Cateys 2021: Hotel of the Year – Independent: The Fife Arms
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In the heart of the sleepy village of Braemar in the Scottish Highlands, the 46-bedroom Fife Arms hotel has established itself as a first-class hotel with a global reputation, while successfully embedding itself in the local community.
Today the property is a world away from the under-invested stop-off point for coach parties that art gallery owners Iwan and Manuela Wirth purchased in 2014. The granite building is now a glamorous place to stay, oozing style.
Its collection of 16,000 contemporary art works, which include paintings by Picasso and Lucian Freud, along with a strong Scottish heritage make for a unique hotel. Equally important as the superb transformation of the property, unveiled in 2018, is the focus placed on ensuring an exceptionally warm and generous service to guests. Here, people – staff, guests and the community – come first.
Throughout the pandemic, the Fife Arms team remained fully engaged with local residents, supporting the village wherever possible. At Christmas 2020, the kitchen brigade cooked turkey dinners for the vulnerable in Braemar.
When the village experienced -23°C temperatures earlier this year, the hotel team helped clear snow from driveways. A committee was also set up to help staff engage with locals through the likes of walking groups, cocktail masterclasses and litter picking.
The hotel ensures there is always something new for guests to enjoy. The Fondue Hut, with its indulgent Alpine feasting menu, opened in December 2020, while Bertie's Bar, with a choice of 365 whiskies, was launched for the reopening of the hotel in May 2021.
Bespoke guest experiences organised by the hotel's ghillie team include picnic in the woods with a private chef or a guided walk across the Highlands, finishing with a candlelit dinner overlooking a grouse moor. Bespoke heirloom gifts can be created for guests by working with local artisans to create a family tartan or a personalised whisky cask.
Bold and vibrant, the Fife Arms is one of the most exciting new hotel openings in recent years and a standout winner of this award.
What the judges said
"The Fife Arms is not just a destination venue for rich visitors, but the heart of a community – a real demonstration of true hotelkeeping." - Peter Banks
"The vision and commitment to create a truly outstanding hotel that reflects its Scottish heritage alongside inspired use of artwork and local craftmanship makes for a fabulous experience." - Laurence Beere
"A truly unique and exciting village hotel in deepest Scotland, not only with great art and style but with old-school values and a deep-rooted sense of community." - Robin Hutson
"To turn a rundown coaching inn into a beacon of style and glamour would have been courageous in somewhere like the Cotswolds; doing it in the Highlands is simply hats-off heroic!" - Andrew McKenzie
"A truly inspirational hotel which has brought new life and sense of community to a Scottish hamlet." -David Morgan-Hewitt
- The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences, London
- The Fife Arms, Aberdeenshire
- Glenapp Castle, Ayrshire
- Swinton Park hotel, North Yorkshire
- Peter Banks, general manager, Rudding Park, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
- Laurence Beere, co-owner, the Queensberry Hotel & Olive Tree Restaurant
- Melvin Gold, managing director, Melvin Gold Consulting
- Robin Hutson, chairman and chief executive, Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels
- Andrew McKenzie, managing director, the Vineyard
- David Morgan-Hewitt, managing director, the Goring
- Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels
- Claire Randall, general manager, Bovey Castle