Q. So, we're looking for a hotel in Scotland for two nights over Hogmanay, offering good service and a dinner-dance - a spa would be a bonus. We'd like to meet somewhere between our respective homes, but it needn't be equidistant. They live near Dundee, we're near Manchester. Ann Fraser, via e-mail
A. It's ironic that the Presbyterian Church's 400-year ban on Christmas festivities resulted in Scotland becoming one of the most popular venues for New Year. Prevented from doing anything but attending church on Christmas Day, the Scots turned New Year's Eve into their midwinter saturnalia, using public holidays to extend it through Ne'erday (1 January) and 2 January.
Edinburgh's Hogmanay is said to be one of the largest New Year parties in the world. For the last 10 years, images of its fireworks and the Princes Street party have been beamed around the globe. So a black-tie dinner at The Balmoral (1 Princes Street, Edinburgh; 0131-556 2414; www.thebalmoralhotel.com) would seem an ideal way to see in the New Year, especially as the hotel's banqueting suite overlooks Edinburgh Castle and affords the best views of the midnight fireworks.
Built in 1902, The Balmoral combines old-world Scottish hospitality with contemporary luxury - marble bathtubs in every suite, and the kind of sofas you just won't want to get out of. The four-course New Year Gala dinner is created by the Michelin-starred chef Jeff Bland.
Two-night New Year packages start at £600 per room per night, and include breakfast, the New Year dinner and free use of The Balmoral Spa (voted Best UK Urban Day Spa by the readers of Condé Nast Traveller). For youngsters, The Balmoral offers proximity to the Princes Street party itself. Depending on their age, they may prefer to step outside and join in the fun. The hotel also prides itself on providing excellent facilities for younger guests. For teenagers, it offers PlayStation 2s with games, 15 minutes' complimentary internet access, DVDs, manicures, board games and books.
Outside Edinburgh, there are a number of excellent hotels to the south of the capital that would also make an ideal place to meet friends from further north.
The Peebles Hotel Hydro (Innerleithen Road, Peebles; 01721 720602; www.peebleshotelhydro.com) is one of those splendid Edwardian chateau hotels that dominates the landscape (in this case, the Tweed Valley). It has recently opened a new spa with a 20m heated pool, gymnasium, sauna, steam room, whirlpool and tennis courts. It even offers one hotel suite, the Cademuir, with its very own spa facilities. This year, Peebles was voted Scotland's Best Family Hotel in the hotelreviewscotland.com awards, so it ought to suit your teenage children, too. The Peebles New Year party runs for four nights (29 December to 2 January 2007), and costs £788 per person, including breakfast, dinner and two lunches.
Altogether more baronial, the Dalhousie Castle and Spa (Bonnyrigg, Midlothian; 01875 820153; www.dalhousiecastle.co.uk) is a grand 13th-century fortress set in parkland along the river Esk. The 36-room hotel combines the best of 19th- and 21st-century luxury - an extensive library, plenty of fine malts and the new Aqueous Spa.
This year, the traditional Hogmanay celebrations run from 30 December until 2 January, and include archery and clay pigeon-shooting during the day, followed by a gala black-tie dinner-dance (kilts optional), first-footing and champagne during "Auld Lang Syne". On 1 January, there will be a murder-mystery dinner party in the Dungeon Restaurant, and visitors will be sent on their way the following morning to the sound of pipes and drums.
The Hogmanay programme starts at £815 per person, and goes up to £1,150 per person for the Robert the Bruce Suite. It includes breakfast, dinner, two lunches and afternoon teas and entertainment.
On Scotland's mellow south-west coast, just south of Ayr, stands the Westin Turnberry Resort (Maidens Road, Turnberry, Ayrshire; 01655 334136; www.westin.com/turnberry), which celebrates its centenary this year. Famed for the views from its 20m-spa pool, the Turnberry offers hydrotherapy, aromatherapy, holistic body care and reflexology, as well as that soothing vista of the Isle of Arran.
At New Year, the hotel has everything you might expect - pipers, Highland dancers, a ceilidh and "Auld Lang Syne". The two-night programme (31 December-2 January) comprises plenty of activities for both adults and children. On New Year's Day you can look forward to a brunch followed by horse-riding and fishing, plus a falconry display, a pitch-and-putt competition, and archery, which should appeal to youngsters. On the evening of New Year's Day, there will be a casino in the hotel, live entertainment and a supper buffet.
The cost is £795 per person (for two nights). The cost for under-15s is £125 per night when sharing a room with two adults, including a themed children's dinner, but if they attend the main evening celebrations, the cost goes up to the adult rate.
For something completely different, why not head up to the mountains? Although it lies a little further north than you'd planned, at the Ben Nevis Hotel (North Road, Fort William; 01397 702 331; www.strathmorehotels.com) you could have a somewhat more active New Year. Located only 10-15 minutes from Ben Nevis's slopes, the hotel's three-night Hogmanay package includes a lift-pass, ski hire and tuition. Non-skiers can snowboard or walk - Roger Wilde, an expert on the region, can guide hikers or climbers on Ben Nevis (01397 700 684). For snow reports, check www.nevisrange.co.uk, which is updated daily, although the gondolas will be open - snow or no snow - unless high winds force closure.
New Year celebrations at the Nevis Hotel include a dinner-dance. Any sybaritic members of your party can take advantage of the hotel's four-star leisure centre, with spa, pool, steam-room and sauna. The Hogmanay package includes breakfast and dinner, and runs from 30 December to 2 January, costing £435 per adult and £275 per child.
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