A hidden gem in the Highlands, this business run by a German family who’ve brought their home nation’s love for fairytales to Scotland, has a bit of something for all foodie fans to enjoy.
Just picture it – a fairytale wonderland filled with your favourite food and drink offerings. There are some baked goods there, as well as pizza and some delicious locally-distilled gin from the Scottish Highlands.
Well, if you take a trip down the A87 towards Skye, just round the corner from Eilean Donan Castle, this vision becomes a reality as you approach Manuela’s Wee Bakery.
Situated on a site owned by the German family Thomas Gottwald, his wife Manuela Kohne-Gottwald and his step-daughter Jolene Kohne, Thomas has used his carpentry skills to create a German fairytale-inspired food and drink haven.
With a hut dedicated to Manuela’s Wee Bakery, another for Jolene’s “pizza hut” and a more recent addition that houses Thomas’s newly-opened gin distillery, the family brought their love and passion for food to the Scottish Highlands in 2013.
Thomas says: “Before we moved to Scotland in 2013, we would come here for holidays and Manuela would make homemade bread and all the locals were very interested in trying German bread.
“When we moved over here we then decided to set up our own bakery, just very small with one oven. The demand was very high and it seems to have expanded and become more popular every year.”
The story behind how Manuela started making the bread, according to daughter Jolene, after her mother started to miss the taste and texture of German bread.
Jolene says: “My mum and my step-dad have two houses here, one they bought in 1999 because they were just in love with this area and bought a holiday cottage. Then about 15 years ago they built a second house next to it.
“The original idea was to come to Scotland and retire and set up a bed and breakfast and live in one house but rent out the other out as a holiday cottage. But they ended up coming over earlier than they thought they would and every time my mum had been here on holiday before, she would make some bread because Germany is renowned for its bread and it isn’t quite the same in Scotland.
“So she always makes her own bread because she just missed the bread from Germany. When you make your own bread you often end up with too much so she would give some to neighbours and they would love it. It was the neighbours that said to her that when she moves over here she should open a bakery.”
The idea of setting up her own bakery that was suggested by the neighbours, came to fruition when Manuela and her family moved to Scotland permanently a few years later.
Jolene says: “When she moved here she worked in a bakery but she had never baked before as she did canapes and rolls and things like that. So she started making bread here and she started off with a little cardboard thing with an oven and would be standing out in the rain, with the oven being in the dry.
“Then she started selling her bread from the porch at the front of the house. Then eventually Thomas made a small hut for her, so she was able to put everything in there.”
With Manuela’s Wee Bakery well under way and proving a hit with locals and tourists alike, the family started to add to the business by bringing in a new venture on the same site called Pizza Jo, with the Fairytale Distillery being the latest instalment on the land.
Jolene continued: “About five years ago, I think, I started doing the pizzas in the bakery, then eventually Thomas said you need your own hut. That was his excuse to sort of build one of these fairytale huts, and that’s now the pizza hut!
“There were no pizzas in this area and I just thought – ‘we’ve got dough, we’ve got cheese, why don’t we make pizza?’.
“Then before we knew it, more and more little huts popped up in the garden and I think Thomas felt a bit left out, while the two women were having their own businesses and working hard. I mean, he does the accounts and everything so he glues us together, basically, but he was always a fan of gin and tonics.
“Then all of a sudden another hut came in and a distillery came in and that has been going for two to three years now.”
The wonderment of the fairytale theme was something that Thomas wanted to bring over from Germany and use through his carpentry.
He says: “A friend of mine in Germany who deals with the material for these kinds of things so he sent some over. I’m a carpenter and my friend is a joiner so I did the construction of it and it’s a combination of Germany and Scotland.
“Everyone loves it because it’s so unique and, as far as we know, it’s the only place in Britain to have these kinds of buildings. The idea of them is German and I was brought up with the fairytales like Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White.
“We started the fairytale theme and some pizza to go, which is run by my daughter Jolene and then we added on the distillery which is run by me. It’s only the three of us who run the whole site. I would say that locally, we are quite well known already.”
With the wonderland already socially-distanced, even before Covid-19, the family have incorporated the idea of window shopping, takeaways and outdoor eating onto the site.
Thomas says: “We run everything outdoors, we have an outdoor stall for the bakery and we have some window shopping too so people can choose what they want from a distance.
“Nobody actually has to come into the bakery as it’s a small stall and it’s the same with the pizzeria. We have a small outdoor area where people can sit, depending on the rain, we have a small gazebo.
“A similar thing is with the distillery. I do gin tastings but only with a maximum of four people, or one household. An indoor tasting is possible depending on who is coming and an outdoor tasting too, but this needs to be booked. There are no tours in the distillery because it’s very small but it’s what we are doing to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
The site itself doesn’t include just the three business huts, as Jolene highlights the family also live on the land and a nearby forest adds to the fairytale “feel”.
Jolene says: “We’ve got the two houses, one that my mum and Thomas live in and the other that used to be a holiday rental I just recently moved into with a friend. In the middle of them, when you come into the car park, you’ve got the bakery on the right, the pizza hut in the middle and the shop as well. Then there’s the little shop behind the house which used to be my mum’s but is now just storage.
“Due to Covid, we’ve made window shopping out of it and Thomas made a little arch that looks like witchcraft houses with little windows for people to look in and find what they want.
“Then behind the pizza hut and the wee room, there are two ways to get to the distillery – one way between the pizza hut and the bakery, where there’s a little path, but also we have a woodland walk on the other side. For the woodland walk we’ve built little benches and it goes through a little forest.
“It’s something you really just have to see for yourself – the amount of times I have to explain it to people and they come to see it and say ‘wow, this is so much more than I thought it would be!'”.