It may be all mist and mellow fruitfulness down south, but autumn in Scotland is brazenly vivid, with bracken and grasses shading to bronze and russet while leaves scatter like showers of gold doubloons. The light is golden, too, slanting across land, sea and cities under Giotto-blue skies.
There will be scarlet rowan berries and hedges dusky with purple sloes, and perhaps a glitter of early frost. But should the weather turn to stormy seas, inky lochans and clouds tearing across the sky, the Scottish landscape will be all the more photogenic.
In a country off limits to so many at this time last year, there is now a snug berth for everyone, whether a stylish hotel or a quirky cabin by the sea; a luxurious farmhouse or a historic Highland gate lodge. Imagine the crackle of a wood fire or the sweet smell of peat smoke; add soft throws, a good book and a glass of wine (or better still, a dram). The Danes may have hygge but we are long-time experts in the art of cosiness, making this the perfect time to return. Whether you coorie doon in the Lowlands or go full còsagach in the Highlands, haste ye back to Scotland.
The Grandtully Hotel by Ballintaggart, Grandtully, Perthshire
Stylish, colourful, clever and fun, this village hotel and wildly popular restaurant offers some of the best food in Scotland with smart bedrooms full of personality. Discover the “ring for whisky” bell in the library or be drawn to the warm, buzzy bar for a cocktail and perhaps a plate of negroni-cured sea trout. The relaxed restaurant mainlines in seafood, game and foraged ingredients.
Killiehuntly Farmhouse and Cottages, Kingussie, Inverness-shire
Traditional stone farmhouse on the outside; surprisingly, soothingly Scandiwegian inside. Four subtly contemporary bedrooms have soft, snugglesome textiles with perhaps a modern four-poster here, soft pink Arne Jacobsen upholstered chair there, and mountain views all round. Guests have the run of the house: help yourself to a drink from the honesty bar, then curl up in front of the fire before tucking in to supper around the kitchen table.
Knockinaam Lodge, Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway
A timeless country house hotel, bastion of kippers and morning tea in bed served in good china. Best of all is the splendid seclusion at the bottom of a winding lane, with a private beach at the end of the garden. Swim or simply take a long soak in Winston Churchill’s vast concrete bath; spend the day exploring before dinner, then fall asleep to the sound of the sea (01776 810471; knockinaamlodge.com). Read our full review here.
Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders
The Tweed Valley is a heavenly place for walking, especially the Borders Abbeys Way, which circles past four magnificent ruined abbeys. There are also at least a dozen walks from this Edwardian arts and crafts house, with six pretty bedrooms and welcoming hosts John and Sylvia. You’ll be glad you took the exercise when you have tried John’s cooking: think cured pigeon in elderberry vinaigrette and Borders lamb with Jerusalem artichoke.
Killiecrankie House, Killiecrankie, Perthshire
This long-cherished small foodie hotel in historic Killiecrankie has been comprehensively reimagined by its new owners, Tom and Matilda Tsappis (chef and sommelier respectively). It’s all about indulgent luxury, on the plate (Highland wagyu beef) and in the furnishings (Murano glass chandeliers). Expect roll-top baths and four-poster beds in each of the four bedrooms – essential after an 11-course dinner (plus whisky and “sweeties”).
Scarista House, Sgarasta Bheag, Isle of Harris
When staying in this Hebridean Georgian house, there is nothing between you and the sunset but three miles of tidal sands. It’s a welcome retreat after a blowy walk, whether you take to the beach (loved by surfers for its big swells) or the hills, or go hunting for Harris tweed. You will find antiques and florals and books everywhere, along with some glorious views – and make sure you don’t miss the Stornoway black pudding at breakfast.
How to do it: Doubles from £231 including breakfast (01859 550238; scaristahouse.com).
Shieldaig Lodge, Badachro, Ross-shire
A 26,000-acre estate is home to this 12-bedroom Victorian hunting lodge on the edge of Shieldaig Bay. Gently refurbished, it’s smart but not stuffy and welcoming to all ages. There’s a ghillie and a games room, activities such as falconry and a library. It’s an ideal place for families or friends to gather and blow the cobwebs away after long months of separation (01445 741333; shieldaiglodge.com). Read our full review here.
Kinloch Lodge, Sleat, Isle of Skye
It is 50 years since Kinloch opened to the paying public, setting the standard for comfort with character and good food that has never wavered. Now, the second generation are at the helm and autumn is the perfect time to take advantage of Kinloch’s ghillie’s “wild walks” combining wildlife spotting and foraging. Follow with a spa treatment, try a two-day “digital detox package”, or just sit by the fireside gazing over lovely Loch na Dal (01471 833333; kinloch-lodge.co.uk). Read our full review here.
Glengorm Castle, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
It may be a high Victorian castle, all turrets and crow-stepped gables, but this is also the Nelson family’s home: informal and as warmly welcoming as staying with a friend (perhaps that’s the complimentary whisky?). There are just five smart bedrooms, all boasting extra-deep baths. With fabulous sunset views and an open fire in every public room it’s probably as close as you can get to being royally relaxed (01688 302321; glengormcastle.co.uk). Read our full review here.
North Lodge and River Cabin, Strachan, Aberdeenshire
If you go down to the woods, you’re sure to find a pretty semi-detached Georgian house on the banks of the River Dye, full of stylish comforts and decorative detail. But follow the path along the river and you’ll find the big surprise: River Cabin. Swim in the river and dry off in front of the log burner, or try the hot tub under floodlit trees.
