A trip "doon the watter" – aka the River Clyde – on a paddle steamer to Helensburgh, Gourock, Largs, Rothesay, Millport and Dunoon was once the highlight of the year for many Glaswegians of yore.

The advent of mass-market tourism and cheap plane travel put paid to the popularity of these homespun holiday destinations, but today with rising fuel costs and a growing awareness of reducing our collective carbon footprint, the Costa Clyde is back on business.

Having both spent time in Dunoon recently for work, we decided to take an overnight mini-break from our respective homes to the north of Glasgow to the Cowal Peninsula.

The offering for tourists is changing in and around the area and no more so than on the actual water. We started off by taking the ferry from Gourock; a short hop over the water to Dunoon.

From the Western Ferries terminal, we drove straight to the nearby Holy Loch Marina where Jason Coles has been running his boat tour business, Wreckspeditions, for the last five years. For the next couple of hours, we enjoyed our very own private Doon the Watter tour, with Jason at the helm.

The weather was fair as we donned our lifejackets and took off around Dunoon’s beautiful coastline. We had already seen a pod of porpoises chasing the Western Ferry out of Gourock, so that box had already been ticked.

As we sped up and slowed down around the Gantocks beacon, Dunoon's poor old pier and West Bay, Jason told us stories about the recent history of the area. It was a reminder of the heyday of this area as a busy working bay as well as a tourist destination.

Our skipper's enthusiasm for the area was infectious and a highlight was looking on as the majestic PS Waverley, last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world, glided serenely past on its way out of Dunoon pier, its famous red, white and black funnels glistening in the sunlight.

A trip Doon the Watter doesn't get any better than that… especially when it's followed up by an overnight stay at a cosy loch-side tavern.

The 16th century Whistlefield Inn, a 20 minute drive from the marina towards Strachur, instantly appealed to us both as it effortlessly combines history and comfort. This family run hotel and restaurant exudes a homely yet stylish Scottish ambience.

Originally, we intended to drive the 12 miles back into Dunoon for dinner, but as soon as Jill clapped eyes on the Whistlefield menu and made herself comfortable with a glass of Sauvignon and a bag of ready salted crisps at a table outside overlooking Loch Eck, the plan was abandoned. Instead, we sat outside lapping up the sun and chatting to fellow guests.

The menu is hearty and caters to all sorts of tastes. Main courses hover around the £10-£12 price point and we both opted for fish cakes, which were delicious. Afterwards, there was plenty of space to chill out and enjoy a chat with co-owner Lisa.

It’s true that people help make places. Our stay was rounded off next morning, when Lisa and her little girl offered to take us on a short walk up the hill behind the Inn to a viewpoint with stunning vistas up to the hill and glens either side of Loch Eck.

Back on the road again, we set off for nearby Benmore Botanic Garden, north of Dunoon.

The 120-acre Garden takes its name from the mountain, Ben More. It is home to a world-famous collection of plants ranging from the Himalayas, China and Japan to North and South America.

Entering Benmore, an outlier of Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden, is like walking into a Tolkienesqe forest fantasy. Visitors are greeted by an avenue of ancient towering trees - Giant Redwoods - exotic sights and smells, not to mention an amazing array of colours, the enthusiastic chirruping of birdsong and the odd speedy red squirrel.

The garden's magnificent Golden Gates were made in Berlin and exhibited in 1878 in Paris. Commissioned by James Duncan, who owned the estate from 1870-1889, they were part of the main entrance to Benmore House, now an outdoor centre.

After inspecting the magnificent Gates we followed the signs to The Victorian Fernery.

An impressive structure built into the hillside, the Fernery is a fine example of the Victorian "Fern Frenzy" which reached a peak between the 1840s and 1890s.

Duncan, a wealthy sugar refiner, philanthropist and art collector, made a huge improvements to the estate, including the erection of the Fernery, and opened his land to the public.

The Fernery fell into disrepair in the early twentieth century, lying derelict for nearly 100 years. Thanks to meticulous restoration, visitors now can experience it just as the Victorians did.

We take the weight off our feet with a coffee and cake pit stop at the very non-Victorian coffee truck outside Benmore's visitor centre and shop, where we are visited by a friendly robin.

It's a short drive to Dunoon from Benmore and one of the go-to places in the town is Dunoon Burgh Hall, a beautifully restored red sandstone Victorian building which hosts a year-long programme of exhibitions, gigs and events.

Dunoon Burgh Hall has always been a firm favourite with tourists. When it first opened in 1874, the building boasted the only theatre in Argyll and was a popular venue for dances, concerts, meetings and performances.

Sadly, by the early 21st century, the building had fallen into disrepair. In 2008, it was rescued from demolition by the community, who worked with the John McAslan Family Trust, led by Dunoon-born "starchitect"John McAslan, to purchase it from a housing association for a pound.

It reopened following a major refurbishment in 2017 and today, it is a cultural hub serving the local community as well as visitors.

After a delicious soup and cheese scone lunch in the Burgh Hall cafe, we head into the gallery. There, we fall into conversation with Jan, a volunteer. "Dunoon is a hidden gem," she tells us."There's such a lot to see and do. Even Julia Roberts and Robert Downie Jr visited in the last few weeks."

She clocks the look of collective incredulity on both our faces.

"They were in town for Karen Gillan's wedding," she smiles. "You know – the girl from Dr Who with red hair? She married her American boyfriend round at Castle Toward, not far from here.

"Julia Roberts was spotted to The Rock Cafe down at the water front. If only she'd known about the Burgh Hall! She could even have got married here as we host lots of weddings."

If only… You heard it here first. Dunoon has A-list star quality.

Travel facts

* Jan and Jill stayed at the Whistlefield Inn, Loch Eck, Dunoon, PA23 8SG, where rooms start at £100 per night: https://www.thewhistlefieldinn.com/

* Doon the Watter Tour with Wreckspedition: https://www.wreckspeditions.com/doon-the-watter-tour - private tour for up to eight people costs £125

* Benmore Gardens is open from 1 March to 31 October, £ 8 adult, £ 7 senior, children (0 - 15 yrs) free. https://www.rbge.org.uk/visit/benmore-botanic-garden/

* Check out Dunoon Burgh Hall's year-round programme: https://www.dunoonburghhall.org.uk/