We arrived at the Crinan Hotel in Argyll and Bute at the same time as our supper. ‘That looks like our prawn boat coming in,’ the young man told us as he showed us the stunning view from the balcony of our room, across the Sound of Jura. ‘They’ll be on the menu tonight.’ In fact he was wrong. They were langoustines, but a note on the menu showed that they were landed at the same time we were arriving. That’s fresh Scottish seafood for you, and the perfect start to our romantic break in Scotland.
The last part of the drive to the Crinan Hotel is the perfect prelude to a real romantic break in an idyllic and pretty spot. We drove over the Rest and Be Thankful beauty spot (right), though we had no time to rest on this occasion, only to be thankful that we were going through such a gorgeously scenic part of Scotland. We’d already driven most of the length of Loch Lomond, and now were headed towards Loch Fyne, after which the road got narrower and narrower before it twisted up and over the wooded headland that separates Crinan from Crinan Harbour.
Crinan (population 80) has a harbour too, but it also has the entrance to the Crinan Canal, which was built to connect Loch Fyne with the Atlantic Ocean. The Crinan Hotel is in the perfect spot to take advantage of these amazing views all around. Our room, number 31, had a big balcony with one of the best views of all. As well as the fishing boats there were sailing boats going in and out of the canal, the wide expanse of the Sound of Jura and, to the west, the tip of the island of Jura itself. It seemed close enough for you to reach across and grab a glass of its whisky. It’s the kind of view where you stop in your tracks and say ‘Wow!’ And it was ours for the weekend.
Also ours for the weekend was the Crinan’s Westward Restaurant. It serves top Scottish seafood and, as we’d seen from our balcony, the freshest of produce. The dining room is spacious and light, with lots of window tables taking full advantage of the view, at one end looking out towards the sunset. We both tried what is a familiar starter on Scottish menus – black pudding and scallops. These can be so-so or they can be sublime, and here the combination of melt-in-your-mouth Stornoway black pudding and plump Loch Fyne scallops was the best we’ve ever had.
Donna had to try the langoustines, which were huge and, of course, tender and fresh. They were served with potatoes that had a light, zingy coating that might have been chilli pepper, and a simple salad of organic salad leaves that were incredibly tasty. Mike’s lemon sole was as tender as they come, and there was a brilliant crème brulée to provide the perfect end to a perfect meal – and perfect day.
The Crinan Hotel is co-owned by the well-known Scottish artist Frances Macdonald, who has had numerous exhibitions in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Her very varied and striking works line the corridors, adorn the public places, and are shown in a gallery within the hotel along with the work of many other artists. Macdonald also gave an individual design to each of the hotel’s 20 rooms and ours was certainly a delight.
A big bed was carefully placed to face out to the spectacular view, but despite the huge bed the room was still spacious thanks to clever use of cupboard space. The décor was a subtle nautical look, mainly in blues and whites – but restful pale blues, not in-your-face jaunty royal blues. There were quiet dashes of yellow, turquoise and green, and the bathroom was bright thanks to natural light that beamed in through a skylight. It also had a power shower that you didn’t need a degree in physics to operate, and one of those sleek and stylish modern sinks – but one that worked properly!
You can be as active or as lazy as you like in Crinan. There are sailing trips, perhaps to see the famous whirlpool in the Strait of Corryvreckan between Jura and Scarba. There are several golf courses nearby including a Championship Course at Machrihanish. You can go horse riding or mountain biking, enjoy nature trails or do as we did and walk the towpath of the Crinan Canal. We enjoyed it so much we did it both days, and below in our YouTube slideshow you can see why – though unfortunately we weren’t able to capture the highlight of the second day’s walk, when we saw a nest of young herons being fed by their parents, all squawking in the trees.
A romantic weekend break at the Crinan Hotel is easy from Glasgow, with a lovely and scenic drive of 2-3 hours from central Glasgow, depending on the traffic. The drive takes you north past Loch Lomond, turning west at Tarbet, over Rest and Be Thankful, then around Loch Fyne to Crinan.
From the centre of London it’s 500 miles to the Crinan Hotel, which would be about a 9-hour drive. Most of this is on motorways, with the last section being a slow and stunningly beautiful drive past Loch Lomond, over the Rest and Be Thankful scenic viewpoint, and around Loch Fyne.
It would be a shame to do this part of the drive when you’re tired, and keen to get to your destination. We suggest breaking the journey in the Lake District. From Windermere it would then be about a 5-hour drive to the Crinan Hotel the next morning.
Alternatively you could fly to Glasgow Prestwick Airport and rent a car, the drive to Crinan being about 3 hours from the airport.
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