Travel: Peebles, a retreat to a golden age

Picturesque Peebles is the perfect place for fans of a more gracious age. Picture: Neil Hanna
Picturesque Peebles is the perfect place for fans of a more gracious age. Picture: Neil Hanna
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I’VE always felt that history should be embraced, not hidden away, and Peebles has done a fine job of protecting its past. One pillar of tradition which has stood the test of time in this handsome Borders town is The Tontine hotel, an unmissable presence on the bustling High Street.

There is something heartwarming about a location where you can imagine you’ve been whisked back a few decades. To the naked eye, Peebles certainly falls into that category, but it’s also got everything the modern-day visitor desires too – and The Tontine cleverly combines past with present.

The hotel was already a hive of activity when we arrived just after lunch for our weekend stay. The bar area looked busy but relaxed, guests sat immersed in newspapers, and there was an immediate warm and welcoming vibe.

After harping on about the good old days, I am a little bit shame-faced to confess that I was supplied with the internet wi-fi code at reception. Mod-cons are there if you want them.

As we made out way up to our room, a couple of Fruit Shoot-fuelled nippers excitedly hurtled downwards past us, and I did briefly fear that some of the hotel’s general hubbub might be heard through our room door, but once inside it was remarkably quiet.

The room – one of 36 in the recently refurbished hotel – was lovely, but Peebles beckoned, and after a stroll around the shops and an amused perusal of the “banned list” outside the local youth club where tearaways are named and shamed for assorted misdemeanours (“flying with the crows” and “condoning unacceptable behaviour”), we headed down to Tweed Green for a pleasant, but bracing riverside walk.

Displaying ridiculous naivete, I remarked that it was nice to see one or two snowflakes fluttering in the breeze. Little did I know at that stage, I’d still be looking at the pesky stuff weeks later as Scotland’s endless winter of 2012-13 dragged on. In my defence, the snowdrops did add to an already picturesque scene, decorated by sweeping forest-lined hills and the fast-
flowing Tweed.

The River Tweed, popular with anglers, is one of the many attractions in this neck of the woods, and Peebles is also the perfect place to set up base camp for golfing breaks (there are 21 courses in the Borders), walking expeditions (the John Buchan Way, Southern Upland Way and Tweed Valley are close by) and cycling trips (there are renowned mountain biking trails at Glentress and neighbouring Innerleithen). Or, like us, you can just be in search of some fresh air, rest and relaxation, and an escape from the city. Peebles is 23 miles south of Edinburgh – and despite the quick journey it really does feel like a different world.

Lungs nicely filled and with a satisfying walk under our belts, we were looking forward to sampling some food and drink, and the evening meal we had back at the hotel was excellent. A varied menu, rich in local produce, was complemented by an extensive wine list and swift and friendly service. The prices on the menu were attractive too, particularly considering the quality of food being served. Perhaps the highlight of dinner in The Tontine, however, is the dining room’s elegant setting. The Georgian Adam Room, with a real coal fire roaring away as it has done since the early 19th century, is stunning.

As my eyes swept the room, I noted that every table was taken with cheery diners – testament to the hotel’s popularity not only with guests, but with the locals too. We retreated to The Callants Lounge for an after-dinner coffee, then tried out the cocktail bar, before calling it a night for a peaceful sleep in a snug, comfortable bed. Next morning it was back to the Adam Room for a hale and hearty Scottish breakfast. Taking a window seat, offering views over the snow-capped hills, made for a refreshing start to the day.

Built more than 200 years ago, The Tontine will doubtless have experienced its share of ups and downs as it changed hands and moved with the times from century to century, but there is no doubt that in 2013 it is in rude health and very much on the up under the ownership of Gordon and Kate Innes. And a special pat on the back to them for making this history bore’s stay particularly special.

COLIN LESIE

The Facts Prices start at £60 for a single room including B&B, and £110 for a double room including B&B. The Tontine is currently offering a spring break package: book two nights’ dinner, B&B and get a third night free. Offer based on two sharing a standard twin or double room. (£119 per person per stay, Monday to Friday and £129 ppps Saturday). Tel: 01721 720 892, visit www.tontinehotel.com or email stay@tontinehotel.com