Oban: The Underrated Scottish Seaside Town You Need to Have on Radar
A gateway to the Scottish Hebrides, the sleepy seaside town of Oban makes for a great detox destination. Expect freshly foraged fare on menus, blissfully cosy boltholes to bed down at and scenic hiking trails galore
08 November, 2022
Anchored on the sleepy north-west coast of Scotland, the weather-beaten town of Oban (Gaelic for "The Little Bay") is known as the gateway to the Scottish Hebrides. Home to a saw-toothed coastline, single-track roads often frequented only by sheep and soaring peaks, the surrounding area is a magnet for adventurers keen to spend some quality time in the great outdoors, but it's right in the heart of Oban that we suggest you stay.
With a population of around 8,000 full-time residents, the town is slow-paced and peaceful - something we'd argue is the sign of every great staycation destination. Historically a small fishing and trading hub, the arrival of a distillery (we'll get onto that) saw the neighbourhood start to evolve. Today, despite the arrival of a stylish boutique hotel and a handful of farm-to-fork eateries, a tranquil air remains. Keen to savour the refreshing and restorative scenery for ourselves, we headed off-grid to scout out the best spots for a drink and what not to miss while in town.
A moody Oban, left, and a misty hillside. | Photo credit: Banik & Reding / Unsplash.com
Known as the birthplace of whisky, Scotland is home to one of the greatest concentrations of whisky production in the world. There are some 100 different grain and malt distilleries dotted across the country, including Oban Distillery. Sitting pretty on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, this dinky set-up dates back to 1793, when brothers Hugh and John Stevenson first opened a brewing company. Before long, though, they turned their attention to whisky, and the rest is history. To learn more about the fermentation process (and taste a dram or two for yourself), book onto one of the regular tasting tours.
You'll find an abundance of trails on which to smash your daily step count, with something to suit all experience levels. For a challenging, 14.5km circular route, take the ferry to the Isle of Kerrera; the gentle Ganavan Sands walk, which passes Dunstaffnage Castle, meanwhile, is better suited to beginners.
Where to stay?
It's got to be the sophisticated and snug No17 The Promenade, whose 19 individually designed bedrooms offer sweeping views of the surrounding mystical mountains and lochs, and are the type of cosy that demands you run a bubble bath and snuggle into a fluffy robe. Highlights include handcrafted wallpapers, leather headboards (the good kind), velvet cushions, embroidered throws and gold-laced light fixtures. From dainty vanity areas decorated with concave mirrors to accent armchairs perched beside enormous water-facing windows, it's the smaller corners that carry the most thoughtful details. Then there's the in-house restaurant, which is worth hopping on a flight for in itself. Walls clad in vibrant abstract prints, crimson banquette seating and checkerboard form the backdrop to a sensational seasonal menu - be prepared to sink into gourmet heaven. The scallops were up there with the best we've ever tasted.
A freshly baked loaf of bread, left, and a pot of mussels. | Photo credit: Jenifer & Nikolay / Unsplash.com
Where to go for dinner?
Truth be told, Oban's restaurants aren't exactly the most design-driven of spaces, so don't expect to find bunting-clad beams or flower-strewn tabletops. Rather, it's top-quality, hyperlocal ingredients that carry weight around here. Head to The Waterfront Fishouse, where the finest Scottish seafood and freshly foraged ingredients await. Standouts include prawn tacos, flavour-filled soups and wine-drizzled mussels - and that, FYI, is just the starters menu. Indulge in artisan breads, trios of fish and award-winning puds.
And for a drink…
Friday night? There are two choices on the cards: a trip to one of the town's old-school boozers or a late-night tipple in the hotel bar - we warned you that this is a detox destination. We suggest making Markie Dans your drinking den of choice. The family-run spot hosts regular music events and has an impressively large selection of whiskies to choose from.
Who to take with you?
Your friend who has been trying to convince you to book a wholesome weekend in the countryside. We can think of no better place to unwind with our best mate than this. Blustery walks and healthy grub, here we come.
Essentials to pack
Everyone knows that the correct choice of footwear is imperative to both style and support, but it's only recently that we've discovered just how big a role socks play in the protection game - no one wants to fall victim to a blister while sporting their new kicks on holiday. Pack these Raey ribbed cotton hiking socks to stomp around Oban's hills à la mode.
How to get there
Take a direct flight from London Gatwick to Glasgow International Airport, from where it's a two-hour drive to the centre of town. Alternatively, fly into Edinburgh Airport, where you can enjoy a few days exploring Scotland's charming capital city before heading to Oban.