Portavadie, Loch Fyne, Scotland
There's often an assumption that green or eco-conscious accommodation will be basic or even uncomfortable. But a stay at Portavadie, on the stunning Cowal peninsula in western Scotland, blows this stereotype out of the water.
This luxury resort is a place where guests feel pampered – and yet, behind the scenes, an impressive raft of eco-friendly policies and practices are being implemented to ensure that the resort's impact on the environment is minimal.
The resort consists of a cluster of buildings in a fantastic location sandwiched between Loch Fyne – Scotland's longest sea loch – and the picturesque Portavadie Marina. A range of accommodation is on offer here, from smart hotel-style rooms and studio apartments to luxury apartments and cottages.
There's also a large spa and leisure complex with indoor swimming pool, outdoor heated infinity pool (a wonderful place to relax and enjoy superb loch and mountain views), hot tubs, sauna, and relaxation areas. A range of beauty and relaxation treatments is also available.
The luxury apartment buildings – set right alongside Portavadie Marina and with stunning views across Loch Fyne – are constructed largely from local materials. The resort has won the Argyll Sustainability Award twice. One of these awards was given for the regeneration of the area. Once a wasteland, it's now a vibrant holiday destination that has generated job opportunities for 90 full-time staff.
The sustainable design and construction of the buildings at Portavadie – which are sympathetic to the surrounding landscape – has also been commended.
Alongside the Argyll Sustainability Awards, Portavadie has also earned a Green Tourism Gold Award. The use of renewable energies throughout the resort includes underfloor heating – from air source heat pumps – in the luxury apartments. Lodge and studio apartments are also heated sustainably, from wood chip that's sourced just 500m away. Some of the buildings have green roofs – in summer wildflowers bloom here, offering a source of nectar to pollinating insects.
Recycling for guests is made easy with recycling bins in several locations across the resort. Glass, plastic, cardboard and cans can all be recycled on site.
We stayed in a two-bedroom luxury apartment, and were bowled over by the sleek, modern interior. The whole apartment was immaculate. Much use is made of exposed stonework and polished wood, to create a natural, calming space that reflects the natural beauty of the surrounding lochs and mountains.
The open plan living room was spacious and comfortable with relaxing sofas to lounge on, and large picture windows that opened out onto a terrace – making the best of the fabulous views. Glass surfaces – cabinets, coffee table and dining table – in the kitchen and living area added to the light and airy atmosphere.
The kitchen was one of the best-equipped we've encountered in any self-catering accommodation, with plenty of spotless and stylish crockery, cutlery and cooking equipment – all neatly stacked and ready to use. There was also a dishwasher, washing machine and large fridge freezer.
The master bedroom was huge, with king-sized bed, quality linens and a big en-suite complete with private sauna. We loved the complimentary toiletries by The Scottish Fine Soaps Company. The mineral-rich Sea Kelp shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and moisturiser are produced in Scotland using environmentally friendly methods – and smell gorgeous.
A second bedroom came with twin beds and an ensuite shower room – with another supply of toiletries – and both bedrooms had plenty of storage space.
It was just a short walk from our apartment, along a loch-side boardwalk, to the spa and leisure complex. Here we spent a very relaxed and contented couple of hours on our first evening. Although we visited in high season, the facilities didn't feel at all crowded, with plenty of space to swim lengths in the large indoor pool (which we actually had to ourselves for some of the time) or to lounge in the outdoor infinity pool or hot tubs and take in the views.
It's worth keeping an eye on the loch as you relax. Being a sea loch, Loch Fyne is connected to open water and is home to dolphins, porpoises, seals – and, in summer, basking sharks. If you're very lucky you might even spot an otter.
The sustainable approach at Portavadie continues in the spa, which is heated by biomass boilers. Organic Ishga products, which are handmade in Scotland, are used in many of the spa treatments, and solar PV panels provide electricity – reducing reliance on the grid.
Breakfast was excellent, with a fantastic choice of freshly prepared hot food – including Scottish breakfast classics like haggis, black pudding and potato scones – as well as continental options, all served buffet style.
Local food is used in the restaurant at Portavadie wherever possible – and with the wealth of superb local produce available this makes good sense, both for the environment and local economy, as well as for the satisfaction of guests. Local businesses supplying Portavadie include Loch Fyne Ales, Argyll Smokery and Prentice Seafood.
Alongside the use of local food businesses, the resort is beginning to produce some food on-site, with a recently installed poly-tunnel now used to grow herbs and salads with zero food miles.
Local and fair-trade products – including larger sizes of the lovely Scottish Fine Soap Company's toiletries – are also sold in the on-site shop.
The momentum for all these environmentally friendly initiatives is kept going by Portavadie's Green Team – a group of staff members that meets monthly to work towards environmental targets, including reducing energy use by 20 per cent. The team is also responsible for organizing regular 'clean-up' days, both on site and at local beaches, to keep the area pristine.
Potavadie is a family-friendly resort. Children are welcome in the leisure area of the spa, and there's a great little playground – with grassy area where kids can kick a ball around – just a short walk along the boardwalk. And, while we didn't take our dog, pets are welcome in many of the apartments.
If you can tear yourself away from Portavadie, there's a wealth of options for day trips. We headed for Benmore Botanic Garden – with its stunning hillside gardens, red squirrels and towering redwoods, it's just a short drive away. Puck's Glen, a wonderful walk through a hidden gorge that's dripping with mosses and ferns, is another nearby option.
It's also easy to catch the ferry from Portavadie to Tarbert to explore the Mull of Kintyre – or take a day trip to the island of Bute.
There are also forest walks alongside the resort. The Glenan Circular Walk is a short walk through Glenan Woods – one of the few remaining native oak woodlands in the area – and alongside the shore of a lovely bay.
Cycling is also a good option, with quiet roads and forest tracks to explore. Cycles can be hired at the resort.
We spent just a couple of nights at Portavadie – but it would be easy to find enough to do in the area to fill a week or more. The resort's relaxing, luxurious atmosphere and stunning location in the heart of a wild and beautiful landscape make for a most memorable holiday. Highly recommended.
Above: Benmore Botanic Garden; Puck's Glen