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Eco travel is on the rise, and with the new environmentally conscious generation forgoing planes for buses, trains and boats, it looks like it’s here to stay.
As a travel editor, I felt the need to sample the eco travel trend for myself, choosing the Isle of Skye as my destination – a place that has topped my bucket list for years.
My partner and I set off from London Euston late evening and almost 24 hours later, we had arrived at our destination.
The iconic overnight Caledonian Sleeper train sped us through the Scottish Highlands, delivering us to Fort William by morning. After a half day layover in the sleepy town, we took a short train to Mallaig, where we had another half day to explore. The final leg of our journey was a short ferry to Armadale, Skye, where we stayed for a long weekend before making the same journey back.
After the magical trip, I’m not only sold on Skye but on eco travel as a whole, with a long, scenic cross-country trip proving to be as relaxing as it was beautiful. So much so in fact that we’ve already booked our next visit.
We started our journey in London Euston, kicking off with a holiday highlight, boarding The Caledonian Sleeper.
The iconic overnight train is slick and speedy, setting off from Euston late evening and shooting through to the Scottish Highlands by morning, passing through Inverness, Aberdeen and Fort William.
Made up of private bedrooms and spacious seating areas, The Caledonian Sleeper feels like a modern day Orient Express and as we embarked we really did feel transported to a different era.
We opted for a club room – a cosy space featuring comfy bunk beds, a floor to ceiling mirror door and a private bathroom. The room is fully equipped for the perfect night’s sleep – complete with complimentary ear plugs, sleep mist and a sleep mask resting on each pillow. And if you fancy an early night in your bunk, you can even order room service to your door – everything from a Sauvignon Blanc and a packet of “Mackies” to a hot chocolate and a Reid’s of Caithness Shortbread.
However, if you want the real Caledonian experience, I would recommend a visit to the Club Lounge. Featuring chic interiors from renowned Edinburgh-based designer Ian Smith and local Scottish delicacies, the Club Lounge car is the perfect place to start your Scottish adventure. And whether you stop by for a late night drink or a classic highlander dish, it is not to be missed. My personal foodie recommendations would be the Haggis, Neeps & Tatties, Great Glen Venison Charcuterie Platter and of course the Classic Scottish Cheeseboard. And drink-wise, you can’t go wrong with a Mac & Wild Whisky cocktail – the Ginger Laddie and the Bonnie Brae were my personal favourites.
After a tot of whisky, we returned to our rooms for an atmospheric night’s sleep, before chugging into bonnie Scotland.
We were recommended to set our alarms early for breakfast aboard the Sleeper, and it was well worth it. Eating traditional porridge and The Full Scottish as we cruised through the Highlands was an unbeatable way to start to our adventure, and the stunning morning views as we shuttled past the Munros will stay with me forever.
Fort William and Mallaig
We exited the Caledonian Sleeper in Fort William, with five hours until the next leg of our journey. And while we were initially taken aback by the half day intervals between our trains and ferries, we soon came to find it charming. In fact, our layovers in Fort William and Mallaig ended up adding significantly to the minibreak.
After checking our luggage into the Fort William station lockers (an essential tip!), we had five hours to explore the spectacular scenery. From Loch Linnhe to Ben Nevis, it’s easy to see why Fort William has been named the UK’s outdoor capital, and it’s well worth a visit for the beautiful views alone.
The next leg was the train to Mallaig, a port in Lochaber, on the west coast of the Highlands. It is the train journey however that is the real tourist attraction, passing over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct featured in Harry Potter. And while it is possible to book the Jacobite steam train (the actual Hogwarts Express), we opted for ScotRail, offering the same magical views for a fraction of the price.
Once in Mallaig, we passed our time with walks around the port and souvenir shopping in the hidden Harry Potter shop – an obligatory stop. Our top find however was The Chlachain Inn, a classic Scottish pub serving up haggis balls and local smoked salmon to iconic Scottish tunes, from ‘You take the Highroad’ to ‘Donald, where’s your trousers?’.
The final part of our journey was a short 45-minute ferry from Mallaig to Armadale, Skye. If the weather allows you, stand on the ferry’s top deck for the full experience, with the crossing offering rare views of the island from afar.
After the speedy crossing, we arrived in Skye, and following our day of cross-country Scottish sights, we were already feeling at home.
Duisdale House Hotel
We were staying on Skye’s southern Sleat Peninsula, at the luxe family-run Duisdale House Hotel. Formerly a Victorian hunting lodge, the now boutique hotel was exactly what we were after – a real home from home in the Highlands.
With just 22 en-suite guest bedrooms, the grand building offers an intimate experience, with a relaxed and homely feel. And while our bedroom offered stunning seaward views and a king-sized bed that felt all the more ginormous after our Caledonian Sleeper bunkbeds, it was the public spaces that were the real selling point.
