It began as a mystery tour to find our national treasures but, after 250,000 copies and 13 editions, Scotland the Best has become a gem in its own right.
Before the first edition in 1994, the man behind the best-selling guidebook, Peter Irvine, spent two years travelling the length and breadth of the country to find the best of everything, from castles, cafes and beaches to Munros, islands and chip shops.
Updated every three years, the book has become an institution and a weekly selection from Pete now features in our new P.S. magazine every Sunday.
Peter said: “When I first started, I didn’t know quite what sort of book it would be.
“It was a personal thing to find the best places. I never seem to have enough time, so I want to know what the best places are when I visit somewhere.
“The book grew organically as I went round the country and it took two years to compile, all done with pen and paper.
“As the book became more well-known, more and more people have got in touch to recommend places.
“I take it seriously and, without coming across as arrogant, I see it as a duty and obligation. People call it a bible and that’s quite a responsibility.”
The latest edition took Peter eight months to compile.
It includes new sections like gin distillery tours, speciality shops and artisan bakers.
He said: “In the last few years there has been a huge rise in the number of hipster coffee shops and artisan bakers, who all work damn hard.
“There are loads and loads of new places popping up.
“If you take the high streets of smaller towns, as long as they have some visitors and not just locals, it’s good for everyone if young folk can get in there and open a micro craft brewery or a chocolatier.
“Food, drink, hospitality – everything has improved massively over the past 25 years. It’s hard to think of anything that was better then than it is now.”
As well as the man behind Scotland the Best, Peter has devised and directed many of the country’s major public events, including Glasgow’s European City of Culture in 1990, the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and the inauguration of the Queensferry Crossing in 2017. He also created and directed Edinburgh’s Hogmanay from 1992 to 2018.
Over the years he’s got to know a lot of people, and that helps him discover the best new places.
“The main intel I get, because I’ve been doing it so long, is from speaking to people in the area. For example, if I go to Fort William, I know those who have the two or three good restaurants, so I’ll go to them and ask them what’s new and what’s good. They don’t see it as competition, they see it as bringing more and more people to the area.
“We all use TripAdvisor, but it’s hit and miss.
“I was in Ilkley in Yorkshire recently and if I’d followed what it said for there, I’d have missed out on the best restaurant, which was down at number 34 on TripAdvisor.
“Scotland the Best is a subjective view, but when I say these are the best pubs for food, for example, I measure one against the other, over the editions, and I try to get to the point where I have the best, and that goes for glen walks, fish and chip shops, and so on.
“There’s a finite amount for some things, infinite for others. That’s why I’ll say lochs we love or favourite hills, rather than the best, because there are so many.
“My message is entirely positive – if a place isn’t good enough, I don’t include it. I try to raise the bar. I think we do better than a country our size would be expected to do.”
One thing that would improve things even further is a tourist tax, according to Pete.
He was part of recent talks about introducing a £2-a-night levy to visitors to the capital and is certain it’s a good move.
“I’m all for the tourist tax,” he said. “I was on the government select committee and there are those who think it will affect the number of people who come, but I disagree 100%.
“Tourist tax only works when there is a demand and there is in Edinburgh.
“Hotels charge what they want on any given day due to demand, so if a hotel charges £280 one night and £320 another night, £2 won’t matter.
“I don’t believe people will have any reservations about paying £2 each – it already happens in Europe and we don’t even think about it.
“But the money should go towards things that make Edinburgh so attractive, like the festivals, rather than on road repairs, streetlights or litter, which should come from the council.”
Enjoy Peter’s Scotland the Best tips inside P.S. Magazine every week