This is going to be a long post with lots of photos so apologies in advance. We’ve just had a magnificent weekend in Braemar staying at the luxurious Fife Arms hotel. It’s quite a contrast to our recent glamping adventures and definitely opulent but worth every penny.
I’ve been longing to spend a night at The Fife Arms ever since Swiss art dealers and collectors, Iwan and Manuela Wirth of Hauser & Wirth, reopened the hotel in 2019 after 4 years of renovations. We visited the Fife Arms in January 2014 when we came to Aberdeen for Ben’s interview at the University of Aberdeen. It was a tired and shabby place in desperate of attention. I think Ben had a rather watery coffee in what is now the lobby and I fruitlessly asked for a cup of tea with non-dairy milk but none there was. What a transformation it has had since then! It’s hard to believe it’s the same hotel.
I went in search of old photos from our 2014 trip and unfortunately, I’ve got none of the inside. I guess I was uninspired and didn’t bother taking out my camera. But I did get this one shot of the outside. Look how little Elizabeth is! That’s her in the red jumper.
I took this photo of the front today:
Word in the village is that the Swiss owners spent £43 million on the renovations and I can easily believe it. They say they don’t know how to run a hotel with Iwan Wirth quoted as saying, “We don’t know how to make them [hotels] or how to run them. What we do know how to do is create an exhibition“. And this is exactly what The Fife Arms is: an exhibition of contemporary and traditional art and culture. Sleeping there is like sleeping in a museum or art gallery.
As we walked the corridors to our room I didn’t know where to look. There’s just so much to see in every direction. I felt like a child in a room filled floor to ceiling with sweeties.
This photo by Martin Creed is of an Irish Wolfhound and Chiahaua. Apparently, they are supposed to represent opposites with the thinking small dog and non-thinking large dog.
This bronze sculpture in the courtyard which I snapped in the snow this morning is by a French artist, Louise Bourgeois.
Just inside the grand entrance is this painting by Queen Victoria herself.
In the drawing room is a Picasso.
In the same room as the Picasso is a very striking and colourful ceiling which is the work of Chinese artist, Zhang Enli.
The walls in the dining room were painted by an Argentinian artist, Guillermo Kuitca.
This chandelier in the lobby area was created by Richard Jackson. It’s made from glass replicas of deer antlers and bagpipe parts. It’s quite unusual and the neon lights make it seem a bit out of place in a Victorian highland hotel but it somehow just works because there’s so much that’s unusual about the hotel. If art makes you stare and think then it’s a success and that’s exactly what this chandelier does.
The hallways are festooned with paintings, archived and out-of-print wallpapers by William Morris, taxidermy, posters, photographs, sculptures, antique books and furniture and you can spend a good hour or more just wandering around and admiring everything. Even the stairwells are filled with art.
They commissioned local craftspeople to make many of the textiles you can see in the hotel including even creating their own tartan and the carpet in the hallways.
I felt like I was in a museum of zoology.
This sculpture is of Bruno, one of the owners’ dogs.
This is a Steinway that has been bleached.
There’s a library with a wax statue of Queen Victoria.
I’m sorry if this is getting boring but I haven’t even got to our room yet. This next photo of Ben in the library is not staged at all. Definitely not.
There are some water colours painted by Prince Charles. Here’s one of them.
In what’s called the “Fire Room” is an incredibly wacky chandelier created by an Indian artist called Subodh Gupta. It’s made from ordinary household items you’d find in a kitchen like stainless steel utensils and sieves. I had problems photographing this because the lights were too bright so I’ve got two photos to helpfully do it justice.
In the dining room is a stuffed deer but what fascinated me more than the poor deer was the beautiful floral arrangement at its feet.
It’s not fake or plastic. It’s all real and made from heather, moss, pine cones and various other plants you can find in the Cairngorms. Apparently, a florist comes once per week to replenish all the plants and there are so many all over the hotel.
Even the exercise room has art in it. I suppose this painting is supposed to motivate you to run or cycle faster and harder.
There’s a kids’ room with books, toys, and an Xbox.
We booked a family room which was not cheap. We could have stayed almost three nights in an AirB&B for our one night in the Fife Arms but it was a night we’ll never forget. The rooms are all themed and our theme was nature and poetry which I suppose is fitting since we love both.
All the original features of the Victorian building are still there including the original sash windows. There’s no plastic or soulless mass-produced “Made in China”. There were old books of wild flowers on our coffee table.
The telephone was a fully functional old-fashioned one.
I had emailed the hotel in advance to ask whether there’d be anything vegan on the breakfast menu. I was really just hoping they’d have non-dairy milk so I could have a cup of tea. Not only was there non-dairy milk and several vegan options on the menu but they also put oat milk in the fridge in our room. No hotel has ever done that for me before and I always email in advance and let them know.
The service was stellar. We ate dinner in the Clunie restaurant and I had what was really just a cauliflower but it was the best cauliflower I’ve ever eaten. It was a romanesco (a cross between a cauliflower and broccoli) and it was baked in a wood-fired oven with a sauce of tarragon and pine nuts.
There’s a glimpse of the wood-fired oven in the kitchen in this next photo. The antlers on the wall above are a true size reproduction of an Irish Elk skull and antlers; an animal which has been extinct for some 10,000 years.
In the morning we woke up to lots of fresh snow.
We went sledging and did the Queen’s Circular Walk which was lovely. I got Ben pulling his “I hate snow” face.
And me looking pretty chuffed.
It was a flawless weekend. The hotel is perfect if you’ve got something special to celebrate like an anniversary or birthday. But you really don’t need an excuse. Just go and enjoy yourself. It won Hotel of the Year 2019, an award that’s well-deserved. There’s no other hotel like it anywhere in the world.