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Islay has seen a boom in tourism in the past few years, and an increasing number of B&Bs have popped up in response, but the hotels are busier than ever. Many peat pilgrims, predominantly ones from Europe, show up in the summer with campers and tents, but if sleeping under the stars isn’t your thing, there’s a range of longstanding spots that give you a particularly terrific understanding of the way the island has always been. Whether you’re on a budget or ready to splurge, there’s a place to rest your head that’ll suit your style.
You could say the village of Bowmore is the island’s capital. Restaurants, bars, shops and, of course, an iconic distillery line the main boulevard. But all signs of urban life disappear at the recently renovated, quaint seven-bedroom Harbour Inn, which is owned by Bowmore. Located next to a stunning, tranquil pier with an observatory that looks directly on the island of Jura, the rush of the waves is a dependable lullaby. The rooms are as Scottish as you get, what with tartan patterns everywhere, and the lobby features comfy couches and a working stone fireplace.
Power move: Bowmore also owns five guesthouses in the distillery’s historic cottages across the road, each with several bedrooms and a kitchen. It’s ideal for long stays.
+44 (0)1496 810 330 1496 810330
Cottages $140–$160 per night
This family-run hotel smack in the middle of the island’s main village has been recently renovated, so despite the plain exterior, expect to find sleek yet snug rooms with new beds and doors made from Islay wood. Of particular note are the bathroom fixtures: The sinks in the rooms are either made from stones from the island’s beaches or teak wood. And heated floors and tropical rain showers are just a few of the extras.
Power move: Keep your Sunday night free. Sundays are community nights, when the hotel hosts a Sunday roast in the wintertime and barbecue nights in the summertime.
Jamieson Street, Bowmore
+44 (0)1496 810 416
Rooms $140–$275 per night, cottages $160–$175 per night, depending on package
No-frills and cozy as can be, this is part of a fourth-generation-owned establishment that also includes a lively pub and restaurant. Located in Port Charlotte, across the street from a gorgeous loch facing Bowmore, its nine recently renovated rooms run the gamut from double beds and twin beds, each of which has a shared bathroom, to en suite rooms in separate buildings around back. The grand Scottish breakfast (included), prepared each morning by the hotel’s owner, is reason alone to stay here.
Power move: Traveling with a group? This is the place to book. There are two separate buildings behind the main building, each featuring two king-size beds. Each building’s pair of rooms can be booked for families or a pair of couples for a reduced rate.
Main Street, Port Charlotte
+44 (0)1496 850 202
$40–$155 per night
Plenty of peat fanatics–and, for that matter, scotch fanatics—have dreamed of sleeping in a distillery. Ardbeg won’t let you sleep in the still house, but you can wake up to wafts of peat if you book a stay at the utterly charming, single-story cottage that’s smack in the middle of the distillery complex. It dates back to 1815, and for many years, it was the home of the distillery manager. Today, it stands refurbished and offers plenty of modern amenities (kitchen, laundry, under-floor heating) and even more Old World charm. It sleeps up to six in three en-suite bedrooms.
Power move: You can hear the ocean waves nearly anywhere you stay on Islay, but Seaview Cottage is unique for the enclosed garden surrounding the building. The living room is a cozy enough space for a dram, but this is one of the few spots where you can sit outside and enjoy the soundtrack—and smells—of a working distillery.
Argyll, Port Ellen
+44 (0)1496 302 244
$320 per night, $2,200 per week (minimum two-night stay)
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This ultra-cozy cottage-style hotel, the island’s only five-star gold accommodation with the AA (the Scottish version of AAA), strikes a balance between cozy and posh. The attention to detail makes for an engaging experience. To wit: All the wallpaper in the rooms is hand-printed in Glasgow. Located on a sprawling expanse of property across the road from the airport, away from the villages, it’s an ideal perch for watching the Northern Lights in March and April.
Power move: An elaborate breakfast is included each day with the price of a stay, and whatever you do, don’t miss the baked goods. Co-owner and baker Emma Clark’s treats earned her a top baker nod from The Guardian’s Observer alongside Nigel Slater.
+44 (0)1496 300 400