IF rolling hills, gentle valleys and pretty market towns are your idea of the perfect getaway, then the Borders is hard to beat.

And it’s difficult to think of a lovelier Borders town than Melrose, which nestles on the south bank of the River Tweed at the foot of the Eildon Hills in the ancient county of Roxburghshire.

Although best known for its stunning Medieval abbey, ancient Common Ridings and as a rugby stronghold, the fascinating Roman history of the area speaks of a much older civilization.

But, as the plethora of thriving town centre cafes, restaurants and shops highlights, there’s plenty of contemporary attractions to explore, too.

Historical highlights

During the Iron Age, the Votadini tribe is thought to have lived in the lands that now comprise Melrose. A Roman fort, Trimontium, was built there in the first century AD.

When David I of Scotland took the throne in 1124, he sought to create a network of Cistercian monasteries, among them Melrose Abbey, founded in 1136.

The town, represented by a “mell” (mason’s hammer) and a rose (for the Virgin Mary) grew up around the abbey, but was ransacked by invading English armies in the 1300s and 1540s. Monastic life ended with the Reformation, by which time Melrose was a thriving centre for wool and linen production, though neighbouring Galashiels took over as the textiles capital.

Agriculture remains an important economic driver in this affluent town, which is also popular with commuters and tourists, especially those undertaking the Southern Upland Way.

What to do

Based around the handsome Market Square and High Street just south of the river, the town is dominated by the semi-ruined Melrose Abbey, which is now looked after by the National Trust for Scotland (historicenvironment.scot). Its church, domestic buildings and museum offer a wonderful insight into the life of not only the Medieval monks who lived there but the wider community they were part of. The heart of Robert the Bruce is believed to be buried in the Chapter House at the abbey, and look out for the flashes of humour among the ruins, including the stone carving of a bagpipe-playing pig.

Next to the Abbey, Priorwood and Harmony Gardens, also run by NTS (nts.org.uk), offer peace and contemplation, too. Priorwood has a stunning orchard as well as Scotland's only garden dedicated to dried flowers.

This town is as famous for rugby as it is for ecclesiastical history, and next weekend – Saturday 13 April – the Melrose Sevens (melrose7s.com) play out. Even those who aren’t aficionados of the game will find much to enjoy as the town comes alive with fans from around the UK and beyond to watch the action and soak up the atmosphere. Will Watsonians retain their crown? Will Melrose make it to the final? Join in the fun next weekend and find out.

During the last weekend of April, the town’s Memorial Hall plays host to Melrose Arts Festival (melrosearts.com), a huge exhibition featuring work by hundreds of local artists and makers.

In mid to late June, meanwhile, the ancient Borders tradition of Common Riding is celebrated at the Melrose Festival, featuring a rideout through the town, the crowning of the festival queen and a host of other events and gatherings. Go to returntotheridings.co.uk for more information.

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History buffs of all ages will want to visit the Trimontium exhibition (trimontium.co,uk) at the Ormiston on Market Square, which tells the story of the Roman presence in this part of Scotland. The fort site itself is just a five-minute drive outside the town, at Newstead.

Those doing the pretty circular walk from Melrose to Old Melrose – the original planned site for the abbey - will take in Trimontium along the way, as well as the Rhymer’s Stone, erected in 1929 to mark the spot of the fabled Eildon Tree. There are a number of easy and accessible riverside walks, while more ambitious walkers may want to take on the 5.5 mile Eildon Hills Path, which takes in three shapely summits and offers fine views of the town and beyond.

Where to eat

With so much history to take in and countryside to explore during the day, you’ll need regular refreshments to keep up.

Just a stone’s throw from the Abbey, Greenhouse Café serves excellent sandwiches, burgers and sweet treats. The gourmet hot chocolate is moreish.

Apples For Jam, on the High Street, has a contemporary feel. A generous serving of their soup, followed by a delicious cheese board and a slice of homemade traybake, makes for the perfect lunch. The juices are great, too.

In the evening, Provender (provendermelrose.com) also on the High Street, serves some of the finest steaks you’ll eat anywhere, sourced from local farms. The venison haunch with Angelo plums is also a delight.

Open Wednesday till Saturday, the Hoebridge at Gattonside (hoebridge.com), just north of the river, also serves up quality Scottish produce in elegant surroundings.

For a good fish supper and friendly banter, the Abbey Takeaway on Scott’s Place is the place to go. The pizzas are pretty tasty, too.

Where to shop

Market Square and the High Street have excellent independent shopping.

Masons of Melrose is one of the best independent bookshops in the south of Scotland, complete with friendly, knowledgeable staff and an excellent and diverse range of titles.

Nearby Abbey Fine Wines stocks an impressive selection of whiskies, gins and champagnes as well as vino and runs a full schedule of tasting events.

Michael Vee Design is packed with lovely things – old and new – for your house, while cake decorating emporium Maid by Marion is a haven for home bakers inspired by the Great British Bake Off.

The Crafter’s Gift Shop, meanwhile, a co-operative, is well-stocked with textiles, jewellery and visual arts created by locals.

Where to stay

Central: You can’t get closer to the town's attractions than Burt’s Hotel on Market Square. The rooms, from £96, are elegantly appointed, and there’s good food on offer, too.

Comfortable: Set in five acres of rolling parkland next to the river, the Waverley Castle Hotel offers R&R at a reasonable price - rooms from £45.

Country Cottage: The Nest, just two minutes’ walk from central Melrose, is small but perfectly formed and even has its own garden. Sleeps two. From £60 a night.

Regal: Those looking for a taste of what it’s like to be king or queen of the (mini) castle will enjoy staying in this bijoux 16th century tower near Earlston, just 10 minutes’ drive from Melrose. From £30 a night. See Airbnb.co.uk.

What to do nearby

Take a trip on the Borders Railway from nearby Tweedbank Station. The journey to Edinburgh takes around 55 minutes, taking in eight stations and some stunning countryside.

St Abbs Head Nature Reserve (nts.org), an hour from Melrose, is famed for its seabird colonies and breath-taking views from dramatic coastal cliffs.

Abbotsford, the extraordinary home of Sir Walter Scott (scottsabbotsford.com), is only a short drive from Melrose. Fans of tartan will love the interior, while the gardens and grounds are also well worth visiting. During spring and summer there are a host of child-friendly events, including an Easter egg hunt later this month.

In the weeks to come I'll be visiting Dunoon and Comrie. Send your hints, tips and suggestions to: marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk