On the best weekend of the year, Jane Candlish took a trip across the Highlands and over the sea to Skye, where the landscape and a newly refurbished hotel could not fail to captivate
With the return of cool conditions in May, the memory of a glorious April felt far away. But there was a weekend when the skies cleared across the Highlands, offering the chance to discard the thick winter fleece and feel warm sunshine on your face.
For my partner, Angus, and I, it started on the banks of Loch Cluanie, staring at mirror-perfect reflections of snow-streaked mountains in the still waters. We were on our way to Skye, taking the coastal route past Eilean Donan Castle and then over the bridge at Kyle. While the dry weather was welcome, I do not think any trip to this island could ever be a disaster. The dramatic landscape is always a treat.
We were heading north, passing Broadford, Sligachan and Portree, heading for a walk into the hills. The Old Man of Storr is one of the classic icons of Skye. Hints of its rocky summit can be seen from miles away and there are wonderful views as you leave Portree. The monolith won fame recently through the film Prometheus, so we expected it to be busy. Inevitably, just minutes after we started up the hill, two coaches of American students pulled up and they powered on past us, led by a few kilted Scottish guides.
The rock disappeared against the cliff of the Storr as we climbed higher until at last we were just below it. The glorious views on the way up took in the whole of the west Highlands and, while the skies above us were virtually cloudless, we were treated to an inversion visible to the north of the Sound of Raasay. The grace of a mountain goat would have been handy for the scramble up and down from the Old Man itself. Instead, I seemed to resemble a baby giraffe as I picked my way through the boulders, and back to the main path.
My legs shaking, we decided to return to the road and continued our way north along the coast. Just a few miles on, past Staffin and round a few bends on a single-track road, we finally found The Flodigarry Hotel. Nestled on the hillside and overlooking the waters across to the west Highlands, it is steeped in history. The grounds feature Flora MacDonald’s cottage, where the heroine who hid Bonnie Prince Charlie lived and raised her children.
Dutch couple Paul and Bette Teeming bought the hotel in 2013, and have slowly worked to refurbished it. Their hard work has created a contemporary hunting-lodge-style hotel. And the Dutch influence is evident in small touches throughout, including a beautiful centrepiece in the lobby which features tulips suspended in a tall cylinder of water.
Next door, the lounge has a cosy atmosphere with brown wallpaper and leather and suede chairs. The slate fireplace is also a major talking point, while the new conservatory looks as if it has come out of a bygone age, with wicker chairs and wooden floors. The rooms have been transformed and brought up to date to provide guests with the ultimate comfort. Our flagship room boasted a four-poster bed and views up to the cliffs of nearby Quiraing.
Skye was badly hit by storms earlier in the year, but Paul and Bette have seen this as a opportunity and several fallen branches have been put to good use above the bar and curtain rail in the High Tide Restaurant. It was there that we sampled some of the revamped menu. While slate has been widely used for serving food in restaurants for a while now, I have never had anything served on a bed of hay.
But that is what happened at The Flodigarry Hotel, and even stranger that it was a fish course, comprising a scallop and piece of hake. It still tasted delicious, though. The highlight of the meal was the beef (on a plate). It was tender, cooked to perfection and accompanied by black truffle potato and pearl onions. And for dessert was Pink Lady, comprising apple, maple syrup and walnut ice-cream, complete with mini toffee apple. Needless to say we slept well with full stomachs.
The next morning was cool, but brought more clear skies and sunshine. Waking early, and some hours before breakfast, we took a drive to Quiraing to make the most of the morning light.
Like the Old Man, this is an immense outcrop of jagged rocks, providing a popular walk for thousands every year. It was an eerie feeling getting closer to the craggy cliffs, with the only signs of life being the sheep grazing the slopes and a few nesting birds. Back at the hotel, breakfast was a feast, with a choice of cooked and cold dishes on offer before we bid the building farewell.
The Flodigarry Hotel is on the Trotternish Peninsula, north-west Skye. Rooms start from £205 per night for a premier double from April-October, with flagship rooms costing £280. Price includes breakfast. Packages are available for dinner, bed and breakfast. Booking is recommended for The High Tide Restaurant. Main courses start from £18.
Contact: 01470 552203 or visit www.hotelintheskye.co.uk