In the latest of our weekly guides to Britain, Jackie Hunter discovers an ecopod with the wow factor and glimpses the northern lights

The population of Edinburgh doubles to about a million in August's festival season, and good-value accommodation is elusive.

Instead of a pricey hotel room or flat rental, try Scotland's first "boatel". The Four Sisters (07762 476367; is a 55x10ft barge that's permanently berthed on the city-centre canal, 15 minutes' walk from the Royal Mile or Princes Street. Up to four adults and two children can comfortably share this unique and affordable four-star billet, stylishly furnished and equipped with sunloungers, a barbecue, even folding bicycles for those robust enough to pedal the city's steep, cobbled streets.

If you're on the rural west coast, there's a place to stay that's no less quirky – the new five-star Ecopod Boutique Retreat (07725 409003; dome, a 70sq m geodesic dome, at Kingairloch, with impeccable green credentials and a real wow factor. Even more breathtaking than its Austin Powers-chic interior is its views over Loch Linnhe and the mountains of Mull. The outdoor cedar hot-tub, a gourmet local food hamper, and the high-end audio-visual system all add to the sensory pleasures that nature provides.

The Peat Inn (01334 840206; the – a favourite with foodies for three decades – triumphed twice at the 2010 Scottish Restaurant of the Year Awards, winning both best restaurant and best chef. In the refined yet cosy dining rooms at this beautifully run 18th-century inn near St Andrews in Fife, diners feast on monkfish poached in champagne butter, carpaccio of wild venison with goats' cheese cream, or home-cured salmon on a dill blini with lobster and avocado crème fraîche.

Scotland's newest fine-dining destination is Edinburgh's Castle Terrace (0131-229 1222; castleterracerestau, which opened in mid July, a sister venture to the Michelin-starred Leith restaurant The Kitchin. In comfortable, elegant surroundings, its chef-patron, Dominic Jack, infuses Scotland's best seasonal produce with a dash of innovation. Summer dishes include Newhaven spider crab with mango mayonnaise, braised pork in a summer blanquette of Arran vegetables, and Fife strawberries with a peppered mascarpone mousse and olive-oil ice cream.

A three-year, £28m facelift resulted in Glasgow's magnificent Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (0141-276 9599; becoming the most visited museum outside London. This summer, one of the highlights is a specially commissioned installation by the acclaimed Scottish artist David Shrigley, which typifies his offbeat humour. Traditionalists may prefer the first major exhibition of paintings by the 19th-century Glasgow Boys, pioneers of Naturalism, to be shown in more than 40 years.

Edinburgh Comedy Festival (edcom grows bigger and better, expanding into new venues and new comic territory. A month in duration, it's now the world's biggest and most diverse laughter fest. This year you'll catch stars such as Paul Merton, Emo Philips, Dillie Keane and Alan Cumming, as well as rising talent including Josie Long, Shappi Khorsandi, Kevin Bridges and more. The venues range from theatres, offices and pubs to lawns and inflatable tents. They all rock with laughter from breakfast time until the wee small hours – it's an unforgettable experience.

You'll see even more stars if you go to Galloway for Europe's first Dark Sky Park. Awarded this rare status by the International Dark Sky Association, Galloway Forest Park's (0870 835 8558; 300sq miles of wilderness has a canopy of sky unpolluted by artificial light. Stand in its midst on an ink-blue summer night and you could witness twinkling meteor showers, the aurora borealis, or the just-discernible thumbprint of the Andromeda galaxy.

Perfect for escaping the holiday crowds, Machrihanish in Argyll is one of Scotland's most stunning beaches, fringed by dunes along three miles of the remote south-west Kintyre peninsula, close to Campbeltown ( .uk). These red-gold sands are beautifully unspoilt and usually deserted; the only people you're likely to see are the occasional surfers who pitch up here (this is a Blue Flag beach, noted for its clean Atlantic waters) and local dog-walkers. On the other side of the dunes is a golf course that is considered to be one of Scotland's best.

For more information go to: visit;edinburgh .org;; visitdum;