North Berwick: Capital of relaxation

The Macdonald Marine Hotel Spa, North Berwick. Picture: supplied
The Macdonald Marine Hotel Spa, North Berwick. Picture: supplied
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SOMETIMES you don’t have to go very far to get away from it all.

In fact, that is one of the beauties of a weekend break in North Berwick for anyone living in or around Edinburgh. The drive down the coast is a perfect way to start winding down as you pass the beautiful bays and famous golf courses.

Of course, if stunning coastal scenery and scenic links are your thing, then there are few better destinations than North Berwick. The Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa sits overlooking the celebrated West Links course and you can hear the clunk of clubs meeting balls as you wander through the grounds.

But it is when you lift your gaze beyond the greens that you really appreciate the wonder of this spot above one of the most dramatic stretches of the East Lothian coast.

You can spend a fun ten minutes identifying the islands that lie in front of you from the awesome Bass Rock (the easy one that anyone can name) to Craigleith, Fidra and The Lamb (the tiny one that Uri Geller bought apparently in the belief that there is ancient Egyptian treasure buried there).

After that, you could do worse than spend the rest of the weekend gazing out to sea, enjoying the birds and wildlife and the ever changing scene across the Firth of Forth.

There is, of course, far more that you can do with your time, even if it is just concentrating on the serious business of relaxing. The beach and clifftop walks around the town are among the best in Scotland, with the Scottish Seabird Centre always worth a visit to learn more about the abundant birdlife surrounding you or just to enjoy the excellent café.

The gift shops and galleries on the High St offer a pleasant alternative for whiling away the hours.

After a beach walk you may be inspired to pick up one of the original paintings and prints on offer, many created by local artists inspired by the beautiful scenery on their doorstep.

For those who are serious about their relaxing, then the Marine Hotel is the perfect bolthole. From the moment you walk up the steps to its grand Victorian entrance you feel like you are taking a step back in time to a gentler and more refined era.

The hotel itself has a fascinating history. Built at the height of the Victorian frenzy for railway building, it opened in 1888 as Scotland’s leading seaside golfing hotel. In those days, two trains left London each week exclusively for the rich and famous to travel to North Berwick.

Distinguished guests over the years have ranged from politicians such as Winston Churchill to the stars of showbusiness and sport, particularly golfers including Sir Henry Cotton, Jack Niclaus and Nick Faldo. The hotel’s golfing heritage is celebrated in the names of its Ernie Els Suite, Phil Mickelson Suite and so on.

Afternoon tea, or in the evening, champagne cocktails, can be enjoyed while taking in those magnificent views across the Forth. It is easy to imagine yourself as you indulge having travelled back in time to the Roaring Twenties.

The same views can be enjoyed from many of the bedrooms and from the award-winning Craigleith restaurant which specialises in fine dining showcasing the best Scottish produce. While its beef steaks are tender and cooked to perfection, the macaroni cheese with cauliflower elevates that traditional Scottish favourite to new heights, creating a dish worthy of its fine surroundings and impressive wine list.

The jewel in the crown, though, has to be the hotel’s award-winning thermal spa. A hot rock massage under the soothing hands of one of its skilled masseurs will get rid of every last knot of tension.

As you emerge from your treatment room and meet your companion in the spa lounge you are greeted with two chilled glasses of champagne. It’s hard to imagine feeling more relaxed.

But that is before you experience the piece de resistance, sitting in the outdoor hydrotherapy pool, breathing in the salty sea air, warmed by the heated waters.

Its outdoor bathing of a sort not imagined by the Victorian guests who once flocked here, but it is definitely out of this world as relaxing experiences go.

• Cromwell RoadNorth Berwick, East Lothian, 0344-879 9130,