The Isle of Arran Scotland features rugged terrain and sea views. // © 2011 Devin Galaudet
The Best of Britain and Ireland
On a recent trip to Europe, I finally saw why the Isle of Arran is referred to as "Scotland in Miniature." My view from the deck of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry included the snowcapped highlands and the lush lowlands, all in a single glance.
I soon discovered that Arran, Scotland -- which is located two hours away from Glasgow by boat -- had more in common with its mainland counterpart than just the landscape. During my visit, I ate haggis and blood pudding. I felt Scotland's clean air on my face and its rugged terrain underneath my feet. I even saw medieval castles. What truly surprised me, however, were the plentiful accommodations, hiking trails and numerous outdoor activities for a perfect weekend getaway from the mainland.
Golf-lovers will swoon over the seven courses around the island. While there are multiple traditional courses, the unique, 12-hole course at Shiskine Golf and Tennis Club offers a challenging and picturesque layout at the base of the Drumadoon Cliffs at Blackwaterfoot. Yearlong passes are available for about $160.
Visitors looking for a swig of Scotland's finest booze should visit the Isle of Arran Distillery for the quintessential Scottish experience. Tour participants can sip on a free dram of whisky and, if they wish, purchase a traditional malt from a wide selection. The distillery is located about a 10-minute drive north of Brodick (in the harbor area).
Aside from the ruins of Lochranza Castle, the most popular attraction near Brodick may be Arran Aromatics. Sold in more than 40 countries, Arran Aromatics is a popular line of luxury toiletries, and its Arran storefront is open to the public. Beyond the fruit-scented soaps and all-natural body butters, the store offers scheduled tours and a chance for visitors to make their own soap at the Arran Aromatics' factory.
After a long day of exploring, the Auchrannie House Hotel & Spa provides a respite with old Scottish charm and modern amenities (including Arran Aromatics toiletries) in its main house and annex, the Auchrannie Spa Resort, which features an indoor pool and lots of activities for the kids. Auchrannie also hosts a variety of services for families, small groups, business travelers and meeting planners.
Other great properties include the Kildonan Hotel on the southern end of Arran. The property feels more like a typical bed and breakfast than a hotel, with views of nearby Pladda Island, a picturesque rocky coastline and lounging sea lions. Rooms are quaint and have been outfitted with flat-screen televisions and free Wi-Fi access. In addition to gourmet food, the hotel features a handy grocery store.
To truly embrace Arran's "Scotland in Miniature" theme, I recommend exploring the two-hour loop of the island by car for winding roads, quickly shifting landscapes and photogenic sightseeing. The trip will hit most points of interest, including Arran's castles and other attractions.