5 Reasons “Outlander” Fans Will Love Scotland’s Isle of Lewis

Outlander-coverCan’t get enough of the stunning scenery from Outlander? The Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, has loads of history and spectacular vistas that will satisfy those who love this romance/ adventure TV series.

1. Magical Stone Circle

The ancient stone circle called Craigh na Dun that transports Claire into the past is fictional, but the real circle that it was built to resemble is Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis.

Built from multi-ton stones that were dragged for several miles across the land, the Callanish circle is situated on a hilltop with a view of Loch Roag and the mountains to the south. It’s not hard to imagine this beautiful and scenic circle as being a magical portal through time. These standing stones have been part of this windswept landscape for more than 4,000 years, and during all those millennia, they’ve remained the constants as people farm the land and wage wars and fall in love. To read more about Callanish, click here.

Callanish with woman visitor ©Laurel Kallenbach

A woman inspects one of the Callanish stones on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Scottish Heather

One of Scotland’s national flowers, the pink-purple flower of hardy heather is well suited to Scotland’s rugged, rocky hills. One legend surrounding heather is that it grows over the places where fairies live. And some Highlanders attached a spray of heather to their weapons for luck. Scottish heather has had plenty of medicinal uses through the ages, including as a remedy for digestive problems, coughs, and arthritis. In Outlander, heather is just one of the botanicals that Claire Beauchamp uses in her healing practice. The Scots’ love of heather is exemplified in a season 1 episode in which a man is fatally gored by a wild boar. As he lies dying, Claire asks him to describe his home. He tells her that the heather is so thick he could walk on it.

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

Scottish heather on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Old Broch Tower

In Outlander, Lallybroch (also known as Broch Tuarach) is Jamie Fraser’s estate, which includes several crofts (see #4) on the ancestral land. A “broch” is an Iron Age fortress-like round-tower unique to Scotland. Not far from Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis is Dun Carloway Broch. Few brochs as well preserved as this one, and you can feel some of the Fraser clan’s heritage in its mossy stone walls. This one overlooks the nearby coast.

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dun Carloway Broch ©Laurel Kallenbach

4. Crofts (small farms)

A delightful scene in season 1 of Outlander involves Jamie collecting rent from the tenant crofters soon upon his and Claire’s arrival at Lallybroch estate. Jamie proves to be a bit too indulgent with a few of his less reputable farmers. A croft is essentially a small agricultural unit, usually a part of a landlord’s larger estate.  On Lewis, you can see crofts and visit a historic “blackhouse”—one of the old farmhouses with no chimney that was always so smoky that the ceilings and walls turned black.

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

A farm on the Isle of Lewis ©Laurel Kallenbach

5. Hills, Lochs, and Beaches 

Outlander features gorgeous cinematograpy of the Highlands, with craggy hills, lush forests, and placid lakes. Lewis has no shortage of scenery with rocky outcrops, hills and mountains, plus overlooks of the wild Atlantic coastline. In fact, aside from small villages and the town of Stornoway (where there’s an airport if you prefer to fly rather than take the ferry from the mainland), most of Lewis is peat moorland, freshwater lochs, silver-sand beaches, and flowering meadows. These beautiful, wild places are perfect for hiking, bird- or whale-watching, fishing, boat trips, cycling, or scenic driving.

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

Cliff Beach, Isle of Lewis. Photo courtesy Visit Scotland

For more information, see Visit Scotland’s Outlander map of film locations. Or visit the Isle of Lewis information site.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor 

Read more about my travels in Scotland:

Fresh Food + Local Beer + Community Spirit = Under the Sun Eatery & Pizzeria

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Under the Sun is the quintessential Boulder, Colorado, restaurant: it’s got casual atmosphere that welcomes families and friendly folks, and its menu emphasizes locally sourced ingredients.

As part of the family of Mountain Sun Pubs & Breweries (with locations in Boulder, Longmont, and Denver), Under the Sun also brews its own fantastic beer, including a number of classics: Annapurna Amber, Old School Irish Stout, and Colorado Kind, a brew the original owner envisioned while biking from Oregon to Boulder in the early 1990s.