How to do it: Sleeps six; from £1,055, Monday-Friday or Friday-Monday (01330 850689; glendyecabinsandcottages.com).
The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh
There is plenty to love about Edinburgh when the nights are drawing in, and no place is more atmospheric than these theatrically sumptuous fantasy suites, brought to life in rich, dark colours and imaginative detail. On a dark, misty night it might be hard to leave your fireside; luckily the equally theatrical Witchery restaurant is a few steps away. Price includes a bottle of champagne (0131 225 5613; thewitchery.com). Read our full review here.
The Birdhouse, Culduie, Applecross, Ross-shire
You can literally take the High Road across Bealach na Bà to the Applecross, and be rewarded by hidden beaches and abundant wildlife, as well as this blissful cottage for two. Never has an old stone byre been so glamorous, nor corrugated tin used so stylishly, in the case of the jam pan bathroom basin. High-end comfort with added imagination and buckets of charm.
How to do it: Sleeps two; from £465 Friday-Monday, weekly rate £705 (01520 744353; birdhouseapplecross.co.uk).
The Blue Cabin by the Sea, Cove, East Lothian
It’s pure Robert Louis Stevenson, arriving by stone smuggler’s tunnel and emerging into a tiny, historical stone harbour to find this cleverly designed, delightful cabin tucked into the hill. Children will love the beach just beyond the garden gate, fascinating rock pools and cabin bunks; for adults there’s the sea-green box bed, Orkney chairs by the wood burner and lobster straight from the boats to enjoy with a drink on the terrace.
How to do it: Sleeps four; from £850 per week (07849 058493; bluecabinbythesea.co.uk).
Eilean Sionnach Lighthouse Cottage, Isleornsay, Isle of Skye
What could be more appealing than a cottage on your own private island complete with lighthouse? A 10-minute boat ride across the Sound of Sleat is a life of subtle luxuries: one wonders what the former lighthouse-men would have made of memory foam mattresses, super-fast broadband and a masseuse or private chef on call. If the peace becomes too much there’s the whole of Skye to explore with great places to eat and drink nearby – tides permitting.
How to do it: Sleeps eight; from £550 per night, minimum three-night stay (eileansionnach.com).
Ardverikie Gatelodge, Kinloch Laggan, Inverness-shire
You might recognise this turreted little beauty from Monarch of the Glen and more recently The Crown. A miniature of the high-Victorian baronial estate house, it guards the bridge at the entrance to the estate. Inside the look is fresh and gently contemporary, with a wood burner in the living room. The estate offers good walking and wildlife spotting while the sandy beach at the end of the loch is perfect for stargazing.
How to do it: Sleeps three; from £785 per week, minimum two-night stay (01528 544300; ardverikie.com/holiday-cottages).
The Pavilion at Lamb’s House, Leith, Edinburgh
Hidden away just off the shore in Leith surrounded by Michelin-starred restaurants, architects Nick Groves-Raines and Kristin Hannesdottir created this delight – a charming pavilion in a romantic walled garden (perfect for morning coffee even on a cold day). Using Scandinavian colours, superb craftsmanship and antique furniture, it is an aesthetically pleasing and very private retreat. Sleeps six (0131 467 7777; lambspavilion.com).
Tower O’ess, Aboyne, Aberdeenshire
The Glen Tanar Estate in Royal Deeside is a little-known trove of architectural treasures, including this striking gate lodge, meticulously restored with a design-led interior featuring local artists. From the panoramic rooftop terrace to the outdoor hot tub (with double-ended slipper bath in between), you’ll find plenty to please all the senses in this wildly romantic retreat.
How to do it: Sleeps two; from £850 for three nights (013398 86451; glentanar.co.uk).
Rosslyn Castle, Lasswade, Midlothian
Here’s proof that even castles can be cosy, although the spectacular setting – at the edge of a gorge, the River Esk flowing round its feet – is all drama. A short walk from Rosslyn Chapel (famous from The Da Vinci Code), the wooded glen is particularly beautiful in autumn and spring. The three-bedroom castle, which has belonged to the St Clair family since 1070, is an intimate, elegant time capsule, filled with ornate plasterwork, panelled walls, tapestries and family portraits.
How to do it: Sleeps six; from £950 for four nights (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk).
The Hope Scott Wing Abbotsford House, Scottish Borders
This year marks 250 years since the birth of the author Sir Walter Scott, who lived at the extraordinary Abbotsford House on the banks of the Tweed. You’ll get your own private wing (and walled garden) of this mansion, meticulously restored and refurbished using original furniture, books and art. With a formal dining room, drawing room with grand piano, billiard room and library, this is the perfect place for a special celebration.
How to do it: Sleeps up to 16; from £2,487 for three nights (01896 752043; scottsabbotsford.com).
Eagle Bay Cottages, Keose, Isle of Lewis
Two striking architect-designed cottages of stone and turf, built into a cliff and with panoramic views that will make you want to linger in front of the fire with a pair of binoculars, safe and warm in the wildest storms. But the beaches will call you and there’s always the sauna to warm up in after. Pack the picnic hamper and get on your bike (both provided).
How to do it: Sleeps two; from £1,350 for five nights (01851 830491; eaglebaycottages.co.uk).