Not your run of the mill luxury resort, The Fife Arms is a Victorian-era coaching inn located in the historic Scottish village of Braemar amidst the dramatic landscape of the Cairngorms National Park. After multiple millions of pounds, the hotel recently reopened with a Royal celebration to mark the work of its Swiss owners Iwan and Manuela Wirth who are passionate about Scottish heritage, culture, and contemporary art.
The Scotsman writes, “This is contemporary art, dark tartan walls, Victorian taxidermy, and local color all fused together in a bizarre, mesmeric concoction that just works. Put simply, this is a no-expense-spared style transformation and a must-visit for anyone coming to the area.” It continues, “The wow factor starts in the reception area, which features a Picasso (Mousquetaire et nu assis), a Lucian Freud (Child Portrait – Annie), a Mark Bradford Steinway piano and a mahogany Robert Burns fireplace. Old Masters are peppered throughout the floors.”
Braemar is situated in the heart of Scotland’s Royal Deeside surrounded by the Grampian mountains and ancient woodlands. It is about an hour and a half drive from Aberdeen Airport (ABZ) and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Edinburgh, however, helicopter transfers from Glasgow and Edinburgh airports are about £4000 one way for up to five passengers.
Originally built by the Duke of Fife it was officially opened by the TRH The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess or Cornwall making a visit.
Of note is the hotel’s art collection. Throughout the common spaces of the hotel are commissioned works by renowned contemporary international artists in addition to a collection of 12,000 paintings, drawings, and objects narrating the history of the hotel, Braemar, and Scottish heritage.
The Wirths are co-Presidents of Hauser and Wirth with galleries in London, New York, LA, Hong Kong, Zurich, and Bruton, Somerset, and wanted to bring their love of art and design to the historic interiors of the building. Envisioned as a cultural hub for the village, they partnered with Alec Finlay, an artist and poet, to collaborate on its conceptual design keeping the unique landscape and culture of the Upper Deeside central to its philosophy. You’ll spot commissioned works by Guillermo Kuitca, Zhang Enli, Subodh Gupta, Richard Jackson, Louise Bourgeouis, Bharti Kher, and an impressive array of Scottish artworks.
The Financial Times says, “The Fife Arms is a triumphant realization of maximalism…It never seems overdone and, by some alchemistic means, all come together into a coherent, vibrant whole. And your children will love it. Ours, three and six, soon found their way by themselves to the Family Room, a playroom featuring a vintage table football, two doll’s houses and a wall of books, Scottish heritage coloring pads, and paper, plus an en suite (toilet) with a jungle mural and felt elephant heads.”
Some of the popular activities include Highland safaris, clay and grouse shooting, deer stalking, distillery and castle tours, falconry, fishing, hiking, gliding, golf, mountain biking, photography, pony trekking, salmon fishing, Scotch tastings, skiing, and other winter sports as well as visits to the Queen’s Balmoral Estate and Braemar Castle.
Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, a travel agency focused on luxury travel visited shortly after the re-opening and tells me, “The hotel could be considered an art gallery with rooms. There is such a feeling of welcome on arrival it’s as if you have gone to a favorite aunt and uncle’s estate.”
The Fife Arms offers 46 guest rooms and suites. The accommodations weave together exceptional design, local craftsmanship, nature, and the rich history of Braemar. Under the creative direction of London-based interior designer, Russell Sage (The Savoy Grill, bedrooms at The Goring Hotel, Lansdowne Club), and Crathie-based Scottish architects Moxon Architects (Taipei Museum of Art, Serpentine Boathouse at Hyde Park in London) the building has retained all of its timber sash and case windows and a large number of original chimney stacks. Traditional architectural characteristics from its timber bargeboards to its Aberdeen-bonded stonework and over 70 different wallpapers, many reprints of discontinued Liberty designs, provide authenticity.
Royal Suites (4 in category)
Each of the four Royal Suites (Queen Victoria, Princess Royal Louise, The Duke of Fife, and The Indian Suite) are located on the first floor (one above the ground level as they count them in Scotland) and span 614 square feet. These suites offer a separate bedroom and living area. The bedrooms all feature a stunning four-poster bed in carved, dark wood. The bathrooms are equipped with standalone copper bathtubs and separate walk-in showers. While each has a different décor, all offer views over Braemar’s surroundings, hills and the village.
Victoria Suites (11)
The Victoria Suites reflect the hotel’s history as a 19th-century coaching inn and are decorated with antique furnishings, period wallpaper, and original artwork. The Victoria Suites are 388 square feet with a bedroom and living area from which guests can enjoy panoramic views of the Scottish Highlands. The bathrooms feature freestanding cast iron bathtubs and separate walk-in showers.
3. Restaurant and Bars
Showcasing the best of Scotland Executive Chef Robert Cameron and his team work with local gamekeepers and farmers from fresh seafood and game to local whiskeys and spirits.
The Clunie Dining Room
Serving breakfast and dinner daily, The Clunie Dining Room showcases the best of Scottish produce and ingredients with menus created by Head Chef Magnus Burstedt. Named after the River Clunie, which runs past the hotel, The Clunie Dining room showcases wood-fire cooking and seasonal Scottish produce in a striking room painted in distinctive cuboid style by Argentinian artist, Guillermo Kuitca. The Scotsman writes, “It is a spectacular space and another canvas for great art.”
The Flying Stag
Traditionally the heart of the village, The Flying Stag is the hotel’s public bar. Frequented by residents and visitors alike, the public bar offers classic Scottish dishes, real ales, live entertainment, and a selection of over 180 whiskeys. Open daily.
An exquisite jewel box of a bar, Elsa’s Bar brings Art Deco glamour to the Highlands. Inspired by fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli’s signature style, love of shocking pink and “bon mots,” this bijou bar offers champagne and hand-crafted cocktails that are beautifully presented. The perfect spot for a pre-prandial aperitif or a late-night digestif, the bar showcases Scottish spirits and elixirs. Open Tuesdays-Saturdays.
The Drawing Room
Where tradition meets contemporary, the Drawing Room is one of the most picturesque rooms. The walls are covered in The Fife Arms tartan, which was specially designed for the hotel and the room is richly furnished with Scottish art and antiques. The most striking view is the ceiling quartz painting, “Ancient Quartz,” commissioned from the renowned Chinese artist, Zhang Enli. Enjoy a morning coffee or afternoon tea which is served daily from 12:00-4:00 pm. Reservations are strongly advised.
The Fife Arms Spa has three treatment rooms, a sauna and a relaxation area. The spa builds on the traditional heritage of its Highland location and blends holistic style with a local herbal approach to wellbeing.
Guests at the hotel can tee-off at the Braemar Golf Club less than a five-minute drive away. It holds the distinction of being the highest 18-hole course in Scotland at around 1,205 feet above sea level.
6. Meetings and Celebrations
Overlooking its internal courtyard and featuring a dramatic antler chandelier, The Fog Room can accommodate a maximum of 28 people in board room style over 2 tables or between 40 to 50 people on round tables. Equipped with AV equipment, a screen, and a projector, the Brae Room lends itself to screenings, presentations, and talks. It can accommodate up to 30 guests in theatre style or in boardroom style. The Fire Room is a private dining room can seat up to 12 people for a private meal or meeting next to an impressive fireplace and stainless-steel chandelier by Indian artist Subodh Gupta. The hotel is available for full buyouts and an ideal venue for celebrations as well.