Travel: Perth

St Matthew's Church overlooks the River Tay. Picture: Getty
St Matthew's Church overlooks the River Tay. Picture: Getty
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When we decide that we need to escape city life, thankfully we don’t have to travel far before we find the scenery that provides the relaxation we crave. Perth has always been on the periphery of our radar, a big player on road signs, but never the destination.

Having being granted official city status just last year to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Scotland’s seventh city is now a bona fide city-break destination, so when the opportunity arises to spend a weekend there, we’re keen to finally visit.

At the geographical heart of Scotland, Perth is within easy reach of Scotland’s other cities and arriving at the Parklands hotel in just over an hour allows us to maximise time away. Situated next to South Inch Park, the view and sense of spaciousness is appealing, but the hotel lacks a little on kerb appeal. Step inside, however, and it’s a different story. The interior is boutique chic – so modern and fresh that it wouldn’t look out of place in a glossy homes magazine. Our bedroom has views to the park and large windows which allow the light to flood in. Although the decor in the public areas doesn’t quite extend to the bedroom – it’s immaculate, warm and comfortable. All rooms have flat-screen TV with satellite, iPod docking, DAB radio and free wifi, but it’s the simpler things that impress me; there’s a hair dryer, iron, tea and coffee-making facilities and a handy brolly.

Leaving the hotel to get our bearings we head for the River Tay, but before we reach the water we are drawn into a quirky little circular building, previously a water works and now The Fergusson Gallery. It’s like discovering a little golden cupcake and the cherry on top is that it is home to an impressive collection of art by Scottish Colourist John Duncan Fergusson and his wife Margaret Morris, an artist and dancer.

Following the river leads to North Inch Park, with the Perth Concert Hall and Perth Museum and Art Gallery nearby – no doubt destinations for a rainy city break – however, we have hit the jackpot on the weather front and decide to stop for an alfresco coffee and enjoy people-watching instead.

Dinner on our first evening is at 63 Tay Street, a sister restaurant to the hotel which was set up by Scott Edwards, Parklands’ owner, and Graeme Pallister, executive chef at Parklands.

We opted for the five-course menu and at £37 each it’s incredibly good value. To refresh our palates the meal begins with a zingy lime fizz, before I tuck into Jerusalem artichoke and Finghal’s cave scallop soup with honey-truffle and my husband tackles pressed rabbit terrine with Agen prunes, epice dressing, muscat jelly and celeraic remoulade. The soup is delicious and I’m delivered a proper bowlful – there are no meagre portions here. An amuse bouche of butternut and coconut soup was a treat for the tastebuds before the mains; St Brides Farm chicken and Gressingham duck. Thankfully I found space for the delicious, freshly baked treacle tart with vanilla seed ice cream and maple custard, and my partner in crime chose the selection of Scottish cheeses with grapes, quince and handmade oatcakes (a few more would have been welcome). There’s an extensive wine list and we opted for the sommelier’s choice to correspond with the dishes we picked; these are listed in the wine menu and are available by the glass. After such a satisfying meal it may have been greedy to be already looking forward to a hearty breakfast the next morning, but there’s no obligation to follow my lead.

A day of exploring followed and we found the city centre of Perth to be compact and, in the main, pedestrianised. There are the usual big name high street retailers, but it’s the independents that I’m interested in discovering, and there are plenty. To name a few, there’s McEwens of Perth, one of the UK’s last independently owned and family-run department stores; Boo vake which stocks an eclectic selection of gifts and homeware from new and established artists and designers; The Peacock and the Tortoise, which stocks a wide and well-chosen range of fabric, specialising in quilting, patchwork and haberdashery; and Loves Antiques, an emporium which proves the saying that one person’s trash is another’s treasure.

Dinner back at Parklands Hotel could have been something of a disappointment after the previous evening’s culinary delights but Scott and Pallister’s partnership gives diners two options; 63@Parklands, where a fixed menu of seasonal offerings is designed to show off the talents of Pallister’s proteges; and No1 the Bank, which offers a wide array of bistro-style dishes produced to an equally high standard. We plumped for No1 the Bank and top trumps was my banana and chocolate tarte tatin – frighteningly large but, like the weekend itself, over all too soon.

THE FACTS

Dinner and B&B per person per night, based on two people sharing a twin or double room costs from £77.50, The Parklands Hotel, 2 St Leonard’s Bank, Perth, tel: 01738 622451, www.theparklandshotel.com;

63 Tay Street, Perth, tel: 01738 441451, www.63taystreet.com