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The Skye high life

THERE'S the man who, in lieu of spending his working day with his nose to the grindstone, spends his days in the local pub where, intrepid walkers apart, everyone is a local.

There's a few new-looking piers that, apparently, were built at a cost of millions, yet are scarcely been used.

Then, out of nowhere, the Virgin Mary appears - that's a monument to a young lad who tragically drowned many years ago and have you heard the one about the two brothers, who live in houses side by side and have established an apparently successful restaurant, despite the small matter of there being no roads in or out of their tiny 140-strong settlement?

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These priceless nuggets - providing an insight into lives as well as geography - were provided courtesy of Anne Gracie and Ken Gunn, owners of Duisdale House Hotel on one of the Scotland's most breathtaking locations, Skye.

The anecdotes are reeled off on board their luxury yacht - it turns out this couple who have overhauled the Victorian hunting lodge, originally built for the Clan Macdonald in 1865 and transformed it into an award-winning venue after they acquired it in 2008, are accomplished sailors too.

They are the perfect guides while touring the Hebrides on their £600,000, 50ft-long luxury apartment with sails, and their hospitality epitomises the way their hotel manages to blend luxury - an exquisite lunch is served while moored in a beautiful harbour - with warmth and hospitality.

There are countless cheaper boat trips on Skye, for sure, just as there is cheaper accommodation. A voyage on the owners' yacht, open to guests of the Duisdale as well as its nearby sister hotel Torvaig House, which they bought in 2003, will set you back £145 per head. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. And for someone who the previous day had been blown away by the rugged beauty of the largest island in the Hebrides from the passenger seat of a Peugeot 107, the view from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic will be one that is never forgotten.

The hotel, set in 35 acres of beautiful gardens and overlooking the Sound of Sleat, is immediately striking. As expected from somewhere that has marketed itself as a "chic boutique retreat", the Duisdale does little by halves. The decor is bold and modern, sitting alongside original features such as impressive bay windows, ceilings and a roaring fireplace in a communal lounge.

It will not be to everyone's taste. Yet the decor - while perhaps crossing a line into garishness for those who prefer more minimalist surroundings - is another bold way in which the venue has blended the old with the new and will be a winner with those who favour decadence over the demure.

While many hoteliers have understandably become increasingly thrifty in recent years, the temptation to rein in the purse strings in the age of financial austerity has been resisted in this corner of the inner Hebrides.

A constant cycle of refurbishment is ongoing at the 18-bedroom Duisdale, and it shows. Even the yacht has been replaced three times in the last nine years, since Anne and Ken began offering the day sailing adventures in 2005.

If the interior design at the Duisdale has the potential to divide opinion, the dining is altogether less controversial. The hotel's award-winning restaurant, offering contemporary Scottish cuisine, exceeded already high expectations. Offering both fine dining and a more informal a-la-carte menu, the food is wonderfully presented and utilises the bet of local produce

Open to the public as well as hotel guests, the fine dining menu at £45-per-head offers good value and the restaurant would prove an excellent option for visitors to Skye who prefer more basic accommodation but are in the mood for one night of indulgence. Breakfast did not disappoint, with a freshly cooked full Scottish on offer as part of an impressive menu which also featured particularly tasty Mallaig kippers, as well as cereals and fruit salad.

The dining experience was enhanced further by the young team of waiting staff assembled at the Duisdale, who were faultlessly professional yet accommodating and friendly.

The same could be said of the entire team at the hotel, many of whom are from the island. They were meticulous yet chatty, and never becoming overly-formal.

The Duisdale has won plenty of attention in recent years, scooping a series of accolades, including Island Romantic Hotel of the Year, Island Style Hotel of the Year and Island Wedding Hotel of the Year at the most recent Scottish Hotel Awards.

There are simpler places to stay on Skye, and while this hotel, in the south of the isle, offers an excellent location for exploring this remarkable setting, it may be unnecessarily extravagant for those who want a simple base from which to spend their time walking in the spectacular shadow of the Cuillins or spotting the ample wildlife.

However, those who want to push the boat out - both metaphorically and literally - will not be disappointed.

Daniel Sanderson was a guest at the Duisdale House Hotel. Prices start at £99 per person per night, for B&B. Contact 01471 833202 or info@duisdale.com

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