I am Pietro Cecchini and, despite the name, I work for the National Trust for Scotland, the organisation which cares for many castles, gardens, stately homes and other places of historic importance in Scotland. My work is a pleasure, because it takes me to some of the most fascinating castles and historic houses - and even on my holidays I find time to visit them with my family. Here are a few castles which I think you would enjoy, partly because of the heritage, but also because of their settings. Fyvie Castle is a good example of the kind of place which I enjoy visiting; it is in the North East of Scotland, north of Aberdeen, and is surrounded by woods which you can walk through, after you have toured the castle. As well as battlements and towers and an unusual spiral staircase, the castle has a few ghosts - ask about the spurned wife who scratched at the bedroom window of her husband and his new wife! There is also a sense of history at Fyvie - it was visited by Robert the Bruce and Charles I and the legendary Thomas The Rhymer, way back in the 12th century.
Not far from Fyvie is Pitmedden Garden - a huge walled garden with formal flower beds, containing 40,000 plants. Around the flower beds are five miles of box hedging; I am glad that I do not have the job of keeping them trim! Pitmedden also has lots of lawn, ideal for sitting down to enjoy the sunshine. There is also a tea-room, with rather delicious home-baking, and I always find a reason for visiting Pitmedden in time for afternoon-tea. A major attraction for visitors to our properties is Crathes Castle and Gardens near Banchory on Royal Deeside. Crathes dates from the 16th century and is on an estate granted to the Burnet family by Robert the Bruce, who presented them with the Horn of Leys.
The Horn hangs on the wall of the Great Hall and I have to say that it gives me a particular sense of how the spirit of Robert the Bruce and his fight for independence is still important to the people of Scotland in the 21st century. The Gardens are a favourite with my wife, a keen gardener, because there are eight different gardens, surrounded by yew hedges and each one has thousands of flowers and shrubs. If you interested in birdlife, walk through the acres of woodlands and, as well as the songbirds, you could spot kingfishers, herons, woodpeckers and buzzards - and roe deer and red squirrels.
These are only a few of the places I and my family like to visit. Look out for more ideas from me in the coming months, when I will highlight other areas of Scotland. If you are planning to visit our properties, a good tip is to either become a member of the NTS (well worth it if you are visiting a few properties) or buy one of our flexible Discover Tickets which cover the admission to all our sites for various periods of time.
P.S. If you are wondering about my name - that is explained by the fact that my family emigrated to Scotland many years ago and perhaps it is my Italian blood which makes me so passionate about Scotland.
Head of Travel Trade, Hospitality and Catering
The National Trust for Scotland