(I was invited by the Altnaharra Hotel for a complimentary DBB overnight stay in exchange for a review feature on A Highland Blend. All opinions shared are our own.)
In September we joined the procession of camper vans and cyclists heading west on the North Coast 500. However, our final destination was 25 miles south of Bettyhill. Off the beaten track stands a gem of a place - the Altnaharra Hotel.
No matter if you travel north from Lairg, or south from Bettyhill or Tongue, the scenery of Sutherland is stunning - from the heights of Ben Kilbreck to the miles of pine forest. The possibility of spotting deer on the moorland is a very real possibility and we saw two right from the door of the hotel!
As well as a 14-bedroom inn, accommodation at the Altnaharra Hotel also includes 2 self-catering cottages and a simple cabin for cyclists completing the LEJOG route. In recent years, with the growing popularity of the North Coast 500 route, the hotel has seen more custom as people divert off the main NC500 route in search of traditional Highland hospitality in the heart of the Northwest Highlands.
As well as short stays, the hotel attracts outdoor enthusiasts who stay multiple nights to partake in climbing, cycling and archaeological exploration across Sutherland. However, the Altnaharra Hotel is also primely situated for a key number of fishing sites on nearby lochs and rivers, and this is what brings many guests back year after year.
The hotel is a historic drovers inn, and the decor of the lounge reflects traditional Scottish tastes; tartan soft furnishings, comfy sofas, plenty of fishing paraphernalia and dark wood dressers.
There are multiple spacious lounge areas, with plenty of room to either gather with others, or to enjoy a book and a dram in front of the fire. We enjoyed the latter, especially after a hectic few weeks - it was bliss to immerse ourselves in such a peaceful environment and it seemed like other guests were enjoying the same.
As we chose to enjoy the comfort of the lounge, we only very briefly popped into the cosy Ghillies Bar. With a lighter brighter decor, I could see it would be a great place for locals or visitors to enjoy a pint or two.
The bar had a decent selection of gins but my only complaint was that there weren't any of the local ones available from Dunnet Bay Distillery or North Point Distillery. However, Mr B definitely rated the whisky collection on offer.
Our bedroom was also traditionally decorated with plenty of tartans, with generous space for storing our belongings, a welcome pack for the local area, and tea/coffee making facilities.
It was obvious that the rooms are continually updated, as our bathroom had a powerful rainforest style shower newly installed. I can imagine after a day of fishing in the continually changing Scottish climate this would be very welcome indeed!
Our stay included dinner and this is where I have to say without hesitation we would return to the Altnaharra Hotel again, purely on our dining experience. Every element of our three courses was cooked and presented to absolute perfection. We had expected a good meal featuring Scottish ingredients but considering the remote location, we were absolutely blown away by the excellent quality of our evening meal. For us, it was comparable to some of the nicest meals we have enjoyed in capital cities across the UK and Europe.
- Hand dived King Scallops with Aultbea Black Pudding, an Orkney Cheese Souffle, and the Altnaharra Hotel's homemade sunflower and pumpkin seed bread to start
- Our main courses were Roast Duck with artichokes, chanterelles and a confit duck croquette, and a Loch Duart Salmon and Haddock risotto.
- Banana sticky toffee pudding and a vanilla panna cotta with raspberry sorbet & blueberry compote for dessert.
Likewise, our cooked breakfast the following morning used Ayrshire bacon and Aultbea black pudding, and it was an ample portion along with toast, juices, yoghurts and plenty of tea and coffee to fuel us for the day ahead.
It was also lovely to spend time chatting with the staff. They were friendly locals who had a lot of knowledge about the area to share with residents and were also extremely professional in their interactions.
The Altnaharra Hotel welcomes pets in all areas apart from the restaurant, and Bartie definitely appreciated the attention from the staff he met.
We were able to enjoy a short walk around Altnaharra before the dreaded midges descended on us (the hotel does sell products to combat midges, which are at their worst in wet and still conditions between May and September).
For those who need a connection to the outside world, the WiFi was excellent across the public areas and our bedroom and we were able to stream a film. The TV connection was not brilliant with only a couple of channels available, but in our view that's not a dealbreaker considering the rich environment both inside and outside of the hotel.
If you're looking for a true "escape to the country" break with excellent Scottish food and service, in a traditional Highland inn, I would wholeheartedly recommend a stay at the Altnaharra Hotel.
The Altnaharra Hotel is open from the beginning of Spring and closed during the winter season. Contact them directly with any bookings and enquiries or consult their website for more information.
Holiday itinerary ideas from the Altnaharra Hotel
Whether you're using the Altnaharra Hotel as a base for the area, or heading north and east, I would recommend that you take a trip to any of the north coast beaches or Portskerra Harbour. If you're heading south and want to visit somewhere off the beaten NC500 track, my pick would be to take a day trip to Lairg and to the surrounding forests and falls.