Before I launch into the dazzling six-course meal I shared with friends, here’s a word about the community spirit at Under the Sun. This pub boasts no widescreen TV. If you want to guzzle beer with your eyes glued to the boob tube, just stay home. But, if you want to share brews and food with your pals—or make friends with total strangers at the communal tables—this is the place for you. (There are even board games on hand to break the ice.)

At the end of the day, you’re likely to meet Boulderites dressed in cycling gear, hiking boots, or yoga togs—so no need to get gussied up. When the weather’s nice, you might enjoy a seat outside. Chilly? Relax by the fireplace and enjoy Under the Sun’s draught options, including 21 Mountain Sun ales, 10 guest beers and 8 wines on tap.

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Service with a Smile

All the Mountain Sun pubs have a unique philosophy. First, the entire staff—from waiters to cooks to dishwashers to bartenders—share the tips so that everyone is motivated to create the best food and dining experience for guests. Really, the amiable—and usually speed—wait people are in states of good humor and efficiency.

And I should mention that the prices at Under the Sun are very reasonable for truly flavorful food. One reason the pubs can keep their fare affordable is they don’t accept credit cards. (There is an onsite ATM, and I’ve heard rumors about folks who are caught without cash being offered a “good karma IOU” envelop so they can mail in the money for their dinner later.)

Fabulous Food from Scratch

Under the Sun proves that delicious, well-made food isn’t something you can only get at fancy restaurants. The folks there are committed to serving fresh, exciting food from scratch, sourced locally whenever possible.

Pesto gnocchi ©Allie Stoudt

Pesto gnocchi Allie Stoudt

Depending on the season and menu, the kitchen serves up produce from a number of Colorado organic farms and food purveyors, including Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce, Cure Organic Farm, Long Family Farms, Munson’s Farm, Rudy’s Organic Bakery, Old Style Sausage in Louisville, and Steele’s Meats in Lafayette.

Vegetarians, vegans, and people who eat gluten free will find plenty of wholesome and tasty options on the menu.

Under the Sun’s executive chef Nick Swanson makes good use of a wood-burning oven to bake bread, smoke meats, char food, and roast vegetables, and of course, bake pizzas. If you want to watch the pizza-makers twirl the dough, ask to sit at the counter right by the oven. And yes, you can order gluten-free crust!

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Local Feast

I loved every dish I sampled  during a special taster meal—starting with the grilled asparagus appetizer, which included prosciutto, poached egg, and Grana Padano cheese. Its sprinkles of lemon-zest made it a knockout, and it was paired with the Saison D’Tropique farmhouse ale, which has bold flavor with slightly citrusy notes. This was followed by the Red Beet Salad with arugula, goat-cheese vinaigrette, candied walnuts, and fresh dill, paired with Hilltop Vienna-Style Lager that was refreshing and didn’t overpower the veggies.

Next up: housemade potato gnocchi with zucchini, garlic, and fennel pesto—plus fresh basil. It was scrumptious, and the Number One Belgian Tripel made a lovely companion for the Italian-inspired dish.

After that, I reveled in the beef short rib (fork-tender!) with fingerling potatoes and a mustard-seed vinaigrette. Colorado Kind Ale enhanced the meat’s rich, savory flavors.

I nabbed a slice of my friend’s wood-fired Wild Boom pizza (topped with local Hazel Dell mushrooms, wood-fired onions, sundried tomatoes, and Fontina cheese) just because it looked so delightful.

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

Luckily, I still had room for the wood-oven-fired oatmeal chocolate chip cookie served with a dollop of Sweet Cow vanilla ice cream. Heaven! (And by the way, Chocolate Dip Stout, which contains real chocolate, accentuated the dessert’s flavors, proving that beer can be great with every course of a meal.)

As you can tell, I love the idea of drinking beer brewed onsite. The brewers at Mountain Sun/Under the Sun favor hoppy brews. If you like super-hops, I recommend the FYIPA, which pairs nicely with pizza.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun's kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun’s kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt

Oregon’s Sylvia Beach Hotel Is for Book Lovers

If you’re a literature lover, allow me to introduce you to the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon (a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland). A quiet place on the coast, this 20-room inn sits atop a bluff right above the surf and offers a literary pillow to readers and writers.

The J.K. Rowling room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, shows off a Harry Potter theme. Photo courtesy Sylvia Beach Hotel

The J.K. Rowling room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, shows off a Harry Potter theme. Photo courtesy Sylvia Beach Hotel

If you can set aside your book or the manuscript of your magnum opus while staying at the Sylvia Beach, you can enjoy strolling on the beach or taking a (chilly!) dip in the ocean. You can also explore the artsy, historic Nye Beach neighborhood with its lovely mix of bookstores, cafés, bistros, galleries and the Yaquina Art Center.

Ken and I stayed in the Sylvia Beach Hotel 20 years ago, and on this year’s trip to Oregon’s central coast, we stopped by to see how the place is faring. Its literary theme is as whimsical as ever: each guest room is decorated in a style and with mementos of a famous author.

Literary Magic

The door to the Tennessee Williams room where we slept two decades ago still says, “Stella!” (a famous line from A Streetcar Named Desire), and the double bed is still draped with mosquito netting (ala Night of the Iguana). The Edgar Allan Poe room still has a stuffed raven to commemorate “The Raven,” and a metal pendulum hangs over the blood-red bedspread, an eerie reference to Poe’s story, “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

The Dr. Seuss room is popular for the young, or young at heart.

The Dr. Seuss room is popular for the young, or the young at heart.

You can also indulge your inner child in the Dr. Seuss room, decorated in homage to One Fish, Two Fish, The Cat in the Hat and other works of juvenile genius.

There are no TVs, radios, telephones or Wi-Fi at the Sylvia Beach, yet it’s still an English major’s delight. The rooms aren’t grand, but what they lack in luxury they make up for in literary spirit.

Tables of Content

Miso Pumpkin Soup, one of many delicious things served in Tables of Content restaurant.

Miso Pumpkin Soup, one of many delicious dishes served in Tables of Content restaurant.

Meals are a time to be social at the Sylvia Beach—even if you keep your nose in a good book during the rest of your stay. Breakfast is included in the room rate, and guests sit at tables of eight in the “Tables of Content” dining room. (I think group tables are a great, no-stress way to get to know other literature lovers!)

Dinner, served at 7:00 p.m. each night, is another chance to enjoy pleasant conversation with a bookish bent. The food is served family style (with a choice of four entrees) and the evening’s icebreaker is game of Two Truths and a Lie. Essentially, you introduce yourself to those at your table with two biographical facts and one whopper of a fib! Then your fellow gourmands guess what part of your tale is a lie. Coming up with a lie gets your creative juices flowing, and when I played, it was fun recalling unlikely trivia from my past.

The Mark Twain room has a fireplace and private ocean-view deck.

The Mark Twain room has a fireplace and private ocean-view deck.

Rooms at the Sylvia Beach

All the hotel’s rooms are themed according to an author. Here’s a sampling:

Classics: Rooms directly over the surf with fireplaces and decks. They include Agatha Christie, Colette, and Mark Twain.

Best Sellers: These rooms have an ocean view with panoramas of the coast and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. In this category are rooms devoted to Alice Walker, E.B. White, Dr. Seuss, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, J.K. Rowling, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, Jane Austen, Lincoln Steffins, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and Virginia Woolf.

Novels: These rooms have no ocean view, but they’re still cozy and fun. Here you’ll find Gertrude Stein, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Who Was Sylvia Beach?

A mural of Sylvia Beach and author James Joyce decorates the lobby of the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

A mural of Sylvia Beach and author James Joyce decorates the lobby of the Sylvia Beach Hotel.

In case you were wondering if this ocean-overlook hotel was named for a beach called “Sylvia,” let me put your questions to rest. Sylvia Beach was an expatriate American who dominated the literary scene in Paris between WWI and WWII with her English-language bookstore and lending library, Shakespeare and Company. James Joyce fans will recognize Sylvia Beach as the publisher of the Irish author’s famous book, Ulysses (1922).

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Out yourself as a bookworm and let readers know of other literary getaways they shouldn’t miss. Just leave a poetic or prosaic comment below!

Strolling Old San Juan’s Colorful Streets

Some of the most pleasurable parts of visiting a new place are free—as I learned while rambling among the vibrantly painted apartments and churches in Puerto Rico’s historic downtown area of Old San Juan. My entertainment during my two-day solo stay there was soaking up the atmosphere in Old San Juan, founded by Spanish colonists in 1521.

The streets of Old San Juan are a riot of Caribbean color. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The streets of Old San Juan are a riot of Caribbean color. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The architecture is a spicy mix of old-world Spanish and Caribbean tropical hues. When I got tired of walking, I stopped into some authentic local eateries to sample the flavors of the island too.

Yellow window, Old San Juan ©Laurel Kallenbach

Old San Juan ©Laurel Kallenbach

Old San Juan is probably Puerto Rico’s most-visited spot, and rightfully so, with its colonial, cobblestone streets lined by a rainbow of apartments with balconies and bougainvillea. Add in palm trees, fragrant food cooking at wonderful restaurants, and sweeping views of the Atlantic, and you’ll fall in love.

I did.

On my two days in Old San Juan, I wandered among the quieter boulevards and simply drank in the colors. Except for the cars parked all along the streets, it’s easy to imagine how the town looked in the 16th and 17th centuries, back when it was a Spanish colony.

Old San Juan has shops, of course. I dropped into a few local artisan shops during the quiet hours, early morning and late afternoon when the cruise ships weren’t in port.

The inner courtyard of private home. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The inner courtyard of private home. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There are also satisfying restaurants, including modest spots where locals grab breakfast or lunch. At Café Manolin, an Old San Juan institution that serves creole-style food, I had fried eggs and beans with tortillas while I watched the old-style orange juice machine mash up oranges and spit out fresh juice. It tasted heavenly.

For high-end dining, there are many possibilities in the old town. One evening I enjoyed an early dinner at the snazzy Hotel El Convento tapas bar, where I sat on the patio overlooking the courtyard. Contentedly, I sipped a Bacardi Mojito and savored slices of Manchego cheese drizzled with truffle honey served with fresh-baked bread.

Mostly though, I wandered Old San Juan until my feet were sore or I got too hot in the Caribbean sun. That’s when I knew it was time to return to my “home” during my stay: the Casablanca Hotel. There I could nurse a margarita or cold Puerto Rican cerveza—the Old Harbor Taina brews are lovely—and watch one of my favorite movies of all time projected on the wall of the bar. Or, I walked up the stairs for a siesta in my room, which was small but comfy with a Moroccan flair.

I never got tired of taking photos of the brilliant architecture. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I never got tired of taking photos of the brilliant architecture. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The concierge at the Casablanca steered me to the best restaurants, and he humored me by letting me practice my Spanish. (For the record, most puertorriqueños speak fluent English.) This U.S. territory uses the American dollar. And I did a double-take one day when I bumped into the mailman wearing the traditional U.S. mail uniform—with shorts of course!

In addition, the Castillo San Cristóbal fortress and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro  are part of the U.S. National Park Service, where interpreters in those Smoky Bear hats give you guided tours of the old fort walls overlooking the azure ocean.

Mostly I loved Old San Juan’s small details, like iron knockers, glimpses into courtyards of apartment buildings, and colorful shutters. Nearly every apartment number was painted on glazed tiles.

Pink lantern, Old San Juan ©Laurel Kallenbach

Pink lantern, Old San Juan ©Laurel Kallenbach

One morning, after breakfast, I was crossing a plaza and saw a skinny, feral cat dash out of nowhere and grab a pigeon from a flock pecking at the cobblestones. I was shocked; domesticated cats back home are rarely that fast, but clearly this cat was hunting for his breakfast!

A few hours later, I noticed a grumpy Persian perched inside the window of a posh apartment. He gazed out at the street with a pout that reminded me of a grounded teenager.

No, pampered puss, you have an easy life in your house, I thought. The streets of Old San Juan are lovely for us tourists, but they would be hard for a cat like you.

Brass knocker on a door ©Laurel Kallenbach

Brass knocker on a door ©Laurel Kallenbach

On and on I strolled the quiet streets of colonial San Juan, enjoying the arched entryways, elegant shuttered windows, and ornate iron grillwork—an art form brought to the New World by the Spanish.

Viva Viejo San Juan—viva Old San Juan!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in Puerto Rico: