EDINBURGH -- A tartan is a complex fabric.
It can be composed of any number of colours, with stripes of various sizes criss-crossing at right angles and creating unique patterns.
The result is a distinct weave, much like the country it is so closely associated with -- Scotland.
Just stroll down the street of any Scottish town or city and you'll find the country's fabric consists of a unique blend of history, art, architecture, tradition, contemporary culture and cuisine. Get inspired by Edinburgh Castle. Whether you've visited one castle or 100 castles in your lifetime, this grand structure in Edinburgh is a don't-miss attraction.
It's easy to forget the modern world and feel like you've stepped back in time, as you wind your way through the centuries-old fortification. Historic evidence shows people have lived in this area since the second century; the castle has become Scotland's most visited paid attraction, with 1.2 million visits per year.
Writers looking for motivation also take a particular interest in the castle. J.K. Rowling used it as inspiration for her first Harry Potter novel, while writing in nearby cafés such as The Elephant House, where a backroom overlooks the castle. Walk into a world of mythical creatures. It's not surprising that Rowling created much of Harry Potter's world of wizards and magic while working in Scotland.
It's a country where anything seems possible. Take, for instance, the country's official animal -- it's the unicorn.
Stories also swirl about other mythical Scottish creatures, such as brownies and dunnies that live in waterfalls and streams, a highland banshee that wails at night, and a monster that was kept hidden in Glamis Castle for years
There's also the enduring tale of the Loch Ness Monster. The country celebrated the 80th anniversary of the first modern sighting of Nessie last year. A hotel manager reported seeing a "whale-like fish" in the loch on April 14, 1933. Be Brave... or Braveheart. The mysticism of the country and its rolling beauty have been reflected on the big screen many times.
One of the best animated films of the past few years is Brave -- a 2012 creation from Pixar that follows the Scottish tale of a courageous red-curled lass named Merida.
To bring the movie to life, there are dozens of points of interest that visitors can check out, including 6,000-year-old stone obelisks, prehistoric coffins, caves, castles, ancient woodlands, mysterious bogs and lovely lochs. (Visit Scotland gives specific details on Brave-based travel plans on its website visitscotland.com.)
Although it's almost two decades old, another blockbuster movie many visitors connect with Scotland is Braveheart. You can visit the areas around Glen Nevis and Loch Leven to see where the Oscar-winning film, starring Mel Gibson as Scottish warrior William Wallace, was made.
Other Scottish points of interest highlighted by big movies include: The Rosslyn Chapel in Roslin, Midlothian, which was featured in the 2006 Da Vinci Code; Glenfinnan Viaduct in the Highlands, which was part of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002; and, various parts of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Rannoch Moor, used in the 1996 film Trainspotting -- the film that launched the international career of Ewan McGregor. Go ahead; try the haggis. From traditional to contemporary cuisine, the dining options are many in Scotland.
If you only want a sampling of dishes such as haggis or blood pudding, seek out a buffet such as the one at Fairmont St Andrews -- it's an ideal way to taste local cuisine without committing to an entire dish.
The country also boasts 16 Michelin-starred restaurants, some inspired by Scottish-born celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and featuring many of the nation's most sought-after ingredients, including Aberdeen Angus steaks, lamb, salmon (which is exported to 55 countries around the world), lobster, and, of course, whisky.
Visitors can check out all, or part, of the country's whisky trail, featuring seven distilleries, including those that are home to Chivas Regal and Glenfiddich.
A Homecoming for Everyone
Building on the success of a similar event five years ago, 2014 is the year of Homecoming Scotland. More than 430 events are planned, ranging from festivals and feasts to cultural displays and highland games. Other activities will include a hot-air balloon festival, the world stone-skimming championship and a science festival. The Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and MTV Europe Music Award will also be held in Scotland this year.
"Scotland is a modern, dynamic nation with a rich heritage, a global reach and confident of our place in the world," Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing recently said. "People from across the globe with an affinity to Scotland, as well as those without, are invited to join the celebration in 2014 when Scotland welcomes the world."