photo: Loch torridon hotel

Surrounded by nature and wildlife, the Torridon in Scotland promises tranquility for guests.

Photograph by Hartz/laif/Redux

The most authentic and unique hotels in Scotland, chosen by National Geographic Traveler editors for the 2011 Stay List

Argyll Hotel, Isle of Iona, Argyll
Homespun Hebridean hideaway on three-square-mile isle. Watch ferry leave while you sip tea in Sun Lounge. Later, feast on island fare: venison and rabbit hot pot, seasonal salads from seaweed-composted garden. Island ethos: Everything's homemade, homegrown, home-baked, or fair trade (even the toilet paper). Sea or garden views in book-strewn rooms. Prolific birdlife, sandy North End beaches, boat tours in traditional craft. 16 rooms, from $198.

Boath House Hotel, Auldearn, Inverness-shire
A culinary lodestone in the Scottish Highlands near Nairn. Crunchy gravel drive leads to 1829 Regency mansion amid 20 acres of woodland. Drawing room for sampling local single malt while Slow Food maestro labors over daily changing six-course menu. Modern local artwork contrasts with Regency furnishings in both public areas and rooms. Dolphin tours, golf, local gillies to take you fishing. 8 rooms, from $354.

The Cross at Kingussie, Kingussie, Inverness-shire
Water-powered tweed mill converted into gastronome "restaurant with rooms" on four wooded acres within Cairngorms National Park. Champagne on riverside terrace, drams in fireside lounge, value-for-money wine list and daily-changing menu in the wood-beam restaurant. Regional modern art, Scottish fiction, CDs by local musicians accessorize large rooms (though burbling River Gynack is music enough in the three riverside ones). To explore ancient Caledonian forest, pick your horsepower: Highland ponies or Land Rovers. 8 rooms, from $298, incl. breakfast and dinner.

Fairmont St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife
It's not just grass that's green at this coastal golf resort. Two esteemed golf courses irrigated with gray water; recycling bins placed in bedrooms; kitchen oil powers hotel vehicles. (And hot water, a by-product of on-site electrical generation, heats entire hotel.) Afternoon tea served in glass-topped atrium is ethically sourced; try a slice of Dundee cake (a surprisingly edible fruit cake). Scottish ambience is subtle (not counting kilt-wearing concierge), but you're only two miles from the city of St. Andrews. 209 rooms, from $223.

Fortingall, Aberfeldy, Perthshire
A community anchor in an arts and crafts village concealed in Scotland's longest enclosed glen (valley). Sample heritage potatoes local to Britain. Fireside lounge, library loaded with local intel, such as how to bag one of the seven nearby munros (mountains higher than 3,000 ft.). Bird feeders, bat boxes, and flower garden encourage biodiversity. Famous yew tree next door is Europe's oldest (more than 3,000 years, they say). 10 rooms, from $257.

The Howard, Edinburgh, Midlothian
Three distinguished yet discreet 1820 townhouses in heart of Georgian-era New Town (a short walk from Princes Street shopping). No registration lobby, no bar. (Your butler handles everything, even ironing.) Antique furniture, cozy slipper tubs, Bakelite phones in tradition-bound rooms; modern Scottish menu in diminutive restaurant with 18th-ccentury murals. 28 eco-initiatives pepper the game plan. 18 rooms, from $257.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel, Torlundy
An imposing monarch backdropped by Ben Nevis (highest peak in Great Britain). Great hall with fresco ceiling, dripping with chandeliers. Furnishings in three-room restaurant a gift from king of Norway. (Cuisine is very modern British.) Simple if eccentric pleasures: walk the walled garden, row a boat on small lake, learn to throw a tomahawk. TV screens disguised as mirrors in antique-laden rooms. Royal splurge: the bi-level Queen's Suite. (When Queen Victoria stayed here, she wrote in her diary: "I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.") 17 rooms, from $966.

Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa, and Island, Benderloch, Argyll
Hebridean haven on private 300-acre island. Baronial house (1884) with roaring log fires, dark wood paneling, vintage-modern guest rooms. Nature preserve with marked trails occupies half the island. (Ask for GPS loaner for more adventurous treks.) Indoor pool, six-holes of golf. Chef goes mushrooming (56 varieties on island), boat brings in scallops, lobster, mussels for daily changing menu. Even wild badgers show up every night for a feeding. 25 rooms, from $483.

Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye, Inverness-shire
Foodies flock to this 1680 seaside hunting lodge, highland home of Lord and Lady Macdonald. (She's Scotland's best-known cook, author of 17 cookbooks.) Memorabilia-laden drawing rooms (ask to read Queen Victoria's letters) with house party ambience: afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks, nightcaps. Dine on white linen napery using vintage silver. Evocative rooms reveal personal touch: shortbread and milk, candles lit at turndown. Learn secrets of braised oxtail during three-day cooking class. 14 rooms, from $318, incl. dinner.

Monachyle Mhor Hotel, Balquhidder, Perthshire
More a shrine to local sustainable cuisine than a hotel. But quirky contemporary rooms come in handy at this isolated Jacobean farmhouse on Loch Voil, deep in Rob Roy country. Winding four-mile drive on single track gets you here; unwind in luxury rooms' twin slipper tubs. What's not produced on estate is sourced within 30-mile radius, then turned into gourmet extravaganza by celebrity chef Tom Lewis. Between-meal activities—mushroom hunting, highland safari tours—reinforce sense of place. 14 rooms, from $333, incl. breakfast and dinner.

Old Course Hotel, St. Andrews, Fife
Spa resort for the golf obsessed, facing links dating to 1574. (Must win daily ballot to play there.) Ownership by Kohler clan (of sink and toilet fame) explains multi-nozzle showers in rooms, chromatherapy baths in suites. Authentic pub occupies old stationmaster's lodge (1850), but rest of hotel is circa 1968. Don't miss fishbowl-like conservatory jutting onto notorious 17th hole. (Its strengthened glass protects against errant golf balls.) 144 rooms, from $315.

Prestonfield, Edinburgh, Midlothian
Bucolic splendor in a Jacobean mansion just outside the city center. Indulgent rooms swaddled in velvet and silk have woodland views. (Hotel has planted over a thousand indigenous trees.) Lots of private nooks with roaring fires. Restaurant with deep celebrity list defines modern Scottish cuisine. What you don't eat goes to composting center, run by local homeless hostel, just part of hotel's record-setting environmentalism. Free use of bikes. 23 rooms, from $459.

The Three Chimneys & the House Over-By, Isle of Skye Inverness-shire
Original crofter's cottage overlooking sea uses island as organic larder for world-famous cuisine. Three snug dining rooms with fireplaces. Skye high: hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard. Split-level junior suites in newer addition boast tubs large enough for two, French doors to garden. Telescope in Morning Room for wildlife viewing—dolphins, eagles, seals, whales—but the real focus here is on food. 6 rooms, from $241.

The Torridon, Achnasheen, Wester Ross-shire
Inspired isolation at grand Victorian shooting lodge facing wildlife-heavy shoreline. Stone spires, bay windows, zodiac-painted ceiling. Chef promotes local suppliers for fresh Highland quarry. (Hotel's quest for carbon neutrality affects everything from choice of food to selection of bathrobes.) Rooms regionalized with herringbone tweed, chocolate-brown leather furnishings. (Room 14 has shower in the turret.) Kayaking, guided glen walks, gorge scrambling. 19 rooms, from $405, incl. breakfast and dinner.

Viewfield House, Isle of Skye, Inverness-shire
British Empire perseveres in the Macdonald family's baronial house. Genuine if flinch-worthy Victoriana—hunt trophies, crocodile skulls, elephant's-foot umbrella stand—blends with Raj décor: Persian rugs, Indian brass. Kilt-clad owner, single malts around log fire, family silver in dining room. Victorian-era rooms (no TVs) have views of garden or Portree Bay, a 10-minute walk away. 11 rooms, from $150.

The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh, Midlothian
Spellbound enchantment at the gate to Edinburgh castle. Built of architectural salvage from nearby historic buildings. Suites staged like a Gothic theater set: velvet-draped four-posters, trompe l'oeil drapery, French gilded sofas, chapel-like bathrooms. Restaurant with topiary terrace is meticulous about food sourcing: beef dry-aged 21 days on the bone, scallops hand-dived in Kilbrannan Sound. Their in-house newsletter navigates the secrets of hidden Edinburgh. 7 rooms, from $475, incl. bottle of Champagne, breakfast, newspaper.

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