Converted Victorian coaching inn at Highland birthplace of 'Treasure Island' named global cultural hotspot

A former Victorian coaching inn in the Highlands has been named one of the world’s top cultural hotspots a year after it was turned into a luxury hotel by two international art dealers and collectors.

Prince Charles unveiled the multi-million makeover of the Fife Arms just over a year ago.
Prince Charles unveiled the multi-million makeover of the Fife Arms just over a year ago.

The Fife Arms, in Braemar, underwent a multi-million pound four-year makeover after being taken over by Swiss couple Iwan and Manuela Wirth in 2015.

They installed 16,000 different works of art and antiques into “every room, corridor and corner” of the hotel, which was originally built to capitalise on the tourism boom generated by Queen Victoria’s regular visits to nearly Balmoral Castle and its subsequent purchase.

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The new hotel celebrates Braemar’s links to author Robert Louis Stevenson, who started writing Treasure Island there, and the writer Lord Byron, who wrote the poem Lochnagar while he was recovering from scarlet fever.

The new-look Fife Arms is said to combine 'a profound respect for local history, a love of nature and strong sense of community.'

Zhang Enli, Guillermo Kuitca, Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Richard Jackson and James Prosek are among the international artists who were specially commissioned to produce work for the Fife Arms, which also showcases a large collection of Scottish art, including work by the painters Archibald Thornburn and John Maclaughlan Milne.

The makeover has already seen the Fife Arms crowned as the UK’s Hotel in the Year.

Now the 46-room hotel, which was reopened by Prince Charles just over a year ago, has been nominated for an international honour alongside New York’s Guggenheim gallery, Denmark’s Maritime Museum and Hong Kong’s first museum devoted to Buddhist art.

Now in their sixth year, the Leading Culture Destination Awards are aimed at recognising the best established and emerging destinations around the world for their “exceptional contribution to culture life.”

The coaching inn was originally built to capitalise on the tourism boom triggered by Queen Victoria's regular visits to the Highlands.

Dundee’s new waterfront V&A museum will also be in contention at next month’s awards in Berlin, for the best architecture honour, up against the National Museum of Qatar and “The Twist” gallery in Jevnaker, Norway.

The Fife Arms will be competing for the “best art hotel” title against a converted fifth century building in Arles, in France, which has been transformed by a Swiss billionaire, Maja Hoffman, and a Mexican artist, Jorge Pardo, and a beachfront “artist retreat” in Formentera, in Spain.

Russell Sage, designer of the overhaul, said: “The Fife Arms has been an exceptional project, igniting the owners passion and drive to create a truly inspirational hotel – filled with artwork.

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“Every bedroom is different and tells a story of a person, place or event with direct links to Braemar.

"How we’ve arranged the contemporary pieces is that they purposely contradict the traditional Scottish look.

“The Scottish art is a brilliant backdrop to the contemporary pieces – they’re almost like a canvas for the new art.”

The transformation of the 46-room Fife Arms, which boasts a spa, cocktail bar, restaurant, pub, library and cinema, was billed as a “celebration of craftmanship” when its radical new look was announced by the Wirths in August 2018.

Iwan Wirth said at the time: “If people are looking for an authentic, deep and almost spiritual experience, with great food in an extraordinarily comfortable place, with the most astonishing light and landscape, I hope they will find all that at the Fife Arms.”