Airds Hotel, Port Appin, Argyll, Scotland

** Updated 2024. The previous version of this review was from a 2019 visit. I’m saddened to say that a visit in 2021 saw the food and experience go down several notches. The establishment was sold later in 2021 and I returned in Spring 2024 hoping the former glory may have been restored. Sadly that was not to be. I’ll say up front that the food was very good, albeit the menu changing from a formal four course fine-dining offer to a much more casual format. But the new owners obviously see a new direction for Airds: it is no longer a member of Relais & Chateaux, and changes they have made to the interior are functional, but no longer luxurious.

I have stripped most of the earlier review as, frankly, it no longer applies. I presume Airds is a work in progess, but for now presents a rather confusing picture.

Spectacular views are on offer from the dining room and from some of the upper floor rooms and suites. There are also rooms at the rear with private balconies that some might prefer, and wherever you sleep, silence is guaranteed.

The Setting

Airds view

Did I exagerrate the views from Airds? Well, this is what you’ll see from dinner or from loch-facing bedrooms. The hotel lies 19 miles north of Oban on Scotland’s west coast, down a winding single track road to the Port of Appin. It is an old white-washed building, originally a ferry inn. A short walk round the coast brings you to the village shop, another seafood restaurant, and the little foot ferry over to the historic Isle of Lismore. Hire a bike perhaps, for a day on Lismore (a popular day trip for many visitors).

Further afield, Oban is Scotland’s main ferry port, with Caledonian MacBrayne operating multiple sailings to the islands. A day-trip to Mull is entirely feasible for example, the crossing taking less than one hour. Driving north from the hotel takes you to Fort William and the monumental Glencoe. If motoring is your thing, the roads heading further north or west are generally empty and beautifully maintained, perhaps take the tiny Corran car ferry across to the unspoiled Ardnamurchan Peninsula and make for the port and harbour of Mallaig for a spot of lunch.

The restaurant

The restaurant at Airds has always been a major factor in my visits. The new owners have decided the more formal tasting menu format is not their way forward, so instead a rather pedestrian menu now features burgers, fishcakes, steaks and the like. Thankfully there are still a few nods to finer dining, in 2024 a very good venison carpaccio, and an even better venison wellington were highlights over a couple of nights. My experience of the food was very good, but severely limited: I just wouldn’t travel many hours from home for a burger or fishcakes, and 70% of the menu held little appeal.

The wine list at Airds is much less extensive than it was once was in its heyday too.

I cannot finish without a word for breakfast: it is of excellent quality, with fresh-squeezed orange juice and pots of strong coffee along with a basket of toast (sadly no croissants and fruitcake which I used to enjoy), but there’s also porridge, cereal or fruit compote and, the Airds’ full Scottish breakfast is superb; a fantastic array of quality produce that will easily sustain you through to lunch.

The low down

The annual visits I made for over 20 years are sadly a thing of the past. I will look on with interest to see how this work in progress works out, but for me much of the charm, luxury and feeling of being rather special has been lost.