With an utterly impregnable position atop a mighty wooded crag (the plug of an extinct volcano), Stirling's beautifully preserved Old Town is a treasure trove of historic buildings and cobbled streets winding up to the ramparts of its dominant castle, which offer views for miles around.
Elegantly arranged along the banks of the Tay, this former capital of Scotland is a most liveable place with large tracts of enticing parkland surrounding an easily managed centre. On its outskirts lies Scone Palace, a country house of staggering luxury built alongside the ancient crowning place of Scotland's kings.
This charming stretch of coast runs south from St Andrews to the point at Fife Ness, then west to Leven. Neuk is an old Scots word for corner, and it's certainly an appealing nook of the country to investigate, with picturesque fishing villages and pretty coastal walks; the Fife Coastal Path's most scenic stretches are in this area.
Once among Scotland's busiest ports, cheery Anstruther has ridden the tribulations of the declining fishing industry better than some, and now has a very pleasant mixture of bobbing boats, historic streets and visitors ambling around the harbour grazing on fish and chips or contemplating a trip to the Isle of May.
This ancient fishing village is just over a mile west of Pittenweem and is named after another cave-dwelling saint who was probably killed by pirates. Apart from a picturesque historic windmill overlooking the sea, its main sight is the parish church, built in 1362 on the orders of a grateful King David II, who was rescued by villagers from a shipwreck in the Firth of Forth.
An enchanting little town, Culross (koo-ross) is Scotland's best-preserved example of a 17th-century Scottish burgh: the National Trust for Scotland owns 20 of the town's buildings, including the palace. Small, red-tiled, whitewashed buildings line the cobbled streets, and the winding Back Causeway to the abbey is embellished with whimsical stone cottages.
A magnificent example of Lowland Scottish domestic architecture, Kellie Castle has creaky floors, crooked little doorways and some marvellous works of art. It's set in a beautiful garden, and many rooms contain superb plasterwork, the Vine room being the most exquisite. The original part of the building dates from 1360; it was enlarged to its present dimensions around 1606.
Kinross & Loch Leven
Kinross, just off the M90, sits on the banks of pretty Loch Leven. Stretch your legs or take a bike on the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, which runs 8 miles around three-quarters of the loch, with sightings of deer common, or head across to the island in its centre to visit evocative Lochleven Castle, which served as a fortress and prison from the late 14th century.
Pretty and peaceful, little Crail has a much-photographed stone-sheltered harbour surrounded by wee cottages with red-tiled roofs. You can buy lobster and crab from a kiosk there. The benches in the nearby grassed area are perfectly placed for munching your al fresco crustaceans while admiring the view across to the Isle of May.