WANT an idyllic escape to an exotic island for your vacation this year?

Luckily you don’t need to fly more than 10 hours to the Maldives or the Caribbean, as Scotland has plenty of places to do the trick, with sapphire seas, whiter than white sand beaches and top-notch hotels.

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Beautiful Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of HarrisCredit: Getty

The country is blessed with a large number and variety of islands scattered along the western and northern coasts, some of which can easily rival the best in the world. So forget Fiji, Saint Lucia or the Seychelles and stay closer to home this year.

Here are five on the West Coast to choose from.

HARRIS

Luskentyre beach on Harris is regularly voted one of the most beautiful in the UK and the world, appearing in the top ten time and time again and it’s no wonder.

This gorgeous stretch of white sand, lapped by dazzling azure seas, will have you thinking you accidentally booked that faraway vacation after all.

Located on the west coast of this Outer Hebrides island, it stretches for miles in length, is dotted with dramatic sand dunes and overlooks the Isle of Taransay – the setting of the BBC’s Castaway show.

You can dive into those blue waves, go kayaking or sailing or just sit back and take in Scotland’s beauty.

But that’s not all Harris has to offer. Away from the beach you can hike or cycle, visit Clisham Arts and Crafts in Bunavoneader village or Hebridean Ceramics in Tarbet and be sure to pick up the famous Harris Tweed from one of the many shops.

And to sleep well, you will be spoiled for choice. Among the best is Scarista House, a Georgian mansion run by Tim and Patricia Martin.

The rooms are beautiful, the food divine – the restaurant has been included in the Michelin guide, the Good Food guide and Scotland the Best – and the hosts charming.

But it’s the location that makes it. Each room offers magnificent views of the Atlantic and the beach, while the surrounding hills are covered in a carpet of purple heather. See (scaristahouse.com) for rates and availability and (explore-harris.com) for more on the island.

Get fabulous beach views from the Scarista House Hotel on Harris

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Get fabulous beach views from the Scarista House Hotel on HarrisCredit: Alamy

ERISKA ISLAND

Have you always dreamed of having your own private island? Well, your dream can come true if you stay at The Isle of Eriska Hotel and Spa.

The estate covers 300 acres of this strip of land just opposite Benderloch, near Oban in Argyll at the entrance to Loch Creran.

The 5* hotel has 16 beautiful rooms in the main building, five spa suites set in the gardens with private hot tubs, two two-bedroom garden cottages ideal for families and six reserves atop a hillside overlooking Loch Linnhe, with private hot tub and balconies. and for larger groups, Arnott’s House is a great three-bedroom self-catering option, a short drive from the hotel.

The ESPA spa offers all the treatments you could want, and if you want to go out – and who wouldn’t go to this beautiful island – there’s golf, skeet shooting, fishing, archery archery or mountain biking, to name a few.

And all budding David Attenboroughs will be in their element as the wildlife is plentiful, including seals, roe and red deer, otters, golden eagles and plenty of seabirds and badgers.

History buffs should not miss a visit to the partially submerged crannog, or fortified dwelling, dating from the Bronze Age around 200 BC. just east of the hotel. Visit (eriska-hotel.co.uk) for more information

The Isle of Eriska luxury hotel

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The Isle of Eriska luxury hotel

COLONSAI

Take the two-hour scenic ferry to these stunning islands from Oban and set foot on white-sand beaches, surrounded by heather-clad hills and stunning natural scenery.

Known as the jewel of the Hebrides, this 10 mile long and two mile wide island has a population of less than 150, so space and seclusion are guaranteed on what is one of the most remote communities in Britain.

It has plenty of beaches for picnicking, the most famous of which is Kiloran Bay, where the waves of the Atlantic attract surfers from all over the country.

The waters are crystal clear, but if you fancy a dip, be prepared for a shock to the system. After all, you will be diving in the Atlantic, not the Caribbean.

If you’re planning a longer stay, you can take advantage of the proximity to Mull, Jura and Islay and do a bit of island-hopping in Scotland. And don’t forget its close neighbor Oransay, which is well worth a visit.


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Over all, you are guaranteed to find a wide variety of birds including fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, crested cormorants and all types of gulls.

There is only one hotel – fortunately it is a beauty. The eight-bedroom Hotel Colonsay is built into the hillside above the harbor with fantastic sea views as far as the Isle of Jura.

The accommodation is charming and the relaxed ambience, open fires in the lounge, library or restaurant, will give you a warm welcome after a day of exploring. There are also independent options. See (colonsay.org.uk) for more information on visiting the island and the accommodation offer.

Overlooking Kiloran Bay in Colonsay

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Overlooking Kiloran Bay in ColonsayCredit: Getty – Contributor

ARRAN

Arran is one of the easiest islands to visit in Scotland and one of the most popular too. Described as Scotland in miniature, it has hills, lochs, coasts, forests, wildlife and fabulous outdoor life.

Take the ferry from Ardrossan in Ayrshire and you’ll arrive in the capital Brodick in no time, ready for whatever you have planned for your trip – be it peace and quiet, pampering and fine dining, l action and adventure or hiking on the Goatfell slopes.

Families are well catered for with plenty of activities for all ages, including Brodick Castle and the Arran Heritage Museum, farm tours in Bellevue, and even hiking with alpacas.

There’s also horseback riding, kayaking and segways or you can go crabbing in rock pools on the beaches, or search the shores for dinosaur footprints.

There’s even a new Arran Snorkel Trail that lets swimmers see exactly what’s under the sea!

One of the most popular places to stay is the Auchrannie Resort, with not one but two 4* hotels. The House Hotel offers suites and large bathrooms perfect for two, while the Spa Resort offers executive rooms with “relaxation capsules” and whirlpool tubs.

There are also 30 5-star luxury lodges with plenty of space and privacy for couples, families or large groups and all come with their own balconies or patios. See (auchrannie.co.uk) to book and (visitarran.com) to find out more about visiting the island.

Goatfell of Brodick, the capital of Arran.

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Goatfell of Brodick, the capital of Arran.Credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
The Auchrannie Resort on Arran

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The Auchrannie Resort on ArranCredit: Times Newspapers Ltd.

IONA

You will make a pilgrimage as well as a journey when you go to Iona.

Known as Scotland’s ‘Cradle of Christianity’, its historic connection to St Columba is undoubtedly the main reason for over 130,000 visits each year.

The tiny island off the southwest coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides is just 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long, with a population of around 170.

You can’t take your car, but don’t worry, everything is quite accessible and the famous Iona Abbey is only a 10 minute walk from the pier.

It was founded by St Columba in 563, although hardly anything remains of the original building.

Around 1200 a community of Benedictine monks was founded on the site, but the abbey fell into disuse following the Protestant Reformation in 1560 and only really came back to life in the early 20th century when it was restored by the Iona Cathedral Trust.

It is now under the auspices of Historic Scotland and can be visited all year round.

Stroll through St Columba’s Bay in the south of the island, where St Columba and his fellow monks are said to have landed.

Sithean – which means The Hill of Angels – stands at the entrance to a farm of the same name and it is said that Saint Columba was seen there in prayer, surrounded by angels.

You won’t be disappointed if you book into the Argyll Hotel (argyllhoteliona.co.uk), one of only two on the island, where you can sit outside in good weather and play dolphin watching. For more on visiting Iona, see (welcometoiona.com)

See (visitscotland.com) for more inspiring islands to visit

Iona Abbey which attracts pilgrims from all over the world.

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Iona Abbey which attracts pilgrims from all over the world.Credit: PA: Press Association
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