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Islay's whisky & history

On this full-day private guided tour of the island of Islay, you’ll gain a genuine overview of island life both in the past and the present. It offers you the chance to discover Islay’s scenic roads and beaches, as you explore its long and varied past. You’ll learn about local traditions, early-Christian settlements, seafaring lore and illicit whisky making, and explore two contrasting distilleries where you can see small-scale production on a traditional farm as well as hearing the story behind one of the world’s leading whisky brands.

Your driver-guide will pick you up at your hotel on the morning of the tour and take you first to the Kildalton Cross in the southeast of Islay. This early-Christian cross dates from the 8th century and is one of the oldest in Scotland, as well as one of the finest in Europe. It stands just under 3 m (9 ft) high and is intricately carved with Celtic designs and Christian motifs. It’s very similar to crosses found on nearby Iona, but considered to be much more impressive.

From Kildalton, you head to the nearby Laphroaig Distillery, which produces one of the best-known single malts in the world. Renowned for its heavily peaty, smoky taste, it’s produced using water from its own source, which lends the whisky its distinctive taste.

The hour-long classic-experience tour leads you through the distillery’s buildings, giving a good overview of the history of the company as well as the process of whisky making. The tour ends with a tasting of three Laphroaig whiskies in the bar.

Next stop on the tour is the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte, which is housed in an old church and displays a collection of historic exhibits depicting life on Islay in times past. Objects range from illicit whisky stills to the bell from a notorious shipwreck and various early-Christian carvings. There are also a range of photographs depicting local traditions and settlements in the early 20th century.

Once you’ve had a chance to look around the museum, you’ll continue to Islay’s newest distillery, Kilchoman. It opened in 2005 on a working farm on the far west of the island. The farm grows 40% of the barley used for its whisky production, which is then malted on site — a rarity for whisky distilleries nowadays.

This is a small-scale distillery and very much a family business, which makes visiting a more intimate experience. The tour of the distillery lasts an hour and provides you with an insight into the whisky-making process. You’ll finish with a tasting of two whiskies.

The final stop on the tour is nearby Kilchoman Beach, a long stretch of pale-golden sand overlooking Machir Bay. Here, you can wander along the seafront and enjoy the views at the end of the day.

Once you’ve had some time to explore, your driver will take you back to your hotel.

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Audley Travel Country Specialist Emily

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Other experiences in Isle of Islay

These activities are designed to give you the most authentic experiences around where you're staying. We work with local guides, who use their knowledge and often a resident's eye to show you the main sights and more out-of-the-way attractions. Our specialists can suggest tours and activities, such as cooking classes, that will introduce you to the local ways of life.

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    Islay wildlife cruise

    Isle of Islay

    Spot a wild variety of birdlife, seals, goats and possibly dolphins and basking sharks on this two-hour tour off the coast of Islay. Join a small group for a great introduction to the region, with expert commentary by one of the islanders.