WITHIN minutes of the seaplane splashing down on Loch Fyne I’m bubbling away in an outdoor infinity pool lochside, dreaming of perfectly cooked Gigha halibut and ultra-local Tighnabruaich coffee for lunch. Welcome to Cowal, the long-forgotten peninsula today emerging as a getaway for savvy Scots.

Cowal, of course, was once no secret as generations of Glaswegian holidaymakers thrashed “doon the watter” on paddle streamers heading for the resort of Dunoon. The advent of cheap jet travel to the Spanish Costas put paid to that golden era, but serious green shoots are bursting through again.

Symbolic of this new growth is Portavadie. The deep basin carved out in the 1970s to build offshore concrete oil production platforms never completed a single job; instead Portavadie degenerated into an unsightly white elephant. In 2010 Portavadie was reborn as a modern marina with plush apartments.

Today it’s a proper resort with a spa complete with that infinity pool and a brace of hot tubs. It’s quite an experience sitting toasty gazing over to Kintyre’s hills as oystercatchers wander by within touching distance. Portavadie is a superb place to stay, but on this visit I only pop in for a bubble and that spot-on halibut topped with a delicious hazelnut crust. I check into the brand new The Hollies in Tighnabruaich, a lavish self-catering escape and very new Cowal.

The National: Cowal pix for Robin McKelvie piece.

For years this old sandstone building was losing its dignity, abandoned on the waterfront. A couple from East Kilbride have brilliantly renovated it, with lashings of hardwoods and fine fabrics, each bedroom named after a different Scottish band, from The Blue Nile to The Waterboys. From the latter my bath gazes out to the Isle of Bute, ideal for a dram peering at a night sky unblighted by light pollution.

Tighnabruaich is the epicentre of Cowal’s rebirth. Here Argyll Coffee Roasters conjure up superb coffee and a couple have decamped from Glasgow to set up the Tighnabruaich Gallery, which showcases the work of Argyll artists. The landmark Royal an Lochan Hotel has been spruced up too, not bad for a village until recently mainly known for its shinty team, Kyles Athletic.

The National: Cowal pix for Robin McKelvie piece.

Tipped off by a waiter at Portavadie, I head down the road to Carry Farm where there’s a lot more going on than sheep farming. I meet Fiona McPhail. Not content with helping run the farm and the famous Tighnabruaich Sailing School – the Kyles of Bute boast world-class sailing – she conjures up sheepskin art from her Hebridean flock at the recently opened Hayshed Gallery.

“Cowal is such an inspiring place,” she smiles as we gaze out over the water under big Cowal skies. “You feel far from care and stress here, but not as distant as out on the isles. It’s a creative place too.”

The National: Cowal pix for Robin McKelvie piece.

Cowal certainly is creative. Argyll Coffee Roasters has just opened a cafe next to the gallery, offering its coffee and more local produce from Cowal’s Northern Lights Cakery and Wild Kitchen. Argyll Botany Company has been drawn here too in a wee retail oasis an ocean away from the world of supermarket hegemony.

At The Hollies I tuck into foodie goodies from Secret Coast Hampers – everything from Cowal coffee and tablet, through to heather honey.

Carry Farm is also part of the Northwoods Rewilding Network. Cowal 2022-style is starting to get noticed for both its rewilding and community ownership projects.

I explore the Kilfinan Community Woodland, a project brimming with community engagement and positivity. I wander up the burnside trails, by kids play areas, wooden rain shelters and BBQ spaces – all free to use. They run a “forest school” for kids and permaculture courses too.

North of Tighnabruaich, I come across a hulking ark; you cannot exactly miss the 20 metre-long wooden Ark of Argyll towering on the hillside. It’s the work of David Blair, an artist keen to “raise awareness of the scale and urgency of the climate and ecological emergency”. Its fame has spread beyond Argyll, with COP26 delegates amongst those drawn to pilgrimage here.

The National: Cowal pix for Robin McKelvie piece.

That Cowal offers the world its own literal ark seems symbolic. This is a corner of Scotland that has often been overlooked, but it has provided sanctuary and a rich canvas for open-minded, creative people to grow their ideas.

And now for like-minded visitors too, as Iain Jurgensen of Portavadie tells me: “We’re on Argyll’s Secret Coast and yes we’ve got viewpoints you’ll want to stop at to take photos, but also different ways of looking at the world. Like thought-provoking sculptures that make you ponder our impact on our climate.”

Leaving Cowal, I eschew the seaplane for a CalMac hop across to Rhubodach on Bute. In summer the Waverley paddle steamer bashes these famous narrows on day trips; no longer just a mournful tourist throwback. More part of the beguiling fabric of a peninsula offering a new breed of doon the watter visitor everything from coffee roasters and artisan creators, to outdoor infinity pools.

And we’ve not even mentioned the revamped restaurants at Otter Ferry and Colintraive, the brilliant new café/gallery at Blairmore, a tea plantation (yes, in Scotland) and the recently extended Cowal and Loch Lomond Way.

The Hollies – www.theholliesargyll.co.uk

Portavadie – www.portavadie.com

Further information – www.wildaboutargyll.co.uk