The large sitting room is the perfect place to warm up after a day of exploring, with comfy armchairs, roaring log fires and even a grand piano. The chic on-site restaurant is award-winning, serving up mouth-watering fresh and local produce in its impressive space, and the Chart Room Bar has perfected the feel of an informal pub. There’s nowhere better to play a post-walk board game with a dram of Scottish malt whisky or a local gin.
We would start our mornings at Duisdale House with a leisurely breakfast in the large conservatory extension to set us up for a day of exploring. And set us up it did, with the seasonal menu featuring hearty traditional recipes and the freshest of ingredients from Skye’s larder.
Buckie Kippers Oak Smoked on the Moray Coast, Scottish Haddock and Oak Smoked Portsoy Salmon with Scrambled Eggs, local Black Pudding and Haggis from the Isle of Skye, and even traditional Scottish Pancakes, with the hotel still using a “historical recipe from times gone by”.
And if you thought the breakfasts sounded gourmet, the dinners at Duisdale House Hotel blew them out of the water.
Dinner time at Duisdale House starts in the grand yet cosy sitting room, with canapés and aperitifs served by the blazing log fire – a charming touch, and one that I have not experienced anywhere else. Other hotels seriously need to take note.
Then into the dining room for a five star three-course dinner of fresh and local Skye produce. Among our culinary highlights were the Smoked Orkney Cheddar Soufflé, Roasted Halibut, and the Charcoal Cheddar from the local cheese platter. But the foodie pièce de résistance from our whole trip was undoubtedly the West Coast Scallops. The menus change daily, so if you spy any of these, order them fast.
Our after-dinner activities varied, from having a digestif at the Chart Room bar to enjoying a sunset nightcap in the hotel’s vast private gardens – and yes the hot tub, overlooking the stunning valleys.
A definite highlight was catching Duisdale House Hotel’s weekly “Tales by the Fireside”, seeing local historian and archaeologist, Coinneach Maclean, tell traditional folk stories about Skye’s history and heritage, with its Sleat peninsula being home to the MacDonald clan. Hotel guests can listen to the tales from cosy armchairs while sipping on a local Malt Whisky – a perfect end to a romantic day in Skye.
This hotel is a real find – striking the perfect balance between grand and cosy, chic and comfortable, and boutique yet traditional, all while serving up the finest local produce and drawing in guests from all over the world. It is the Duisdale House Hotel staff however that really sets it apart. Warm, genuine, kind and extremely welcoming – I have never experienced better service at any other hotel.
Their Highland hospitality really blew me away, and from remembering our favourite dishes to providing us with coffee cups of wine and directions to watch the sunset on the beach, they routinely went the extra mile. Skye was an incredible mini break destination, but I have no doubt that that the Duisdale House Hotel and its staff are the main reason why our trip was so special.
There are so many bucket list worthy activities to do in Skye, from otter spotting and swimming in Glen Brittle’s Fairy Pools to climbing the Munros, with companies like Skye Luxury Tours offering day trips to experience the island’s highlights. But with limited time in the area, we decided to stick to the southern peninsula, known as “the garden of Skye”, enjoying the local walks and taking in the incredible views by foot.
Head to An Crùbh for a dreamy slice of apple and cinnamon cake after a hike to Sleat Lighthouse, and Bar Am Praban is worth a visit for a glass of wine or pub lunch. In the evenings however, there’s nowhere like Sleat beach – a recommendation from the lovely barman at the Duisdale House Hotel, who even provided us with coffee cups of Sauvignon Blanc to take with us to watch the sunset.
Our trip may have lacked the high-intensity adventure that some people get from the island, but what we did come away with was a real feel for Skye and a deeper understanding of its history. And as for the wild swimming in Fairy Pools and the climbing of the Cuillin summit, we’ll be leaving that for our next visit, which we have already booked.
It may have been one short minibreak, but it is already clear that Skye is one of those places that keeps people going back for more. And now that I’ve experienced it, I look forward to many more holidays there in the years to come.
How to book:
Duisdale House Hotel
A double room at the Duisdale Hotel including full Scottish breakfast costs from £289 per night in April, from £219 per night in winter and from £389 per night in summer. Rates are based on two people sharing. To book or for further details, visit https://skyehotel.co.uk/duisdale/, call 01470-373737 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duisdale House Hotel
Isle of Skye IV43 8QW
A Club Twin en-suite room like ours aboard the Caledonian Sleeper costs from £315 per night. Other alternatives are the Caledonian Double Superior en-suite room, with costs starting at £405 and a Classic room, from £175. Another option is to book a seat with lockable storage, from £75.
To book your Caledonian Sleeper rail ticket online or for further details, visit the Sleeper website
or call 0330 060 0500 to speak to the Guest Service Station.