The new Fife Arms in Braemar has taken the UK by storm, reviewed by the likes of the Financial Times and the Telegraph. For a hotel in rural Aberdeenshire, it’s making waves internationally. So what exactly is all the fuss about?
To give a swift overview, The Fife Arms is the brainchild of the internationally renowned gallerists Hauser and Wirth, so it doubles up as an outstanding, informal gallery, with works by Picasso, Lucien Freud and James Prosek, to name a few, simply hanging on the hotel walls. The interior design was under the eye of Russell Sage, the tartan and tweed designed by Araminta Campbell, and the garden created by Jinny Blom. These are some of the best names in the business.
The Scottish Victoriana decor is so unique and almost overwhelming that it’s pretty much the focus of everyone’s attention. That’s why I’m here to tell you that the food is also excellent. And the hotel has a lot more little secrets up its sleeve.
This hotel was built by the Duke of Fife in the 19th century, tapping into the popularity of Royal Deeside. Queen Victoria had lit that fuse when she built Balmoral and fell in love with the locale.
When you arrive, the lobby of the Fife Arms is crammed with details, your jaw drops before you’ve even checked in. The star attraction is the portrait Annie by Lucien Freud. The brightly coloured chandelier is impossible not to notice – a creation by Richard Jackson (both featured in the photograph above). But don’t miss more subtle pieces, such as an intricate fireplace featuring Robert Burns, rescued from Montraive House in Fife. And the piano – a Steinway, transformed with intergalactic art, ‘Apollo Still Shining’ by Mark Bradford, and playing specially composed music by hip hop/R&B artist Robert Glasper. There is so much to take in, before you’ve even obtained your room key.
The rooms are superlative and insane, in a good way. Family Rooms are available and children are welcome. There are six types of rooms; the most luxurious being the Royal Suites, then the Victoriana Suites, Scottish Culture Rooms, Nature and Poetry Rooms, Croft Rooms and the Artist’s Studio.
In terms of the suites, each one focusses on a key individual or place. They are busy rooms, brimming with carefully placed antiques, artworks, texts and ornaments. The wallpaper is vibrant, William Morris style, a sumptuous business. And it feels like you’ve gone back in time, but in the lap of luxury. The toiletries (including conditioner) are by the wonderful 100 Acres, so guests waft around smelling delightful. And the bathrooms are spacious, indulgent and carry on the story of the character/place the room is named after.
We found ourselves in the King Edward Suite, and we felt we got to know him through the course of the evening. A beautiful copy of The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd was placed by my bed, a lovely finishing touch.
If you prefer a more pared back, more neutral or muted tones, then the Nature & Poetry Rooms or Croft Rooms would be a better fit. The Nature & Poetry rooms feature bespoke artwork created from local materials such as heather, horn and tweed. I loved the box beds incorporated into the Croft Rooms – each bed is hand-painted by artists, and it harks back to historic country living.
For more info on prices and booking, click here.
Food & Drink
The Drawing Room
Enjoy a pre dinner cocktail or afternoon tea in close proximity to a Picasso. Not something I expected to experience in Braemar. And gaze upwards at mesmerising ceiling. This fluid artwork is inspired by agate stone, entitled ‘Ancient Quartz’ and created by Chinese artist, Zhang Enli.
Clunie Dining Room
Dining in the Clunie Dining Room is simply excellent. My husband started with the Woodfire Baked Cauliflower, followed by the Braised Red Deer. I kicked off with the Langoustine, followed by Roasted Celeriac. If you can’t overnight here, then I definitely would recommend the food. Starters began at £12, and mains were from £18.
The children’s menu offered a range of ‘Muckle Dishes’ – I love that term – ranging from Grilled fish with tatties and greens, to Bangers, clapshot and carrots, finished off with a Coke Float, Rice Pudding or Ice Cream. £7 for a main, and £4 for a pudding. For such a setting, dishing up quality dishes from local producers, the prices were fair.
And let’s not forget the art. The walls have been transformed by Argentinian artist, Guillermo Kuitca.
The Flying Stag
This bar is staggering. Yes, it features a stag (a flying stag) but it’s staggering in every sense. Created by James Prosek, the beast flying skywards is a visual signature for the hotel. It’s the photograph everyone takes.
This bar has a much more informal vibe, it’s busy with locals enjoying a drink or a spot of lunch or dinner. Mains include Haggis, neeps and tatties, or Harissa smoked beans with feta and skirlie, or traditional Fish and chips.
We nipped through to the bar after dinner to chill out over a pint and enjoy the live folk music. This hotel is very versatile, from fine dining to a casual pub scene, it’s a strong offering.
Elsa’s Cocktail Bar
For an aperitif or digestif in an intimate cocktila bar, pop through to Elsa’s, named after the fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, who was a regular visitor to Braemar.
Even the most practical facilities are beautifully presented and crafted. A Drying Room, for hiking gear, is immaculate. There is a ‘Fire Room’ for private dining, a ‘Fog House’ where guests can hang out, and it can be booked for exclusive use. A spa is available, a garden, a meeting room, a library (again available for private parties) and the cutest Family Room, full of toy squirrels, games, books and a huge television for afternoon movies. This room clearly demonstrates that children are very welcome here. A shop sells textiles, toiletries, jewellery, perfume and even jigsaws, allowing guests to purchase a memento to remind them of their stay.
I don’t usually feature an ‘Art’ column in a review but art runs through the veins of the Fife Arms. The art is omnipresent, it’s everywhere, it sees your every move. Simply walk through the corridors to spot famous pieces on every wall. Specialist talks and workshops are held frequently, and art tours are available upon request. This venue is more than a hotel, it’s also a cultural hub. Each room is so engaging, from the wallpaper and paintings to the antiques and furniture, that you will something new every time you visit.
A nice touch are portraits of the local community painted by Gideon Sommerfield. From highland dancers and historians to musicians and mountaineers, it’s a sensitive way to capture local faces on canvas, engage and welcome them.
In the heart of Royal Deeside, in the centre of the small town of Braemar, guests find themselves surrounded by wild hills, in the heart of Castle Country, yet with the convenience of local amenities. An excellent location, yet a car is recommended for sightseeing.
We drove from Aberdeen, approximately 1.5 hours away. Private transport is the easiest and fastest way to reach this destination, especially is you wish to explore, but public buses are available.
Whilst children are undoubtedly welcome here, the Fife Arms is such an escape, and there’s so much to take in, that if you can visit child-free then I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. The Fife Arms is a unique destination, that will draw crowds from across the UK and internationally. It’s wonderful to have something so special on our doorstep.