Diverse and beautiful, the 99 inhabited Scottish isles offer something for everyone. LIZ GILL picks her top five
BEST FOR FOOD AND DRINK: Skye Most don't speed the bonnie boat to Skye any more, they use the 1,640ft bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh instead. Skye has been a natural larder since Bonnie Prince Charlie's time thanks to local crab lobster, scallops, beef and venison, but these days foodies are being drawn by the growth in fine dining.
Eating experiences include the Michelin-starred Kinloch Lodge and much-lauded The Three Chimneys, as well as country pubs and waterside cafes. Eilean a' Cheo, known locally as The Misty Isle, has a brewery and the Talisker whisky distillery, open to visitors.
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There are a dozen Munros (mountains above 3,000ft) on which to work the food off. Relax in the Bosville Hotel (01478 612846/www.bosvillehotel.co.uk). Doubles from £108 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Getting there: Caledonian MacBrayne (0800 066 5000/www.calmac.co.uk) offers a ferry from Mallaig to Armadale from £50.
BEST FOR WILDLIFE: Mull has become known as Eagle Island since its birds became stars of the BBC's Springwatch and Autumnwatch series. It's now probably the best place on Earth to see the rare white-tailed sea eagle. There are golden eagles, too, among 150 species which include harriers and the elusive corncrake.
Mull has one of the UK's most dense otter populations plus red and fallow deer, mountain hares and wild white goats. There are 4,000 different types of plants and the surrounding waters attract dolphins, seals and whales.
You can see all this under your own steam, or join guided land and sea safaris. For human activity, try Tobermory with its brightly painted quayside buildings and museum of island history. Pennygate Lodge (01680 812333/www.isleofmullguesthouse.co.uk) overlooks Craignure Bay. Doubles from £60 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Getting there: Caledonian MacBrayne (as above) offers return crossings from Oban to Craignure from £75.
BEST FOR ADVENTURE: Arran IT'S easy to see why Arran is known as "Scotland in miniature". Just 19 miles by 10, it has rugged granite peaks, rolling hills and waterfall-dotted glens. Off the west coast in the Firth of Clyde, it has a mild Gulf Stream climate, and palm trees are common.
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This rich diversity means there is a huge range of activities, including horseriding, shooting and hiking the gorgeous 60-mile coastal path. There are seven golf courses (a £100 pass will buy a round at six of them), or you can try out sailing, surfing or skiing. One of the best excursions is a trek up the 2,866ft Goat Fell where, on good days, you can see Northern Ireland from the summit.
Stay at Auchrannie Resort (01770 302234/www.auchrannie.co.uk). Doubles from £99 per night (two sharing), room only.
Getting there: Caledonian MacBrayne (as above) offers return crossings from Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, to Brodick from £82.
BEST BEACHES: Lewis and Harris In best-beach polls, Luskentyre on the west coast of Harris (the southern part) is usually up there. The island has six other top beaches but they can take the force of the Atlantic. Only Luskentyre, with its dazzling white sand and mountain backdrop, is protected by Taransay, a mile out to sea, so enjoys the gentle lapping of a tropical beach. The weather's not tropical, so you can often have this gem to yourself.
Stay at Hotel Hebrides (01859 502364/www.hotel-hebrides.com), a boutique hotel in Tarbert with an award-winning restaurant, The Pierhouse. Doubles from £140 per night (two sharing), B&B. Getting there: Flybe (0871 700 2000/www.flybe.com) has return flights to capital Stornoway from Glasgow from £90 or Gatwick from £154. Caledonian MacBrayne (as above) has return crossings from Uig on Skye to Tarbert from £70.
Ferry prices for a car plus two passengers
INFORMATION: Scotland's Islands: 01851 822693/ www.scotlandsislands.com Visit Scotland: 0845 225 5121/ www.visitscotland.com