aerial view of the cameron house and a body of water in scotland

Epic landscapes, fascinating history, and a deep culture of whisky, golf, and folklore, are just a few of the reasons for Scotland’s enduring and timeless appeal. Arguably one of the world’s most scenically beautiful countries, Scotland boasts epic drives as fit for James Bond as they are for a tourist with a rental car, challenging hikes with rewarding views, and islands and islands to daydream through. There’s no denying that exploring Scotland through its Highlands is what brings people closest to the heart and soul of the country, and those who take their time to move out of the central cities and north through the Highlands and the Western Isles will be rewarded. With a penchant for cozy design (this is the home of Harris Tweed, after all), Scotland’s Highland hotels render themselves guideposts of sorts from which to base one’s journey. Here are five Scottish hotels that will guide you through the Highlands and back again.

Cameron House Hotel, Loch Lomond 

exterior of cameron house in scotland
Courtesy of Cameron House Hotel

On the storied shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest loch, is one of the country’s most famous and formidable places to lay one’s head: Cameron House Hotel. A private home for hundreds of years — there’s evidence of a building at the current hotel’s site as far back as the 14th century — Cameron House has endured the sweeps of history including a devastating fire in 2017. The hotel reopened, freshly renovated, in 2021 significantly expanding its size and now boasts a staggering 208 rooms and 115 lodges, cottages, and apartments. Today’s Cameron House is a resort-like retreat and popular weekend getaway for residents of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London. International guests, of which there are many, tend to check in for longer, and use Cameron House as their jumping off point to explore the Highlands, and wise they are. Under a half hour from the Glasgow airport, there’s nowhere better to recover from jet lag before diving into the rest of the country. The oldest part of Cameron House retains an air of the home’s original grandeur, and the gracious sitting rooms off the central hall are festooned in gold leaf and peacock décor beckoning visitors in for a dram or afternoon tea. The more formal of the property’s restaurants — the Cameron Grill  — is lively each day of the week and serves excellent set-priced menus heavy on the regional delicacies including Cullen sink, Orkney scallops, and wild roe deer. A highlight of a stay here is a sail on the 24-mile long freshwater loch which the hotel arranges beautifully with a flute of Champagne. The area around Loch Lomond, The Trossachs National Park, surged in popularity in the early 19th century after Sir Walter Scott’s publication of his epic narrative poem, The Lady of the Lake. Drive from Cameron House Hotel through Trossachs where you can see Loch Katrine (or book a cruise on the water) which inspired the poem. Excellent hiking trails and scenic views are worth the climb. After leaving Loch Lomond and saying farewell to Cameron House, head west to the Oban and the isles, taking the slow, scenic route through Glencoe. 

Dungallan Country House, Oban 

backyard view facing a body of water at dungallan country house in scotland
Courtesy of Dungallan Country House

The best way to arrive in Oban — the gateway to the Isles — is to take the long, scenic route through Glencoe. Scenic here is an understatement, as the road to Oban winds through some of the country’s most epic and dramatic scenery. Take your time moving through this area (that famously made an appearance in the James Bond film Skyfall) before arriving at Oban, a bustling port town and home to some of Scotland’s best seafood. A country house hotel within the hubbub of the port, Dungallan Country House is a slice of an escape. Built in the 1870s as the summer home of Clan Campbell’s Duke of Argyll, Dungallan Country House feels very grand (although modest compared to the clan’s Inverary Castle about an hour way). Today the home is a stately, well-appointed hotel a few minutes outside the center of Oban and its lovely downtown. An intimate space with only eleven guest rooms (including four suites), Dungallan is exclusively adults only which lends it a tranquil atmosphere guests seem to revel in. A simple, local breakfast is served for guests and a more opulent afternoon tea is open to the public. Dungallan’s bar is intriguingly stocked with over 250 whiskies, including rare and old bottles from both Scotland and from around the world. The view from the hotel, if you’re lucky enough to have sun, is one of the main attractions, and is best enjoyed from Dungallan’s cozy sitting room and library, or out on the terrace or lawn, wee dram in hand, of course. Oban’s main draw, of course, is for its locational advantage as the gateway to the Isles, and it’s from here that you can catch a ferry to the Isles of Mull, Coll, Iona, Lismore, and others. But Oban is worth a brief stay in itself as it’s home to one of the oldest Scotch producers in the country, Oban Distillery (a tour and tasting is an obligatory stop). Oban is also home to a Harris Tweed store which makes its blazers, coats, skirts, and blankets from Carloway Mill, the only Harris Tweed mill in the country to actually finish products in the UK.  Here you’ll find a wide selection and fair prices to carry you through the rest of your trip and future travels. 

Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye 

The Isle of Skye is an essential part of any Highland itinerary. As the most accessible of the Hebridean islands, reachable by both land, bridge, and ferry, Skye’s charm can sometimes feel muted by its accompaniment of crowds. During the spring and summer tourist months, those crowds can translate into traffic jams of camper vans, full parking lots at trail heads, and fairy pools that are so crowded they feel anything but magical. Yet the Isle of Skye’s natural beauty shines brightly through the hordes of backpackers and camping families, and the best way to enjoy it is by staying in the significantly less-crowded southern end of the island. Kinloch Lodge is a cornerstone of this part of Skye. An unassuming, tucked-away luxury hotel, Kinloch Lodge was originally built in the 17th century as a private farmhouse.  In the 18th century, it was converted into a shooting lodge for the Macdonald clan on Skye. The lodge is still in the Macdonald family today, having been converted into a hotel over 50 years ago. Today the lodge retains an air of a private, well-appointed home with oil paintings, individually decorated guest rooms with plush beds, tubs with window views, a full Scotch bar, wood-burning fireplaces, and a lawn sloping down to Loch na Dal. Kinloch Lodge is Skye’s most quietly luxurious place to lay one’s head. With the advantage of being located in Skye’s Kinloch Forest, the lodge organizes everything from mushroom foraging trips to elk stalking to fly fishing expeditions. With an on-site restaurant that is a destination in itself (although with a limited-seat dining room, feels anything but popular), there are few reasons to venture far away. Should you choose to do so, Torabhaig Distillery is a ten-minute drive away. 

Links House, Dornoch

dining area at links house in scotland
Courtesy of Links House

While it’s true that many, if not most, guests come to Links House for its proximity to the famous Royal Dornoch golf course, a stay here is complete with or without ever picking up a golf club. Links House prides itself on being the northernmost luxury hotel in Scotland, and its location on the North Coast 500 — a stretch of road through the rugged northern Highlands — makes it a destination for the golfer, the spectator, and curious traveler alike. Links House has just 15 rooms and its layout and design mimic a private home more than a hotel. Here you can spend a morning walking along the sea, an afternoon reading by a wood-burning fire, or an evening sampling a selection of Scotch whiskies from the library honor bar, in a way that feels more like you’re a personal guest than an arriving stranger. Indeed, the owner is likely to be walking around, making (like all the best hosts), both a formidable presence and discreet. The famous Royal Dornoch golf course is mere yards from the hotel’s door and the staff can help arrange tea times, or for the student, set you up on the putting green on the hotel’s property. For those not golfing, a stroll into Dornoch is a charming study in tidy Highland villages. While postage stamp in size, Dornoch fits in an excellent restaurant and some very good shopping. It does well that the town is so petite, because it’s unlikely you’ll want to stray far from the hotel’s richly hued living rooms, or guest rooms which are a marriage of upholstered bedding, antique wood furnishings, original oil paintings, and hand-selected, hard-covered books. Link House’s restaurant, MARA, which is in pursuit of achieving zero waste in its kitchen and also has its eye on its first Michelin Star, showcases Scotland’s produce, fish, meat and game, beautifully and simply prepared. Dornoch’s location on the cusp of the North Coast 500 means you’re likely to find more locals and regulars here than tourists, a welcome change from other parts of the Highlands. Make a point of visiting the majestic Dunrobin Castle before continuing on your way.

The Fife Arms, Braemer 

exterior of the fife arms in scotland
Courtesy of The Fife Arms

Being able to claim Balmoral — the summer residence of the British family — as your nearby neighbor, is quite the feat, and one The Fife Arms, decidedly Aberdeenshire’s most distinctive address following the Royal Castle, is proud to claim. While the building that houses the hotel has been an inn for several hundred years (it was originally built as a Victorian-era coaching inn), its current iteration as an art-filled contemporary and historical mash up has only been in operation since 2018. Since it first opened its doors, The Fife Arms has been attracting an international jet and fashion set. Owned by the same folks behind the wildly popular Hauser + Wirth art galleries, staying here means you’ll be taking cocktails under a Picasso, dining by a Bruegels, or strolling through the halls that are hand painted by Guillermo Kuitca. Each of the hotel’s 46 rooms is individually and abundantly decorated, moodily toned, heavily upholstered, sumptuously wallpapered, and named for famous Scotsmen and those who lay claim to the area. Two excellent restaurants as well as a whisky bar are enough to keep you on site. While those who stay at The Fife Arms might be more accustomed to pavement than muddy hikes, the hotel arranges a wide array of outdoor pursuits in which to best explore the dramatic landscape of Braemer and the surrounds. Guided hikes, pony picnics, golf excursions, and a private tour of the grounds of Balmoral are just a sampling of what’s on offer. For those more inclined to enjoy the richness of the hotel’s interiors, The Fife Arm’s collection of over 14,000 pieces of art and artifacts are a feast for the senses and will keep you occupied long after it is time to check out. 

Featured image courtesy of Cameron House Hotel

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