Driving along the M80 towards Stirling, one landmark stands sentry over all others. There in the distance, perched ramrod-straight on a rocky outcrop, looms the Wallace Monument, for 150 years a towering symbol of Stirling’s pivotal role in Scotland’s past.
But even if you have yet to thumb through its storied history books, the former capital has lots to offer the first-time visitor, from its charming old town and castle to a bustling centre which has for years been a hit with the most discerning shopaholics.
Keen to sort out a visit? Well, the four-star Hotel Colessio is an ideal starting point for anyone looking to make a weekend of it. And if a VIP endorsement is required, look no further than Kylie Minogue.
Following a sellout gig at the SSE Hydro a few years ago, the Aussie pop star shunned Scotland’s bigger cities and opted instead to spend a couple of nights in this splendid Victorian property which is soon to unveil a new look after extensive renovation.
Its 40 rooms and public spaces sport a stylish, monochrome decor scheme with modular furniture and statement lighting.
Our double room’s en suite is a spacious, marble-clad affair with standalone tub, walk-in shower and glossy black sink unit. After a swift check-in, we decide to hit the shops. Stirling is home to all the high street mainstays, along Port Street or undercover in the Thistles Centre – currently running a #StirlingShines programme of events to celebrate local designers.
But if you’re after something a little bit different, there is also a fine range of independent shops and eateries.
We checked out the ethical produce at Calluna before stopping for coffee at Sable & Flea.
No trip to Stirling would be complete without visiting its historical sights, and there are plenty to choose from.
Once home to Stewart kings and queens, we decided to wander the grounds of Stirling Castle unaccompanied, but audio and guided tours are available throughout the summer.
Inspired to explore more, Church of the Holy Rude is our next stop. The old town cemetery, beloved by William Wordsworth, makes for a poignant walk. There are wonderful views over the city and hills beyond.
As it was such a lovely day, we decided just to keep walking and soak up the atmosphere – and the sunshine.
Darnley Park, on a hill near the castle, offers more great views and is an ideal spot to bring the kids for a runaround. Our meanders continue along the River Forth, a trail known as the Lovers’ Walk due to its links with Cambuskenneth Abbey, resting place of King James III and his wife Queen Margaret.
Its big attraction is the bell tower but the abbey itself, with its lancet windows and ornamental arcades, is a stunning example of 12th Century architecture.
After all the exploring and walking, dinner calls.
Hotel Colessio has one restaurant, The Grill, which serves posh pub grub, as well as an alluring cocktail bar.
With seasonal Scottish dishes including scallops served with black pudding, homemade soup and Perthshire wood pigeon, there’s something for all tastes.
As for mains, it’s hard to see past their selection of Scottish steaks, served with chunky chips, mushrooms, fried onions and a bernaise or peppercorn sauce.
We ended the night with a cocktail to toast this wonderfully picturesque and historic city.