Islay, pronounced, 'eye-la', is world-famous for its single malt whisky; its unique peaty, smokey taste is instantly recongnisable after one has been educated during a guided tour round the island's distilleries, all of which will offer you a generous dram at the end!
ISLAY'S WHISKY DISTILLERIES
Ardbeg (Port Ellen) - telephone 01496 302244. Established in 1815, bought by Glenmorangie in 1997, the distillery has been refurbished but nonetheless still retains its old charm. Open all year Monday-Friday, plus weekends during June/July/August, from 10am-4pm. Regular tours from 10.30am - 3.30pm. Pre-booking advisable for tours (maximum 10 per group).
Bowmore Distillery - tel 01496 810441. The oldest distillery on Islay and perhaps the most touristy because of its central location. Tours given all year round Monday-Friday at 10.30am and 2pm. During the summer, tours Monday-Friday at 10.30am, 11.30am, 2pm and 3pm. Free guiding and tasting. Facilities for disabled. Gift Shop.
Bruichladdich Distillery is on the road to Port Charlotte. Closed in 1993 but reopened in May 2001, it is the only independent distillery on
Bunnahabhain Distillery (pronounced Bunna-have-in) is the most 'grown up' of all the distiliries and is visited by true whisky lovers. Tel 01496 840646 - open all year.
Caol Ila Distillery (Port Askaig) - tel 01496 840207. Most of its malt goes into blended whisky which makes it a no-nonsense, modern distillery.
Lagavulin Distillery (near Port Ellen) - tel 01496 302 400. The classic Islay malt with its distinctive smokey, peaty flavour. The distillery is situated in a stunning location and is busy all year round. Open all year 9.30am - 5pm Monday to Friday. Tours by appointment only.
Laphroaig Distillery (near Port Ellen) - tel 01496 302418. The other classic Islay malt in another great location. This distillery allows you to view the malting and look at and smell the peat kils. Open all year. Guided
tours Monday to Friday by appointment.
Whisky drinking aside however don't forget to observe Islay's remarkable birdlife, particularly the White Fronted and Barnacle Geese which winter here in their thousands before migrating to Greenland for the summer. You will probably see, and hear, the very noisy black and white oyster-catchers with their long orange beaks.
The RSBP Reserve can be found in the north-west of the island there is a Visitors' Centre in which you can operate video cameras by remote control from the first floor. It also had some high-power binoculars for your use so you can include your sightings in the register (over 250 species have been recorded)
For those staying in , you can stock-up on
all your provisions in Bowmore, Islay's main town, which has a good variety of shops. Cycle hire available is available from the Post Office. The main street leads from the square up the hill to the famous Round Church, one of only two in Scotland. Legend has it that it was designed so there would be no corners for the devil to hide in.
Port Charlotte is Islay's prettiest village, boasting white-washed cottages overlooking a sandy cove on Loch Indalal. For those interested in flora and fauna, the Wildlife Information Centre is worth a visit and historians will enjoy the Museum of Islay Life with its very good information library plus a display about illegal whisky distillers of the eighteenth-century! One of the finest examples of a 8th-century Celtic Cross, ever discovered, The Kildaton Cross can be seen at the Kildaton Chapel just north of Port Ellen.
If you are looking for a holiday cottage on Islay then there is a good selection - the island attracts plenty of birdwatchers, artists and photographers who find the light and landscape inspirational. It is also a favourite holiday island with archeologists, as Islay has been inhabited since Neolithic times.