The perfect trip: The Scottish Highlands
Kyleskyu To Lochinver: Best for food
‘If a customer wants to know how fresh the mussels are, I can point out of the window at the boat about to dock,’ says Sonia Virechauveix, chef-owner of lochside Kylesku Hotel. Sonia is justifiably proud of what she and partner and co-owner Tanja Lister have achieved in the three years since they took over this restaurant with rooms on Loch Glendhu. The day after the couple moved in to this higgledy-piggledy inn, a group of fishermen arrived with a bucket of langoustine as a welcome gift. ‘It made me think “Yes, this is where I want to be”.’
Now, local seafood is at the heart of their business. At lunch, its waterside picnicstyle tables are filled with customers watching seals frolic in the shallows of Loch Glendhu while eating crab, battered haddock or sole. When the sun slips behind the surrounding hills, they retreat inside to sink drams of whisky by the wood-burning fire. ‘I am passionate about food and, being from France, I did have the impression that the UK didn’t really have a clue about it,’ Sonia admits. ‘But when I came here I was blown away by the quality. It’s inspiring.’
Kylesku, and the nearby fishing port village of Lochinver, have made this nook of Scotland a place of pilgrimage for food lovers. Lochinver is also home to two of Scotland’s finest restaurants: the Michelinstarred Albannach and Chez Roux, an Albert Roux-run kitchen at Inver Lodge Hotel. However, the place that many locals like to eat at is Lochinver Larder.
The restaurant’s exterior – an unlovely conservatory on the front of a late-Victorian cottage – is almost irrelevant: people come here for the pies. Some fillings, like roast butternut squash and goat’s cheese or chorizo and chicken, are less traditional; others are more faithful to Scotland’s heritage: haggis, neeps and tatties, venison and cranberry. I opt for the latter: its pastry is crisp and buttery, the contents a perfect mix of gamey meat and a sweet-sharp berry tang. These are pies to fall in love with: it’s no wonder that Lochinver Larder does a roaring trade selling them by post.
Where to stay
Inver Lodge’s exterior is unprepossessing, but the use of tartan and taxidermy plus a log fire make communal rooms endlessly inviting. Rooms are tastefully decorated and spacious, with countryside views. Don’t miss the excellent restaurant run by Albert Roux (rooms from £215).
Knoydart Peninsula: Best for wilderness
The ferry leaves the small port of Mallaig and begins its gentle chug towards Inverie, Knoydart’s only village. Within minutes, the calm of Loch Nevis is broken by a long grey nose, then another, then two more, until as far as the eye can see are dolphins – a great pod, surging in and out of the waves in a joyous, playful dance. Then they are gone, and the boat docks at Inverie’s jetty without its cavalcade of sea creatures.
Knoydart is the most remote place on mainland Britain, reachable only by boat or a 16-mile trek over tough Highland terrain. In 1999, the people of Knoydart paid £850,000 to buy their home from absent feudal landlords. ‘We were one of the first community buy-outs,’ explains Tommy McManmon, a ranger for the Knoydart Foundation, which administers the peninsula on behalf of residents. ‘Before, Knoydart was owned by people who did not care about the land. But those who live here now are all incomers – we chose to be here. Most of us were drawn to its wildness. That’s what we want to preserve.’
Stray a mile or two in any direction from the whitewashed cottages of Inverie, and Knoydart’s quiet beauty reveals itself. Pine martens live in the shady woods behind the village, while a watchful hour at Long Beach often reveals oystercatchers and herons – sometimes even otters. In higher ground there are wild roe and red deer, which Tommy is expert at tracking down.