Situated in the remote wilderness of the picturesque Glen Shiel, which lies along the route to the Isle of Skye, The Cluanie Inn oozes rustic Scottish charm and character, but with a rather unique Indian-inspired twist that shines through with some of the cuisine. The inn forms part of Black Sheep Hotels, a small group of boutique hotels, lodges and restaurants in Lochaber and Inverness-shire, owned by Mumbai-based hospitality company, Mars Hospitality Group.
After a long drive, we were given a warm welcome by Sara on reception, before being shown to our room personally. Everywhere was very homely and welcoming, with seating areas where you can just sit and read a book or enjoy a wee dram – just like a traditional Scottish inn should be. We were travelling with our dog for this trip, so were also shown designated areas where four-legged friends could be exercised.
We stayed in room 4 – a dog-friendly Highland Suite with a wooden four poster bed. The décor is very fitting with an old world charm about it, tartan-esque wallpaper, all traditionally furnished with antique pottery and ornaments, and with Scottish artworks adorning the walls.
Tea and coffee facilities and complimentary Highland Spring water are provided, as is a selection of magazines – National Geographic Traveller, Country Life, Condé Nast Traveller and a guide to the best places to visit in Skye and Lochalsh.
In the wardrobe there is a safe, and an ironing board and iron, and the in-room telephone links to reception, housekeeping and the duty manager, to the spa at sister hotel The Whispering Pine Lodge, as well as to the various dining options at each of the Black Sheep Hotels.
The windows from the room look out over the hills and on one evening we were lucky enough to spot wild deer right outside our window.
Our en suite bathroom consisted of a large whirlpool bath, complete with jets and coloured lights, with a shower over it, as well as a basin and WC. Don’t be alarmed by the water which can be brown in appearance – like much of Scotland, the water is derived from catchments dominated by healthy peatlands which are in fact naturally of high quality but do contain dissolved organic carbon.
Supplied toiletries are from the Highland Soap Co. – aloe vera shampoo, body wash, conditioner and soap with a subtle, woody fragrance of wild nettle and heather. Gowns and slippers, and a hairdyrer, are also supplied.
Inspired by the rugged life of Highlanders, The Cluanie Bar & Kitchen serves mountain-inspired cuisine; a menu of American and Scottish classics such as burgers, ribs and steaks, as well as international favourites, particularly Indian and pan-Asian choices. You can dine in the bar or dining areas – both offer a lively and casual ambience for travellers and locals alike.
The Chargrilled Broccoli Florets – broccoli marinated with yoghurt and garlic, topped with toasted pine nuts – are a healthy and appetising choice from the starters, whilst the Crunchy Lentil Bites served with a coconut mustard seed dip will be sure to satisfy the hungriest of walkers.
My favourite was the Trio of Prawns, Mussels and Calamari – seafood cooked in a chilli coriander broth served with a slice of grilled sourdough.
But look out also for the Cajun Chicken Quesadillas – toasted tortillas with Cajun-spiced chicken, sweet peppers, red onion and Monterey Jack cheese – for an equally enjoyable alternative.
Mains include The Highlander Cheeseburger – chargrilled beef patty topped with cheese and served with fries, a selection of pizzas such as the Out in the Wild pizza (chorizo, Italian sausage, ham, mozzarella and mustard greens) and a number of international specials.
The Dal Makhani is a classic North Indian slow-cooked lentil curry that I can highly recommend. Alternatively try the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio – spaghetti tossed in garlic, olive oil, chilli flakes and Parmesan, with the option to add chicken, prawns or salmon.
The intimate bar is a lovely area to relax, serving wines, beers and ciders, not to mention an extensive selection of whisky.
Free WiFi is available at The Cluanie Inn and we found that it worked well throughout the building, despite the remote location.
The inn also doubles as a self-service petrol station which I’m sure has been a welcome sight for many a traveller frantically worrying about the next opportunity to re-fuel. And across the road, Black Sheep Hotels’ latest addition is the Landour Bakehouse – a great stop-off for freshly-baked goods, some from recipes dating back to the 1900s. The bakehouse gets its name from the British-era cantonment of Landour, at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the Himalayas, where Scottish citizens are said to have once exchanged recipes and high-altitude baking tips, first through conversation but then subsequently in multiple editions of The Landour Cookbook.
The bakehouse is a relaxed and fun stop-off; inside a sign reads “We do not have WiFi. Talk to each other. Pretend it’s 1895.” whilst another with an arrow pointing up the road reads “Complaints Department – 100 miles”.
The Cluanie Inn is located along the A87 in the Scottish Highlands, on the Moor of A’Chralaig on Glen Shiel, at the western end of Cluanie Loch. Walks are available from the doorstep of the inn – within The Cluanie Estate – as well as on nearby hills and Munros including, among others, the seven Munros of the South Glen Shiel Ridge.
One of the nearest attractions of note is Eilean Donan Castle, which is a 30-minute drive away and sits at the confluence of Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. This iconic 13th Century Scottish castle has featured in many an Instagram feed as well as films such as Highlander (1986) and James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999).
Whilst in that area, we also took the opportunity to visit the pretty village of Plockton and the Kyle of Lochalsh. Plockton enjoys a mild climate by Scottish standards, thanks to facing east, away from the prevailing winds, and you will even see palm trees growing there.
Our drive from The Cluanie Inn in the opposite direction to our next stop, Whispering Pine Lodge, was also very picturesque with beautiful loch views, the bonus of spotting a lone piper greet a small tour company, and the opportunity for a lovely woodland walk in Glen Garry pinewoods managed by the Foresty Commission.
Other nice touches
A welcome platter on arrival with fruit, cookies and the words ‘Welcome To The Inn….” written in chocolate greeted us in our room on arrival.
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Glen Twin or Glen Double rooms start from £130 per night.The Highland Suite starts from £168 per night.
The best bit
Whilst The Cluanie Inn is full of rustic charm, arguably the best thing about it is its remote setting. Few places in the UK offer this level of solitude – a unique Scottish wilderness that is around 30 minutes’ drive from anywhere of note, yet is surrounded by 21 easily-accessible Munros. The Glen Shiel valley is a place where you can truly get away from it all.
Even though we live relatively close to the border with Scotland, our 6-7 hour drive to The Cluanie Inn makes you appreciate the vastness of Scotland, particularly when you consider that it would take another 4 hours still to drive to John O’Groats.
The final verdict
The Cluanie Inn is a welcome stopover for visitors en route to Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye, whilst also acting as a destination in its own right – not just for walkers interested in Munro-bagging but for guests seeking a remote reprieve from the hustle and bustle of their usual daily lives.
Disclosure: Our stay was courtesy of The Cluanie Inn from Black Sheep Hotels.