Escape to Eriska – a luxury island retreat

Crossing a rickety old single-track bridge and driving up the impressive gravel driveway to the imposing Eriska Hotel & Spa it’s easy to imagine stepping back in time to a golden age of opulence.

  • Full feature in Issue No. 3

View from Glen Sanda

Despite being only a few hours from the hustle and bustle of London by plane or Caledonian Sleeper train the exclusive island might just as well be another world away from the stress and strains of modern life.

There are few places as beautiful and romantic to unplug from today’s busy digital-orientated lives as the 350 acre private island of Eriska estate.

A mixture of luxury and wild untamed beauty await await visitors as rolling manicured lawns and colourful flower beds sweep down to seaweed strewn beaches and lapping waves. The island is home to an array of wildlife, including red deer, otters, seals, numerous species of birds, including golden eagles which pop in occasionally, and even badgers which are regularly tempted down to the terrace for treats from the hotel staff.

Built in 1884 by the Stewarts of Appin, and designed by acclaimed architect Hippolyte Blanc, the main hotel caters for up to just 49 guests at a time. It used to be a family home until 1973 and still has all feel of a private baronial-style mansion with log fires and wood panels.

No wonder the island retreat has found favour with a number of famous guests, including Dame Judi Dench and Judy Murray.

The Eriska hotel

Located just 12 miles north of the west coast seaside town of Oban on the mouth of Loch Creran it is the perfect place to ‘switch off’. Hotel guests are even given the option to hand in their phone and iPad when they check in and retreat to simpler life.

However, if the thought of enduring digital amputation from your smartphone or laptop is too much to contemplate the hotel does have free wifi for guests and all the technical mod-cons of 21st century for those who want them.

For a chance to escape the rate-race a digital detox break at the Isle of Eriska starts from £410 per person, for a two night break, including a spa treatment, dinner, bed and breakfast. If guests wish to have a foodie detox too, Eriska’s chefs are happy to chat through healthy and nutritious food options.

Guests can switch off and relax with an indulgent spa treatment, get some fresh air with a walk on the beach, or unwind with a glass of wine by the fire and dine in the acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant.

For those who want to stay active there’s a golf course, a gym with stunning island views, bracing walks and hikes, and sailing trips available from the island’s jetty.

If guests want to step away from their digital life, but indulge in fabulous cuisine, Head Chef Paul Leonard has recently been awarded a Michelin star.

The island and surrounding waters are the kitchen larder and the ingredients used in the restaurant are predominantly locally or island sourced. There’s a smokehouse on the island, a small holding with pigs and quail, and the chefs catch fish in the local waters.

As well as the Michelin starred restaurant, there is the relaxed Deck restaurant which overlooks the stunning lochs and peaceful surroundings of the hotel.

Specialist seaweed treatments, by spa brand Ishga, can be enjoyed in the Stables Spa – the spa has warm, cosy treatment rooms, many with tubs for two, views over the sea, and plenty of peace and quiet. The spa rooms are designed to reflect different parts of the island; some are darker in colour to represent the woodland and some are sea inspired to represent the untouched coastline.

In addition to the main hotel Eriska also has a number of self-contained lodges, each with its own kitchen, luxury bathroom and a hot tub on the decking with views across the sea.

Eriska is unique in that in addition to the luxury of the hotel and leisure facilities part of the estate is also an area of Special Scientific Interest.

Nestling on the eastern side of one of the world’s most celebrated rift valleys, and born of the cataclysmic upheavals of more than 600 million years ago, the formation of Eriska is largely of schist and slate with the lower ground to the west as a raised beach from the Island.

A partly submerged Crannog, or fortified dwelling, situated some 200m into the channel to the east of the bridge dates from the Bronze Age around 200 BC and marks the earliest recorded human settlement of the Island.

Part of the charm of Eriska is the ability it offers visitors to explore the estate and enjoy the island as if it were their own. From the formal ground to the western seaboard to the rugged hill side, the whole estate has a charm and is genuinely interesting and exciting to explore through the many paths and trails in search of peace and tranquility.

The whole island, which can be hired exclusively for up to 49 guests from around £20,000 for 2 nights bed and breakfast., was recently acquired by Creation Gem, a family-owned company based in Hong Kong.

“My family and I are offering a bridge of friendship from beautiful Shanghai to stunning Scotland. We are honoured to continue as the custodians of such an iconic property and aim to protect and nurture the island, securing a bright future for Eriska for years to come,” said new owner Wayne Rong.

Already this year seven of the hotels 25 bedrooms have been fully renovated along with the creation of a stylish new piano lounge and drawing room.

Significant investment is also underway on the rest of the main house and island, complete with the construction of four new Hilltop Reserves. The new self-catering lodges have been designed to mirror the existing two Hilltop Reserves, located on the hillside overlooking the estate. The one-bedroom lodges come with their own private hot tub and outdoor decking and views across the sea.

“The Isle of Eriska is synonymous with quality and an intimate guest experience that will be wholly preserved moving forward. A change of ownership doesn’t mean a change in ethos and guests new and old can still expect the roaring fires, luxury, comfort and excellent service from the committed island team, along with a memorable dining experience,” said Gordon Cartwright, General Manager of Eriska, since April 2016.

Gordon’s wealth of industry experience gained over the last 30 years include Senior Hotel and Restaurant Inspector with AA Hotel Services, management and chef director roles with Relais & Chateaux including The Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, as well as Sharrow Bay and Roux Restaurants.

“Eriska is about providing an island getaway that is totally unique, not just in location but because the experienced team deliver on the small details that make all the difference. As General Manager I’m committed to preserving the legacy that has made Eriska an icon of hospitality for over four decades,” he added.