morning. That wasn’t my only encounter with wildlife that weekend…but there’s more on Eriska’s most popular and tame residents to come…
We might have been staying in the main house, but Eriska’s owner Beppo Buchanan-Smith was keen to give us a tour of the island’s other luxury accommodation, including private cottages complete with hot tubs, and hide-away houses, which are apparently popular with visiting authors looking to zone out on the world. Ever offering the luxury experience, Beppo explained that these other residences provide seclusion, but not at the expense of service and style – with 24/7 room service and access to all of the main hotel’s other facilities.
For those who can splash the cash and want to play the part of Lord or Lady for the weekend, the entire island and its staff can be booked for exclusive use. I imagine that this is also the type of person who might like to arrive by helicopter, which is handy because in the spirit of luxury, Beppo has had a helipad installed.
ISLE OF ERISKA SPA
In true Scottish style, the weather decided to be miserable for the majority of the weekend, and we spent most of the time hiding from the downpours in The Isle of Eriska Hotel’s Spa and pool (there are definitely worse ways to wait out the rain). The ESPA Spa offers some amazing treatments and products, but if massages aren’t your thing, make use of the sauna and Jacuzzi like we did and feel the weight of the world fall away.
When the rain eased off for a moment, we managed to get in a quick tour of the island’s outdoor activities, including the 9-hole golf course with the backdrop of Ben Nevis (the view, not the golf, appealed to me), clay pigeon shooting, croquet and mountain biking.
Incredible scenery isn’t the Isle of Eriska’s only natural beauty; the island is home to an array of wildlife with seals, otters, deer and even Golden Eagles. A favourite with the staff and guests, and where my point from earlier comes in, are the tame badgers that creep up to the house’s conservatory most evenings in search of a saucer of milk and some bread. In the summer, guests can join the furry residents for a drink on the terrace, and watch the sunset over the island.
If I had to pick one aspect of Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa that excelled over all the others, which is a difficult thing to do, it would be the food. I have never experienced so many courses of such amazing food, and still count it now as one of the top places I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat in.
At the time I visited, the hotel’s 3AA Rosette Restaurant was being helmed by Head Chef Simon McKenzie, and offered a daily changing menu of fresh produce, deliciously fusing traditional recipes with modern techniques and exquisite presentation. Simon, who worked with Gordon Ramsay and Pierre White in the past, had developed a kitchen garden and herb section, combining these elements with local game, seafood and other fresh ingredients. He bravely, especially in my case, as it’s common knowledge I’m a hazard in the kitchen, allowed the press to have a go at cooking one of his recipes in the impressive Eriska kitchen. Amazingly, we all managed to produce something edible (some with more help than others) and ate our fine dining attempts in the hotel’s beautiful restaurant.
After our dinner, we decided to wind down in my favourite room of the hotel – the old library bar, with a whisky recommendation from Beppo himself. We were lucky enough to be entertained with his stories of the island, including some of the famous faces that have visited (Dame Judi Dench for one) and the history of his family home. On the morning that we were leaving, I was admiring the beautiful piano in the hotel lobby when Beppo invited me to play. After a very amateur tune, he causally informed me that he walked in one day to find Mick Jagger playing the very same piano…which pretty much completed the fantasy weekend for me.
The Isle of Eriska Hotel & Spa is by no means cheap, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It offers luxury and 5 star service with a price to match – but if you have the cash, it’s worth every penny to play Lord of the Manor…even if only for a little while.