10 Great Scottish Winter Retreats
Winter is here and so is it's pal Mr Frost, but don't let that stop you discovering new places or visiting old favourites. Take a break with CalMac this winter, read this guide to where to retreat and trust our tips on where to stay and what to do.
1. Islay & Jura
Tens of thousands of visitors flock to Islay in winter but don't worry there's plenty of accommodation to go round. Islay is world-famous for winter-migrating birds. Just like humans, they stay a short time to rest, enjoy the peace and great food and once recharged continue their journey.
STAY: Islay Cottages, their Kilchoman House is a history lesson in itself. Pick the house and its cottages for rural bliss with stunning Machir Bay for winter walks or Dundonald House in Bowmore at the heart of island life and whisky distilling. Perfect havens of warmth and comfort with a touch of luxury. Remember to enter our competition to win a trip to Islay, you can enter now at the bottom of the page.
INSIDE TIP: Check out Islay Birds Blog . Written by friendly, self-confessed 'bird nerds' and crammed full of bird sightings, facts and island news.
There's a romance to Mull in winter you just don't find on any other island. Is it the brightly coloured houses of Tobermory robbed of their summer tourist bustle or the way Duart Castle stands sentinel to snow-capped mountains above the CalMac terminal at Craignure?
STAY: Mull is an amazingly cosmopolitan place; you'll be surprised at how many nationalities you'll meet running B&B's, guest houses and hotels.
INSIDE TIP: Fish and chips, Tobermory.
When a name translates as God's island, you know it is going to be somewhere special. Islanders say GMT stands for Gigha Mean Time. Stay a couple of days and you'll have met them all.
STAY: The community-owned island's holiday cottages are open all year, so is the hotel but there will be a brief closure winter 2015-16 for refurbishments.
INSIDE TIP: check out Gigha Halibut - the island's outstanding produce to whet your appetite.
Don't be fooled: Bute may be 33 miles from Glasgow and the easiest island to reach from the Scottish central belt but it still has all the historic buildings, gardens, wildlife and tranquillity of its more remote cousins.
STAY: Bute has been a destination of choice ever since holidays were invented, so the variety of accommodation for all is big for a place so small: everything from luxury to cheap and cheerful.
INSIDE TIP: Get married! After Stella McCartney walked down the aisle on the arm of father Paul, Bute has built a reputation as a wedding venue. There's a stately home, four churches and a castle and masses of rooms for your guests. Check out the wedding guide at visitbute.com
How do they manage to pack so much into one island? Thanks to its unique geology it's called Scotland in miniature; you can truly see all different types of Scottish scenery here.
STAY: You can go from luxury spa hotel to bothy or be the guest of Buddhist monks on Holy Isle.
INSIDE TIP: Read the notice boards in shops and villages - Arran has an incredible sense of community and there's always something to see or do so join in the fun.
Begin or end your island visit with a night in Oban. A night sailing in winter is amazing. Leave the lights of Oban and the depth of the darkness will astound you. Arrive and they dazzle like a big city - check out McCaig's Tower in all it's illuminated glory.
STAY: You're spoilt for choice.
INSIDE TIP: Buy a copy of The Oban Times and you're up to date on all the gossip.
For the ferry to berth in Castlebay it has to sail by the castle in the bay, Kisimul Castle, power base of the Macneil's. Forget Game of Thrones and every axe-wielding computer game - this is the real deal.
STAY: Barra's B&B landladies have a powerful reputation for home-baking that began long before the Great British Bake-Off. The breakfasts are huge, too.
INSIDE TIP: Walk or cycle the island to burn all the food off.
If you've been to the cinema, you've been to Skye. Highlander, Wicker Man, Prometheus, Breaking the Waves, Stardust, Flash Gordon and the latest Macbeth. Skye looks so good that many directors include shots of the scenery, just to add 'Scottishness' to their work.
STAY: Portree to be at the heart of things, Staffin for the romance of the island, Sleat, where the ferry docks at Armadale, for a change of scenery - less dramatic peaks, more green and rolling.
TIP: Come prepared to shop: the number of craftsmen and women, artists and foodies mean unique and wonderful presents (especially for you).
Don't be surprised if you're sharing the car deck with Scottish Opera. Every winter the famous company sends out a van full of props, costumes and four singers and a pianist. Their mission is to take operatic highlights to Scotland smallest and most remote venues.
STAY: Stornoway for the bright lights, 'big city', everywhere else for tranquillity.
TIP: Stornoway black pudding is so iconic it has protected Geographical Status under European Union law - just like champagne.
Arguably one of the best beaches in the UK and in the world's top 10, Luskentyre is just as magnificent when you're wrapped up warm with your wellies on in winter as it is in summer when it looks like a tropical paradise.
STAY: Find an original black house to rent and marvel at how deep the walls are.
INSIDE TIP: It's a cloth loved by top fashion houses, so buy your Harris Tweed on the island itself - you can't get more exclusive than that.