Award-winning sleeps, eats and visits

by Sara Barton, 24th November 2023
Award-winning sleeps, eats and visits

In an era of ever-increasing travel choices, it can be tricky to filter out the truly outstanding places to stay and eat and what to do. The South of Scotland Thistle Awards recognize and celebrate the best hospitality and experiences our region has to offer. From cozy B&Bs to superb visitor attractions, these winners represent the epitome of southern Scottish hospitality, ensuring an unforgettable and authentic visit to this breathtaking region. Here are the 2023 South of Scotland Thistle Award winners.

Where to sleep

Winners of Best Self-Catering Accommodation Experience; Best Hotel Experience; Best B&B or Guest House Experience; Finalists in the National Scottish Thistle Awards Best Luxury Experience

Where to lay your head on holiday is probably the first decision you make once you’ve fixed on a destination. Families are often looking for a self-catering option with a difference and Arden Holiday Cottage near Dumfries ticks all the boxes. The owners have crafted a unique offering going beyond the usual holiday getaway. Guests can choose to solve the clues for the escape room game and there are board games galore on offer. There is a strong focus on mental health, wellbeing experiences and treatments. And there is plenty of local knowledge on hand, not just of local attractions and amenities but of the local folklore too.

Peace and tranquility, Alison Boyes
Arden Holiday Cottage offers an escape room experience and board games galore!

Horse lovers and foodies should definitely consider a stay at Cringletie Hotel near Peebles. The hotel works with a local equestrian centre, which offers guided rides of the area as well as lessons. In the kitchen, the hotel relies on produce from its own 400-year old walled garden and the restaurant focuses on high quality dining under the watchful eye of chef Iain Gourlay.

Walled garden and a gorgeous estate to explore await you at Cringletie.

For a seamless guest experience head to the gorgeous Nithbank Country Estate in Thornhill. In addition to its award for Best B&B, Nithbank is also a finalist in the national Scottish Thistle Awards Best Luxury Experience. It is not hard to see why with delightful homemade scones & jam to greet you and delicious breakfasts that come from the immediate area. Located in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and near the Dark Sky Park, this bed and breakfast has plenty of local activities to keep you busy. Sustainable tourism is engrained in everything Nithbank does and for its efforts it was also awarded the Climate Action Award. And who better than to ask for local knowledge than co-owner Melanie Allen, who has been recognised for her work outside the B&B in the local hospitality industry, taking home the Tourism Individual of the Year prize.

Nithbank Country Estate offers a warm and sustainable welcome.

In addition to Nithbank Country Estate, Airhouses, near Lauder has also been named a finalist in the national Scottish Thistle Award Best Luxury Experience category. Sited on an organic working hill farm, Airhouses provide an array of self-catering experiences from homes to cottages to stylish glamping pods. The properties strike the balance of catering to everyone’s needs and provide the luxuries usually found in 5-star hotels – think toiletries, bathrobes and slippers! There are hot tubs to while away your stresses and you don’t need to worry about staying connected with free 5G wifi. Young visitors will be enthralled an engaging list of animals to meet (and talk about!) as well as a children’s treasure trail and a Play Den for the under 7s making rainy days as exciting as sunny ones.

The Buchanan Lodge at Airhouses, Airhouses
Airhouses near Lauder offers a luxurious self-catering experience in the rolling hills of the Borders.

Where to eat & drink

Winners of Best Bar or Pub, Best Eating Experience and the Tourism & Hospitality Employer of the Year

Once the accommodation is chosen you obviously want to find some highly recommended local eateries. The kind where you walk in, feel at home and know there is great food on offer. This is exactly what you will get when you arrive at the Allanton Inn. In the heart of rural Berwickshire, the Allanton Inn welcomes guests into their family-run country hotel. Expect freshly prepared, homecooked food, a well-stocked bar and a unique beer garden with a variety of seating to enjoy the views of open countryside. The inn prides itself on its local knowledge and relationships with local suppliers, ensuring that the dining public will receive high-quality, seasonal produce with low food miles.  

