A stay at The Fife Arms, Braemar
Disclaimer: our stay at The Fife Arms, including meals, was provided on a complimentary basis. This blog post is not a paid promotion, however, and the views expressed in it are my own.
Braemar is a small village in the Cairngorms in Aberdeenshire that has a long association with royalty — the Balmoral estate is only a few miles away, and this part of Scotland is often referred to as “Royal Deeside”. It explains why The Fife Arms was built in the first place — a Victorian enthusiasm for this part of Scotland, with its Highland Games (held every September and attended by the royals) and its grand scenery. The hotel’s 19th century heyday passed, however, until in the last 20 years or so it became little more than a stop for coach tours.
That all changed when gallerists Hauser and Wirth took it over as a hospitality project, with interior designer Russell Sage on board and their own astounding collection of art gracing its walls. The mixture of traditional Scottish touches (tartans by Araminta Campbell on the wall, deer and antlers) and incredible art, both contemporary and classic are part of what makes this such a special experience. Highlights of the collection include the Drawing Room ceiling by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Enli (inspired by the cross-section of an agate stone as well as by the topography of the local area); the mural in the Clunie Dining Room by Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca; Le Mousquetaire assis by Picasso; Lucian Freud’s portrait of his daughter which hangs in the reception area; a Louise Bourgeois spider in the courtyard; and a painting by Bruegel the Younger in the dining room. They also have on display a charming watercolour of a stag by Queen Victoria, painted for her ghillie and close friend John Brown.
The hotel’s public areas also include a bar, Elsa’s, named for Elsa Schiaperelli who was a frequent visitor to the area and featuring the “shocking pink” and art deco style she’s known for. The rooms are equally interesting, ranging from the modest Croft rooms, with their traditional curtained box beds, to the Nature and Poetry and Scottish Culture rooms, based on key Scottish literary and cultural figures, right up to the Royal suites, which evoke a kind of Edwardian grandeur. The public bar, The Flying Stag, serves reasonably priced pub classics and was packed with locals for lunch, while the Clunie Dining Room features a more refined seasonal Scottish menu, sourced locally from gamekeepers, farmers and other suppliers.
The Fife Arms felt both contemporary and utterly traditional without being stuffy, and what came through most strongly on our visit was the way it sits gracefully at the intersection of art, food, hospitality and community.
It’s worth staying more than a night to explore the local area — we particularly enjoyed climbing some of the hills around Braemar to look out over the town and towards the nearby Invercauld estate. The Highland Games centre near the hotel has an interesting permanent exhibition of the history of the games and the connections with royalty (the Fife Arms is booked out years in advance for the week in September when the games are held). There is plenty to explore, and plenty to keep you in the hotel when the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor activities, including a wonderful games room for children (that my own children would have adored!), open fires and a library. All in all, we were sorry to leave and only wished we could have stayed longer.