Whisky, history, fine food and rolling hills as far as the eyes can see - Scotland may not have the sex appeal of Spain or France, but it’s proof you needn’t venture outside the British Isles for a slice of cultural joy.
Thanks to VisitScotland and the Coach Tourism Council, The Star was given the chance to sample Scotland by coach, taking in the likes of Edinburgh, Falkirk, Stirling and the Trossachs in a whistle-stop tour of the land of the thistle.
Edinburgh Castle, built into the hillside in the heart of the capital, was the first delight, offering up the Scottish crown jewels as well as amazing views of the lowlands.
But it’s not just traditional offerings that make Scotland great.
The only rotating boat lift in the world, the Falkirk Wheel connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal - by lifting an entire section of the waterway, boat and all, 115 feet into the air on a rotating mechanism that looks as if straight out of Alton Towers.
Based on Archimedes’ principle of water displacement, the lift keeps two sections of canal in perfect balance and needs the equivalent of just eight boiling kettles to complete a half-turn. It’s simply a miracle of engineering.
The country is also steeped in history - Stirling Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse being standout examples.
Originally painted entirely in gold so it could be seen for miles around, Stirling Castle once housed the Scottish monarchy, lying at the very centre of Scotland and playing a key part in the Battle of Bannockburn when King Robert the Bruce ‘crushed the flower of England’ with an army half its size.
In the past 50 years, Scotland has spent £50 million renovating the great structure, with a team of weavers working on authentic tapestries to decorate the palace as it would have looked.
The new Bannockburn Heritage Centre, opened this year, allows visitors to take part in a virtual recreation of the battle through a team-based tabletop game.
Beyond the battles, castles and restaurants, the coach really came into its own. There is often a stigma surrounding coach travel, but as we wound our way up to the Trossachs, its advantages took hold.
Wending through swooping valleys and glistening lakes, we were greeted by a dazzling rainbow shining across the landscape. One lay-by later, we’re out snapping it, surrounded by the finest Scottish countryside.
Our three-day, four night trip began in Edinburgh but took in the Palace of Holyroodhouse and on to the Falkirk Wheel, Stirling and Drymen, before ending in Loch Lomond.
There’s no way we would have seen so much of Scotland’s amazing outdoors - from Drymen to Doune, Loch Katrine and the cusp of the highlands themselves - in any other transport.
Mix it with a fascinating culture, wrought in history, but with modern attractions - and you’ll struggle to find a better holiday.
Three things to do in Edinburgh - and how to book your own trip:
1. Visit the Amber Restaurant. It’s the eatery’s whisky collection - insured for £10m - which along with its food makes it a must.
2. Take in a ghost walk for tales of witchcraft and criminals conspiring in underground taverns.
3. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen’s floating residence, is a top attraction.
- Wilfreda Beehive (01302 330 330; www.wilfreda.co.uk) has a five-day tour staying at the Winnock Hotel with excursions to Edinburgh, Aberfoyle, Falkirk Wheel, a whisky distillery and a cruise (£379pp, departing August).
- Grays Travel Group (01226 743 109; www.graystravelgroup.co.uk) has a cruise of three Scottish lochs and visits to Glasgow and Stirling - £345 for five days staying in Dunoon.
- Or visit Coopers Tours (0844 357 5353 www.cooperstours.co.uk)