Just when you think you’ve seen it all for exotic hotels and destinations, someone points you in the direction of The Fife Arms. This is a hotel like nothing you’ve ever seen before, that much I can guarantee. With just 46 rooms housing over 14,000 antiques and specially commissioned artworks, you can only imagine what a feast for the eyes this establishment would be. From walls showcasing the world of taxidermy to a ceiling that resembles a psychedelic trip, you never quite know what to expect from one room to the next. It wouldn’t be at all out of the ordinary to sip of cup of tea with a Picasso hanging over head, or perhaps a Lucian Freud.
Of course, it all comes with a bit of a twist due to the nature of its quite famous owners. Gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth, of Hauser & Wirth, are the brains behind this beauty. They took on the hotel in a less than stellar state, seeing potential in this property that existed in a small Scottish town with a population of just over 800 people, after buying an estate in the region themselves. The end result is fantastical indeed. When you enter the lobby, you are either greeted by a man wearing the hotel’s tartan, in kilt form, or a giant great dane, if the owners are in residence. Both will give you a hardy hello and point you in the direction of the fire, where you can warm yourself as attendants sort your room key. At this point, you’ll already find your eyes darting around the room, attempting to understand what’s going on around you. Here’s my advice, don’t try to understand it, just embrace its uniqueness. Go with the flow, here. You’re in safe hands.
Whatever room you’ll be given, you’re in for a treat simply roaming the halls to get there. There are sitting areas everywhere, broken up by staircases featuring everything from birds in flight to stuffed bunny rabbits in situ. For my one night stay, I was given the Zoology room. I slept with framed birds above my head and a priceless view of the Scottish Highlands in front of me. The textures of the room were of another time, another place. Even the scent of the sheets and bath towels seemed to have memories attached to them. This didn’t feel like a hotel. This felt like home, complete with all the trinkets one would have collected after years of being a great adventurer.
For travellers looking for the complete package, you will find it here. The Fife Arms is not just a hotel in this community, it’s also a local pub, restaurant and bar. The Flying Stag, with an actual stuffed stag flapping its wings above the bar, offers one of the best beef burgers I’ve had this side of America. Wash it down with a pint table side or head over to Elsa’s cocktail bar for a concoction that will add a little fire to your night, literally.
After a walk in the highlands in the afternoon, return to the hotel for a dinner in Clunie Dining Room, where all plates served are cooked over a wood fire behind you in the kitchen. And don’t even get me started on the breakfast spread. Basically, you can check into The Fife Arms for the weekend and never leave, but I think even the hotel would recommend you don’t do that. The building is situated in one of the most beautiful places on earth. People come from all over the world to hike these hills, even the Royal Family. The Fife Arms is actually neighbouring Balmoral – the Queen’s estate in Scotland. Locals tell tales of seeing members of the Royal Family out and about walking the Highlands on a regular basis. Here they aren’t so much Royals, more like members of the community.
If you’re not comfortable exploring the area for the first time on your own, the hotel has an extensive network of experts on hand that can take you out in branded Land Rovers to tour the surrounding areas and give you a thorough history as you go. Or if you prefer to travel by foot, perhaps an afternoon with a forager is more your speed? Either way, this doesn’t need to be a solo adventure. Your experience at The Fife Arms is yours to dictate.
For me, I could have happily sat by the fire, cup of tea in one hand and a good book in the other, for hours on end, watching as travellers came in from long walks. Their cheeks were rosy from the cold wind and the rough terrain and they spoke of long hot baths and savouring glasses of whiskey after dinner. This is the life, here at The Fife Arms. I wouldn’t call it slow, but I would most certainly call it relaxed and rejuvenating. Above all else, I would say it’s an experience that’s worthy of repeat bookings. I will most definitely be back, with an interior designer to hand to jot down notes and ideas for future decor work!
Fashion Foie Gras was a guest for one night at The Fife Arms in Scotland.
Eating and Drinking:
Adventures around the hotel: