The sight of the accordion-like folds of basalt inspired the Vikings to name the yet undiscovered island Staffa -- Norse for "pillar." These hexagonal columns, the result of a unique lava cooling process, line part of this Scottish island and lead to its best-known feature: Fingal's Cave. But it was the sound of the crashing waves and eerie melodies emanating from within that moved romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn, a handful of centuries later, to pen the Hebrides Overture -- a work that captures the ocean's paradoxical tumult and soothing nature using violas, cellos and bassoons. Now, the destination enthralls nature lovers.
As an uninhabited National Nature Reserve, Staffa and the sea surrounding it shelter kittiwakes, razorbills, grey seals, minke whales, basking sharks and dolphins. Book passage via one of the day-trip operators based on the nearby Island of Mull. Many limit services to April through September, but a few, including Torr Buan House owner David Wood- house, offer wildlife experiences year-round. Nestled on secluded, protected land favored by white-tailed sea eagles, hen harriers and otters, the arc-shaped bed-and-breakfast that he and his wife, Joy, run maximizes unobstructed sunset views over the Atlantic -- perfect for reflecting upon the day's compelling finds. torrbuan.com
- The single suite runs $137 per night during high season, and $129 in low (rates include dinner).