Review: The Fife Arms, Braemar - It's an art - Scotland on Sunday Travel
Since the 19th-century The Fife Arms has been at the heart of Braemar, the Aberdeenshire town famous for the annual Braemar Gathering. This is, arguably, the most famous highland games in Scotland, and draws visitors from around the world thanks to its royal connections. Located in the Cairngorms National Park, within the valley of Royal Deeside, this Victorian coaching inn has been completely revamped for the 21st century by its owners, gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth.
The transformation of The Fife Arms was inspired by the dramatic landscape, colourful stories and rich cultural connections of Braemar. It re-opened in December 2018 and has been somewhere you need to see to believe, welcoming families, four-legged friends and famous faces over the last few years. With 46 bedrooms and suites - all with their own unique decor within a theme - a restaurant overlooking the rushing River Clunie, a jewel box of a cocktail bar, original public spaces, a wonderful whisky bar, playroom, spa, garden and a much-loved village bar - The Fife Arms is a place of its own bonkers beauty.
Budget or boutique
This is the epitome of boutique and the price tag reflects the standard of service and quality of rooms and food. Expect to pay from £250 per night in a croft room and £434 per night in a Nature and Poetry Suite.
Each of the 46 bedrooms have their own special design and theme ranging from ‘The Mountaineer’ one of the smaller, croft rooms, through to the Royal Suites. Each an homage to a place, person, event or activity integral to Braemar and all with one-of-a-kind furnishings and décor. The Nature and Poetry rooms are calming, with The Heather sporting a light pink interior, huge bed with wooden inscribed headboard and en suite with bath and shower.
Wining and dining
The storytelling and artwork continue into the public spaces, including the Clunie Dining room, Elsa’s cocktail bar and Bertie’s whisky bar. Chef Adam Maddock has recently taken over the head chef role at the Clunie dining room. Adam’s culinary philosophy focuses on ‘less is more’ and believes that supporting local business and gamekeepers, while letting the changing seasons dictate his dishes, is fundamental to a menu.
For something more low key, but just as delicious, The Flying Stag, Braemar’s original village pub, offers classic Scottish pub dishes, and The Drawing Room serves a classic Afternoon Tea which can be enjoyed underneath the Picasso while watching the river run by.
With twinkling candlelight and a speakeasy feel, the bar is named for designer Elsa Schiaparelli (who often visited Braemar). Bertie’s also has a speakeasy feel, with low lighting and walls chock full of whisky bottles ranging from the every day to seriously rare (and expensive) drams.
Although the hotel serves excellent food, the newly opened Fish Shop in Ballater is well worth a visit. Try the Mull scallops, lobster or crab crumpet and monkfish main.
Worth getting out of bed for
This is an ideal location for outdoor enthusiasts, and even if you’re not, it’s hard not to fall in love with the landscape here. If you’re keen on fishing, or just keen to learn, Twin Peakes Fly Fishing will take you out for a half or full day on the nearby Invercauld Estate. If cycling is more your thing, book a day out with ETrail Adventures. Owner Neil is a mean cook, so expect a great lunch. For something less strenuous, Annie at Wild Braemar hosts foraging walks and wild swimming, which can end with a sauna in her custom built hot horsebox. Local photographer and wildlife enthusiast Leo Armory offers 4x4 tours of the nearby estate - a lovely way to spend a morning.
Other activities include bespoke experiences such as a thrilling helicopter ride over the glens, a round of golf on the highest 18-hole course in Scotland and lunch at the remote Culardoch Shieling on the grouse moors, and family activities include learning about Scotland’s trees or mastering the art of map reading so you can find hidden treasure in the vast expanse of the moors.
There are complimentary snacks in the room, including chocolate from Braemar Chocolate Company and Fife Arms tablet and shortbread, as well as a fridge of drinks. Fluffy bathrobes and slippers can be found in the bathroom, where there are heavenly-scented full sized Albamhor toiletries. A small decanter of Fife Arms whisky and local gin are available in the room for pre dinner drinks.
Every trip to The Fife Arms is a discovery of this extraordinary part of Scotland: ancient, wild and open; a tonic for the body and mind. For over 100 years The Fife Arms has been at the heart of Braemar, and continues to be so.
The Fife Arms
Mar Road, Braemar, Ballater AB35 5YN