Loch Ness needs no marketing to visitors to Scotland, it’s a shimmering must-see, perhaps sometimes a box to be ticked. No monster? Back in the car. But if you go a little slower and detour from the tour bus routes you’ll discover an area rich in wildlife, culture and scenic spots, with great food and drink.

Combine a day in Inverness and Loch Ness with a trip to the often overlooked pretty Black Isle for a brilliant Highland weekend.

Start with a morning in buzzing Inverness as the pedestrianised centre makes it easy to explore. A visit to Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a fascinating introduction to the history and culture of the area.

Leakeys Bookshop is a very special Inverness institution – a church turned second hand bookshop – and you’re unlikely to leave empty handed. Walk along the river to explore the Ness Islands, a collection of idyllic islands accessed by a suspension footbridge from Bught Park.

For a bite to eat check out Velocity Cafe.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

It’s a social enterprise that combines hearty vegetarian food like toasted wraps and packed salads with a bike workshop, all supporting repair, reuse and healthy lifestyles. We also like Perk coffee and doughnuts for a sugar and caffeine hit (sandwiches available too).

In the afternoon take the quieter General Wade’s Military Road (B862 and B852) along the south shore of Loch Ness, between Inverness and Fort Augustus. The tree-lined road twists and turns along mostly single track roads with frequent tantalising glimpses of the water. Be prepared to use passing places, but don’t park in them. Stop at Dores Beach for a first gaze down the loch from the rocky shoreline. By the beach is popular Dores Inn, offering classic pub meals in a traditional old stone inn, and cold pints in the garden.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

Bring sturdy footwear for great walking opportunities. The South Loch Ness trail is an excellent network running along the southern shore. The full route is 28 miles so requires preparation but it’s easy to access sections as you explore the lochside.

If you take the upper route from Dores to Foyers, away from the water, you’ll find a network of smaller lochs. From Farigaig forest, a few miles after Dores, there are marked paths, including the Lochan Tòrr an Tuill Trail that leads to views of the ancient fort on Dun Dearduil and a hidden lochan (steep and muddy path).

The most famous walk is to the Falls of Foyers. This waterfall inspired Robert Burns to compose a poem on the spot, and became a popular spot for Enlightenment era travellers seeking a sense of awe in the Highland landscape. Today it’s a little less powerful (due to a hydro-electric scheme) but still well worth a visit. Follow the short winding path through tall aromatic Scots Pines to the two waterfall viewing platforms. Spend the night at Foyers Lodge for the most incredible loch vistas (see review, below).

The following day head through Inverness, over the Kessock Bridge, to the Black Isle. It’s not black, but green, lush and agricultural; the name is thought to come from the dark, fertile soil.

Head along the peninsula, watch for signs to Chanonry Point where many have seen bottlenose dolphins, and spot historic Fort George  over the water. From here visit Rosemarkie near Fortrose.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

This pretty village has a distinctive pink beach surrounded by hills and expansive views to the Moray Firth. Crofters Cafe provides hearty meals and ice creams and has a beer garden. After Rosemarkie, don’t miss the sign for RSPB reserve Fairy Glen, magical woods with waterfalls, wildflowers and wildlife.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

At the end of the road is Cromarty, where whitewashed fishing cottages overlook the Cromarty Firth, and towering oil rigs and machinery brought in for maintenance and repair. The contrast between the two is compelling, with a stark beauty.

Book a boat tour with EcoVentures to go out on the wildlife watching RIB with local skipper Sarah to look for the resident bottlenose dolphins.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

Sutor’s Creek is a popular spot where wood-fired pizza is the house special, try ‘The Black Isler’ with local haggis and black pudding. For a pint it’s The Cromarty Arms. Complete the loop of the peninsula with as many stops as you have time for.

 

SAVOUR FREEDOM AT FOYERS LODGE

For a romantic stay high above Loch Ness with incredible views, book into chic boutique hotel Foyers Lodge. It’s a twisty drive along single track roads to reach the hotel, so arriving here feels like sharing somewhere quite secret and magical.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

There has been an inn on this site for centuries, chopped and changed and left to fall apart, until its loving restoration and revitalisation by resident owners Anna Low and Philip Crowe. The couple welcome you into the home they have rebuilt, designed and filled with local antiques and curiosities. There’s not a hint of chintz but instead rich deep blues, greens and purples reflect the hills, water and heather. There are stacks of books, maps and guides, and cosy sitting rooms with plush armchairs for planning your adventures . . . or getting lost in a novel.

The hotel is adults only, partly due to its size and the steep drops from the edge of the garden. It’s also part of the appeal – it’s calm, relaxing and understandably popular with harried parents sneaking a night away. Also, there’s no need to share the lawn games.

There are piles of cosy blankets by the door to take outside and wrap up in as you watch the light change over the loch, turning it from dark blue to the lightest silver.

Book into the elegant restaurant in the evening. The food is simple but excellent with plenty of local produce on the menu. Set menus are reasonably priced and change regularly with interesting choices for all dietary requirements. The wine list is well curated and approachable.

How to enjoy a mini-break around Loch Ness and the Black Isle

My Loch Ness Gin cured mackerel starter was delicious, pleasingly paired with crunchy pickled fennel and carrots, and a sour cream dressing. The cheesy potato and celeriac topping on my seafood gratin hid generous pieces of salmon, smoked haddock and prawns, with summer beans on the side.

The unexpected highlight was pudding (often overlooked when there’s cheese), a summer berry pudding - a wedge of madeira cake with Scottish raspberries, blackcurrant coulis and a jug of cream. Delightful. In the bar you can enjoy a cocktail, or explore the extensive whisky menu.

Rooms are relaxed and elegant, dark florals, comfortable beds, and again, that view which makes getting up really challenging. Happily breakfast is worth it, I heartily recommend the Arbroath smokie, poached egg and hollandaise.

Small but perfectly formed, Foyers Lodge feels like a true escape, and it makes an ideal base for discovering the area.