Escape to these 4 romantic west coast islands
Forget all the Valentine's Day clichés of chocolates, red roses and cheesy Valentine's card 'poems'. You don't need all these manufactured trappings to enjoy the most romantic break of your life, not when the epic romance of the Scottish isles awaits just a breathtakingly beautiful ferry ride away!
As a travel writer for over two decades and the author of National Geographic Scotland I've seen my fair share of romantic spots across the isles and for me they really knock the socks off the likes of tourist clogged Paris and Venice.
Everyone knows that three is a crowd when it comes to romance, so I have handpicked from my own romantic experiences my top, er, four seriously romantic island escapes for you to savour with your loved one. Or maybe even just that special friend with whom you're hoping something just a little more might lie ahead in your future...
1. Wild Romance on Arran
If romance to you is bashing through a windswept glen hand in hand marvelling at the majestic sight of a huge stag bounding across your path then Arran is your perfect Valentine's Escape. The ideal base is at the cosy The Douglas boutique hotel right by Brodick Pier. You can be snug in your room with a wee dram gazing out over Goatfell before the ferry heads back off again for Ayrshire. Then it's time to explore. A bash around the lower climes of Glen Sannox or Glen Rosa may be enough for the less experienced hiker, while the Arran Hills in winter offer another world of wild romantic allure all together, especially when they have a heart thrilling dusting of snow. The chances are you will only have the braver deer and golden eagles for company up here. If you're lucky you will encounter a mountain hare in its stark white winter coat too.
2. A Foodie Heart on Skye
If you and your loved one are real foodies there is one island for me that really sticks out for the ultimate palate and heart pleasing break at the moment. That is the largest of the Inner Hebrides, Skye. The island abounds with world-class produce, especially seafood. There are myriad places to enjoy the isle's glorious natural larder these days, but two for me are genuinely world class. First up is Kinloch Lodge, where Francophile chef Marcello Tully conjures up classic Michelin fare, which is well worthy of the island's only Michelin star. It comes served in a gloriously old world dining room, with classic bedrooms to match. For sheer luxurious romance you cannot beat Kinloch. If you prefer something a little racier the Three Chimneys is well on the way to winning back its Michelin star with mercurial young chef Scott Davies at the helm fashioning some startlingly creative cuisine. The rooms here are a touch more modern, but still deeply romantic with a view of a sea loch to wake up to.
Walking trail, Isle of Arran
3. Sandy Seclusion on Coll
What could be more romantic than a cosy, windswept love-affirming stroll along a glorious white sand beach in the Hebrides? That you will only have seals and seabirds for company at this time of year makes it all the more irresistible! Many Scottish islands boast world-class beaches. My favourite lie out on Harris, but those on Coll are more accessible and it is much easier and simpler to get between them. There are over 20 sandy beaches tucked into this gloriously bijou and flat isle. The place to stay is at the cosy Coll Hotel in one of their rooms with a gigantic old fashioned bath, which is ideal for thawing out à deux. Coll lobster is amongst the treats waiting downstairs. Coll has been awarded the status of a Dark Sky Community by the International Dark-sky Association, making it one of only two dark sky places in Scotland, so make sure to head outside with your digestif to take in a mind-blowing view of the heavens. If you've packed a ring this may be the time to get it out and get down on one knee!
4. Remote Romance on Barra
For me there are not many things as romantic as a journey by sea out to the Hebrides. Oban to Castlebay on Barra is CalMac's longest route, so if you love a ferry trip and your beloved does too hop aboard for the trip of your life! The journey is an epic one from the moment you sail out of Oban Bay. Soon whitewashed lighthouses and rugged castles vie for attention with mysterious mainland mountains including the distant hulk of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British Isles. In the waters look out for porpoises, dolphins and even whales as you cruise along enjoying a slap up meal in a CalMac café these days that comes replete with local produce. As you ease out of the Sound of Mull you are into the Sea of the Hebrides and the quartet of Small Isles unfurl around you, doing their best, but usually failing, to hide the hulking 'Isle of Mist', Skye. Journey's end comes across the Minch as you cruise past a dreamy island castle into Castlebay and set off to enjoy windswept beaches, cosy pubs and world class seafood. For my CalMac blog on Barra check out 'Barra, the Outer Hebrides in Miniature with Robin McKelvie'.