The Glasgow of today has little to do with the city I visited ten years ago as a student splashing out her yearly savings, and less still to do with the gritty industrial town that my father always depicted when speaking of his youth, once a shining pinnacle of engineering. Less than an hour away from the Scottish capital, it offers a less expensive and somewhat more modern experience than Edinburgh and a no less historic experience, as the city, the most populated in Scotland has long enjoyed prosperity as a port and industrial centre, and is full of beautiful Victorian accents and cultural gems. Glasgow is ideal as a city break and offers distractions for every taste.
Where to stay
1 – Blythswood Square | http://www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare/
One of the newest hotels in the city, complete with an award-winning spa, Blythswood Square is within a beautifully renovated Georgian townhouse, formerly the home of the RSAC. The elevator shafts have been retrofitted with sofas to become beautiful alcoves and the spa has garnered a well-deserved round of accolades since it opened. Scottish inspired treatments evoke images of wholesome, shiny-skinned Highland lassies and hotel guests can also enjoy the pool in the morning and evening, free of charge.
Rooms have been fitted with the latest in modern comfort including a bathroom with a separate shower and bath, but our room’s best feature was undoubtedly the sliding panel that allowed conversation to go on, even while I soaked in a bath filled with fragrant salts (not to mention endless TV watching). The staff is impeccably welcoming in the true tradition of Scottish hospitality, and a stay there is the best possible introduction to Scotland.
2 – Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens | http://www.hotelduvin.com/hotels/glasgow/
A row of Victorian houses includes the pretty Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens boutique hotel which becomes the perfect launchpad for an exploration of Glasgow’s West End, filled with fashion, vintage and lively finds.
3 – Mar Hall | http://www.marhall.com/
Located outside the city and near the Firth of Clyde is a beautiful Gothic house surrounded by a park. A golf course and spa make it the ideal location for a his&hers retreat. Historical references abound here, and it is the perfect location to experience Scotland’s grandest houses, without a lengthy drive, something you’ll appreciate when time to enjoy is short.
Where to eat
1 – Gamba | http://www.gamba.co.uk
K’s favourite meal of the entire stay is amply chronicled here in French, Derek Marhall’s Gamba is the sole Glasgow member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association and an ode to the delicacies of the sea. While the service could have been a tad warmer, any ill-will was washed away by the unforgettable taste of the Dressed White Portland crab , that I have been trying to approximate at home for months now. And did I mention the ginger cheesecake?
2 – Restaurant at Blythswood Square | http://www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare/dining/
An obvious choice for us upon arrival, the Restaurant offered a mix of contemporary and classic fare, showcasing some of Scotland’s finest ingredients. After a splendid creamy onion soup and a Chicken liver parfait, who could resist Mather’s Black Gold Scottish beef with hand-cut fries and horseradish sauce? Not me. A delicious choice even for those who are not guests at the hotel.
3 – Fifi & Ally | http://www.fifiandally.co.uk/
Glaswegian ladies who lunch look no further than Fifi & Ally, a gorgeous café ideally located in Prince’s Square, the city’s upscale shopping plaza. Salads and soups are filling and wholesome, a fantastic lunch break from a busy day in town. Desserts are to die for and a cause to return later in the day for tea.
4 – Witchery at the Castle | http://www.thewitchery.com/
James Tomson OBE’s world renowned eatery is located at the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and in a historic building. Drawing on the dramatic history of the location, Witchery now extended their presence with 8 themed suites. Candle-lit and hidden away from the bustle of the main street, the Secret Garden looks out onto a terrasse and features a gorgeously painted ceiling. Cuisine once again calls upon the best local produce and become flavourful treats.
What to pack
While on the same latitude as Moscow, Glasgow’s proximity to the sea makes it less prone to a deadly frost. Temperatures range from 1°C or below in winter (record chill was -12°C) to 20°C in the height of summer. Rain makes Scottish grass lush and green, and showers are to be taken into account when packing for Scotland. Warmer months will warrant an umbrella and a light cover-up (lightweight cashmere shawls are a heaven-sent), while wintertime need warmer layers. Packing an umbrella is a must, and shoes one can walk in are highly recommended, to explore every nook and cranny of this beautiful city.
What to do
Most of Scotland’s cultural institutions are based in Glasgow, therefore there is very little that leaves to be desired on the cultural side when visiting. The Scottish Ballet has my preference, with a repertoire spanning classics such as The Nutcracker (the must-see for Christmas 2012) or very modern works. Glasgow’s festivals are also plenty, contrary to the more established Edinburgh Festival which only happens in summer.
Cafés, bars and pubs offer an intoxicating combination of atmosphere and live music, and even if one’s first choice turns out wrong, there is always another to choose from. Favourites include Café JJ (its all-day menu is to die for), the Scotia (which boasts being the oldest pub in town, established in 1792) and King Tut’s, where Oasis were discovered.
Shopping is also fabulous in Glasgow and one need not content themselves with high street brands, although they are plentiful on Buchanan Street. Brazen Gallery offers a range of quirky jewellery, Boudiche teases with sultry lingerie and venturing in the West End will yield your own selection of must-haves.
While visiting Glasgow, it would be a shame to miss visiting Edinburgh, so close. After a walk around the Scottish capital and a visit of the Scottish National Gallery, there was no better end of the weekend than a walk up the Royal Mile and into the sunset. If one is more of a country lad or lassie, day trips to nearby lochs, such as Loch Lomond or Loch Katrine.