Centuries of war between north and south have left the Scottish Borders with a fascinating historical legacy. Great abbeys, ancient villages and harbour towns all lurk within the region’s gentle green hills, which attract droves of walkers and cyclists.

The great abbeys of Kelso, Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh are linked by the 65-mile Borders Abbeys Way. The 12-mile Kelso-Jedburgh section is an easy walk. Dryburgh Abbey is probably the most picturesque (+44 1835 822381; 9.30am-5.30pm Apr-Sep, to 4.30pm Oct-Mar; £4.70).

The Lammermuir Hills, with their grouse moors, offer lots of walks, including a section of the Southern Upland Way. This can be accessed from Abbey St Bathans and at Lauder, passing through Thirlestane Castle's grounds (+44 1578 722430; off the A68; 10am-4pm Sun-Thu Jul-Aug, 10am-4pm Wed, Thu & Sun Apr-Jun & Sep; £10).

With its sensitively restored buildings and characterful wynds (narrow alleys), Jedburgh is the most popular Border town. It is busy with visitors, but wander the pretty side streets and you won't even hear a pin drop.

Spooky Hermitage Castle sits in empty moorland and was the home of the Earl of Bothwell, the love interest of Mary Queen of Scots. When he was injured in a Border raid, Mary rode out to the castle; three months later they married (+44 1387 376222; off the B6357, 12 miles south of Hawick; 9.30am-5.30pm Apr-Sep; £3.70).

The fishing village of St Abbs is a pretty collection of white-washed cottages beside a harbour. Visit the National Nature Reserve, home to nesting seabirds (+44 1890 771443; Rangers Cottage, Northfield Street, St Abbs).

Eat and drink
For smoked foods, drop into Teviot Game Fare Smokery, five miles southwest of Kelso. The smokery is in an 18thcentury coaching inn and the conservatory restaurant serves Smokehouse paté and Orkney herring (+44 1835 850253; Kirkbank House; lunch; mains £6-£9).

The restaurant at The Townhouse is one of the best in Melrose. The slate-grey dining room with its elegant highbacked chairs sets the tone for the refined dishes, which include regional specialities such as roast partridge with Stornoway black pudding (+44 1896 822645; Market Square, Melrose; lunch and dinner; mains £12).

The Nightjar is a highly commended Jedburgh restaurant, dishing out a mix of creative meals - such as the salad of warm quail with chorizo and grapefruit - including seafood and Thai cuisine (+44 1835 862552; 1 Abbey Close, Jedburgh; dinner Tue-Sat; mains £12.50-£15.50).

Mediterranean-themed Oscar's Wine Bar and Restaurant in Kelso offers well-prepared dishes. We like the roast monkfish with a fresh herb and almond crust (+44 1573 224008; 35-37 Horsemarket, Kelso; dinner; mains £10-£16).

Located in an 18th-century church manse, Churches specialises in seafood bought daily from Eyemouth's harbour. Try the Eyemouth langoustine grilled in garlic butter or the seafood cassoulet (+44 18907 50401; Albert Rd, Eyemouth; mains £10-£25).

Taking Coldstream's motto "Second to None" to heart, Calico House offers interior-designed rooms (it is the home of interior designer Marion Williams), at great value. The pastel-coloured rooms with white-painted furniture are wonderfully peaceful and have views over the River Tweed (+44 1890 885870; 44 High Street, Coldstream; from £70).

Glenfriars Guest House is a Georgian pile that is being slowly and lovingly refurbished. Rooms 4 and 6 are gorgeous, especially room 4, which has stupendous views. Four-poster beds and laid-back hosts make this stylish, slightly ramshackle hotel a favourite (+44 1835 862000; the Friars, Jedburgh; from £70).

Offering traditional bed and breakfast hospitality, The Old Priory in Kelso is a Grade B listed Georgian townhouse. The rear overlooks the abbey and its grounds. The rooms have huge shuttered windows and original fireplaces (01573 223030; 33 Woodmarket, Kelso; from £75).

The Townhouse in Melrose exudes warmth and has the best accommodation in town. The rooms are thoughtfully styled with comfy beds, wallpaper prints and extra wool blankets (+44 1896 822645; Market Square, Melrose; from £100).

Cringletie House Hotel is a fairytale Baronial mansion complete with turrets and service bells in all the rooms. Set in wooded grounds two miles north of Peebles, it is a grand affair. Rooms are stately, some with original fireplaces, with boxed window seats and super-soft bed linen (+44 1721 725750; off the A703; from £205).

How to go
Berwick-upon-Tweed is the main access point to the region. It is almost exactly halfway between Edinburgh (£18.20) and Newcastle (£17.50) on the main east-coast London-Edinburgh line. Fares and timetables can be found at the National Rail Enquiries service.

Find your way
There is a good network of local buses. First operates between most towns and connects Melrose to Edinburgh (£5.50). Car rental is available at Arnold Clark (£30 per day).

The article 'Mini guide to the Scottish Borders' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.