Castle Stalker on the way to Airds Hotel

The drive to Port Appin from Inverness took most of the day. Along the way, my new bride Linda and I waded in Loch Ness looking for Nessie the famous monster, toured the Ben Nevis whisky distillery, and saw countryside views enough to fill a lifetime of post cards. The last hour of the trip took us on tight roads and then tighter roads, so narrow that every hundred yards or so the single lane road had wide spots specifically for letting oncoming cars pass.

We wound past Castle Stalker, standing singular and square on its own little island in Loch Linnhe, rounded a corner, and at last we found our hotel -- a modest rectangular building with white harling and a glassed sunroom entry. It dates from the 1700’s, when it was used as the southern terminus for the loch’s ferry passengers.

Inside the entry we found wicker chairs and a row of green “Wellie” rain boots set out for the guests. The Wellies were an interesting touch – and perhaps the first sign that our hosts, Shaun and Jenny McKivragan, were dedicated to the ultimate in customer service.

Inside was cozy. Soft leather couches and armchairs surrounded the fireplaces and gathered in conversation groupings in two lounges. The furnishings and decorations spoke of elegance and comfort at the same time; like the hunting lodge of a Scots Laird perhaps. It said “welcome home”, where home came from a Louisa May Alcott novel.

Upstairs we had a corner suite with an oversized bathroom and small sitting room – books on the shelves, a variety of CD’s for the player, flat screen TV, and a tremendously comfortable bed. Our room, one of only 12 in the entire hotel, looked out over the hotel’s garden and the loch beyond.

We mentioned to the hotel manager that we’d like a little tea after our trip, and before I had retrieved our bags from the car, a tray had appeared with a complete tea service.

The service was beyond anything in our prior experience. During dinner, our forks and spoons were whisked away and replaced according to each dish and our water glasses were refilled as fast we could drink.

When we got back to our room after dinner, the house-keeper had picked up and folded our dirty clothes. If we hadn’t slept late and skipped what I’ve been told was the breakfast of a lifetime, they would have made the bed and cleaned while we were downstairs.

But while we didn’t experience the breakfast, we did experience dinner – oh dinner!!! What a meal.

When we had told Linda’s Scottish cousins that we were going to be visiting the Airds, they said “Oh, foodies!”

“Foodies?” we asked.

“Foodies. Gourmets. Epicures,” they explained. “The Airds is famous for their food.” The Airds Hotel has three AA rosettes to boast of meaning that their culninary skill, creativity and innovation are among the best that Scotland has to offer.

And we found out why.

Five courses of wonder. Maybe more, depending on how you count.

At 8:30, we chatted with our fellow guests in the lounge where we were offered a pre-dinner drink. Canapés and Linda’s gin and tonic arrived. Tiny seared tomato halves, mushroom caps, interesting combinations of cheeses and caviar, each one a tiny sculpture looking too beautiful to eat. But eat we did.

After a while, we were led to the dining room. Waitresses dressed in floor-length tartan skirts glided between the tables bringing bread and butter and ice cubes and chilled water and wine and an amazing variety of silverware.

“Starters” would be course number two if you count the canapés – seared scallops for Linda, while I had a mousse of chicken liver and truffles. Next came soup for me and salad for Linda. Earlier in the day, the kitchen staff had taken our dinner order, which they delivered without error or misstep, including her special request for a simple salad instead of soup.

The entrees, now course number three or four – I had sea bream and Linda had halibut with a current stuffing. Then dessert for me was a caramelized apple tart with the apple sliced in paper-thin wedges and fanned across the tart, under peach ice cream, all with a crispy frond of golden sugar candy extending from the ice cream like the feather on a jaunty cap. Linda enjoyed a mango soufflé garnished with pineapple and a leaf of mint, all in a tart-like crust.

Pictures? Alas, this was not the kind of environment where you’d be so gauche as to snap pictures of dinner. Not when the servers were right there whisking up every dropped crumb and the chef was pouring his soul into making a room full of happy diners. You’ll just have to imagine and we’ll just have to vividly remember the amazing dinner.

Then, off to the lounge for coffee and still more food. The “Petit fours” that accompanied coffee in this case were tiny sweets and chocolates and pastries just as decorative as everything else served that evening.

Summer evenings in Scotland last until midnight, and even then the sun never completely abandons the sky, providing a touch of light from over the horizon. We wanted to explore and enjoy the evening, but we had to sleep – it had been a long trip and too little rest.

And thus, alas, we missed the “breakfast of a lifetime”.

Had the stay been longer, we would have explored the Port Appin village, maybe sat out in the garden on the wooden lounge chairs and sketched the distant lighthouse, or perhaps hired a boat to take us to the isolated and mysterious Castle Stalker.

And we would have eaten even more wonderful food and come home with expanded waistlines to remind us of our stay in a tiny hotel on the western edge of Scotland.