Scotland's ancient wedding capital is enjoying its most exciting period since the 1753 marriage act prompted a surge of elopements to this sleepy Dumfries and Galloway village.

A shiny new 50-room hotel opened this year opposite Gretna Green's "World-Famous Old Blacksmith's Shop". If you can overlook that this claims to be a four-star hotel, Smiths does its job very well. It features all the components of trendy style-bar design (walnut veneer, living-flame fireplaces, a brasserie that serves upmarket pub grub) and an all-white penthouse suite with a turntable bed that spins round from the plasma television on the wall to a decked balcony.

"I asked the designers to go for a mix of Footballers' Wives and Dutch movie," explains the hotel's enthusiastic owner, Alasdair Houston, whose genuinely heartfelt mission was to provide an unpretentious contemporary hotel that offers an open-to-all approach. His great-grandfather bought the Gretna Estate in 1886 (it includes the village of Gretna Green and the Old Blacksmith's Shop) and Alasdair's farming background has helped pull this £5m development through more hitches than the village sees in a year of weddings.

What Houston has ended up with is more Wayne and Coleen than Thierry and Nicole, but the hotel seems to work. On an ordinary Thursday evening Smiths was packed out. Now all they need to do is drop the pretensions to four stars.


Smiths at Gretna Green, Gretna Green, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland (; 01461 337007). This isn't Scotland's prettiest patch but it does offer great access to several cities, as well as rural attractions such as Hadrian's Wall, the striking Tibetan-style monastery complex of Samye Ling and the scenic Solway coast.

Time to international airport: It's less than two hours' drive from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle airports and not much more from Liverpool or Manchester. Gretna has a train station, with connections to Carlisle, 10 miles away.


Both beds and rooms are large and light and, despite the M6 rolling past right outside, decent soundproofing promises a surprisingly good night's sleep.

Freebies: A good range of Japanese-style toiletries. Executive rooms and suites also come with a fruit plate, a bottle of wine or champagne and Senseo coffee machines.

Keeping in touch: All rooms have flat-screen televisions, DVD players and broadband access; family rooms also have PlayStations. There is Wi-Fi net access on the ground floor. PS games, DVDs and CDs can be hired from £5 per night.


Double rooms start from £125, suites from £325, both including breakfast.

I'm not paying that: Bed and breakfast at Prince Charlie's Cottage, also in Gretna Green, costs from £50 per double (; 01461 337272).