Beer Garden, Allanton Inn
Enjoy fabulous local food and ale and the stunning countryside views in the beergarden of the Allanton Inn.

The Cross Keys Inn at Ettrickbridge is a real community pub with a wonderful calendar of local events, it’s a brilliant place to go and soak up the atmosphere on live music night. Expect a classic Sunday roast and locally brewed beers thanks to a link up with Tempest Brewery nearby. There are breakfast and takeaway meals to non-residents, and the kitchen works with local estates and small holders for the supply of seasonal game, fruit and veg.  

The Cross Keys Inn offers a great community feel with a warm welcome to visitors.

And happy employees are always going to offer super service so head to the Beagle Country Pub near Dalbeattie, which took home the employer of the year award. Located near the Barend Holiday Lodges, the Pub offers a community feel for its visitors. Depending on the season expect Saturday night BBQs, afternoon cream teas and Oktoberfest while on a weekly basis there is a roast Sunday lunch, music bingo, and a murder mystery night. Local ales from Five Kingdoms Brewery are on tap too.

Barend Holiday Lodges & the Beagle Country Pub near Dalbeattie.

What to see and do

Winners of Best Visitor Attraction; Outstanding Cultural Event or Festival; Best Outdoor or Adventure Experience; Innovation in Tourism; Celebrating Thriving Communities

The Trimontium Museum in Melrose is Scotland’s only site dedicated to the Roman and Iron Age with the site of the fortress of Trimontium located just outside town. You can take guided walks from the town to the site. And at the recently renovated and expanded museum there are the incredible artefacts unearthed at the archaelogical digs of the fortress – you can even handle 3-D printed replicas of some of them – and see drone imaging of both the local and national Iron age and Roman sites in the museum’s audio visuals. It is easy to see how this gem of a museum captured the Best Visitor Attraction award.

Inside Museum, Trimontium trust
Trimontium Museum in Melrose is Scotland’s only dedicated Iron Age/Roman site.

And staying in the Borders, the annual Borders Book Festival was recognised in the Outstanding Cultural Event category. This fabulous four-day long festival, next due to take place on 13-16 June 2024, focuses on the written word with talks and discussions featuring a host of authors, journalists, politicians, celebrities and sports people. Tickets and programme usually come out in the spring, so be sure to follow their social media for their latest news.

Time your visit to Melrose to attend the Borders Book Festival in mid-June 2024.

For a outdoor experience par excellence visit Kitchen Coos and Ewes near Newton Stewart. Choose from fabulous tours of the farm’s Highland Cows or get up close and personal with a Hands On Coo tour! There are delightful country kitchen bakes for when you are finished – or splurge and indulge in a full on Highland Cow experience followed by a delightful picnic. This rural location offers a day out to make the whole family happy with magical memories to take away.

On the hill, Kitchen Coos & Ewes
Enjoy a Highland cow safari and fantastic scones and tea afterwards!

And you can check out Dalscone Farm in Dumfries before you even arrive. In fact its innovation of Live Streaming the daily happenings at the farm during Covid have brought the region to the attention of a worldwide audience. Super guest experiences are to be had at the inside soft play area, outdoor adventure areas and of course the multitude of farm animals you can see. Many Facebook viewers are now rocking up to see in real life what they have seen on the small screen, enjoying the chance to interact with the world famous livestock and team members.

Dalscone Farm Park has indoor and outdoor play areas as well as some Facebook famous animals!

Finally, The Devil’s Porridge Museum at Eastriggs pays tribute to HM Factory Gretna that was the world’s largest munitions factory during the First World War. A five-star visitor attraction, The Devil’s Porridge Museum offers an insight into the world wars as well as the effect of the factory and wars on the surrounding area. There is a 1940s house which can be great fun for old and young alike. This is a superb modern museum experience with volunteers on hand to offer insights into the exhibits.

The Devil's Porridge Museum, SSDA
The Devil’s Porridge Museum offers insight into life around the First and Second World Wars.