At around 25 miles long, and 20 miles at its widest, this little island packs a punch on the world whisky stage with their iconic brands. It’s a whisky lover’s delight with distilleries around every corner.
We love visiting this beautiful island and want to share our tips for how best to experience its’ whisky hotspots.
The southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, Islay (pronounced ‘Eye-Lah’) lies just below the isle of Jura on Scotland’s West Coast. The fifth largest island in Scotland, Islay is known mainly for its role in Scotland’s historical past and of course its’ prolific malt whisky production!
Islay’s whiskies are famous for their peaty and smoky flavour made possible by the unique combination of centuries of sea spray, decomposing seaweed and variety of driftwood that has seeped into Islay’s peat banks. It is also believed that Islay was one of the first places in Scotland where Irish monks began practising distillation in the early 1400s. This led to the creation of formal whisky distilleries from the 1700s onwards. At its peak there were 23 distilleries on Islay, nowadays there are just 8.
We love the option of cycling around Islay to visit a variety of distilleries. There aren’t too many hills to worry about and the bicycle is a brilliant way to cover the few miles between distilleries. On our Island Explorer road cycling trip, you jump on the ferry with your bike at Lochranza, Arran. From the ferry you’ll start to spy the distilleries that have made this island famous.
After an overnight in Bowmore on Islay you’ll ride quiet back roads and enjoy great views of the Atlantic until you reach Port Charlotte where you’ll stop for a tour of the Bruichladdich distillery. What will you make of this lighter, less peaty dram? The route around Islay takes us past many more distilleries including a few that any whisky aficionado will recognise: Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. It is these whiskies, made in the south of the island, that have the powerful peaty smoky taste Islay is famous for.
At the end of May each year the island holds its Festival of Music and Malt with traditional music, ceilidhs, Gaelic lessons, golf, bowling and whisky tasting.
Hiking on Islay is another great way to soak up the island atmosphere and visit a few of the whisky hotspots. Our Argyll and the Isles walking tour lets you explore all the whisky islands but we spend two special nights on Islay. Mountains, monuments and single malts are key features of our time on the island. Exploring the beauty of Islay on foot over the two days can work up a healthy thirst.
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