The Fife Arms

An Armchair Field Trip to Scotland’s Most Beautiful Hotel

By Jared Paul SternApril 30, 2021Photographs by Sim Canetty-Clarke

In 2010 a pair of Swiss art dealers, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (of Hauser & Wirth), first laid eyes on a rambling, crumbling but undeniably elegant stone building near Balmoral castle in the Scottish Highlands, originally opened as the Fife Arms hotel in 1856. By 1905 the hotel enjoyed royal patronage and offered guests “special facilities for golf, tennis and salmon fishing” in addition to luxurious accommodations and plenty of whisky. By the end of the 1900s however it had become decidedly down-at-the-heels. 

The Wirths instantly saw its potential however. Nine years and several million dollars later, they reopened the historic property to high praise for its unique decor and design, layering unique contemporary art from their impressive collection with the classic trappings of an English (or Scottish) gentleman’s sporting estate—think tartan, taxidermy and tweed. The interiors by Russell Sage Studio, feature over 14,000 historic Scottish objects, artwork and artifacts.

Now the Fife Arms, winner of the London Sunday Times’ Hotel of the Year award among other honors, is getting the coffee table treatment courtesy of luxury publisher Phaidon, known for its beautiful books on art, architecture and design. The Fife Arms by Dominic Bradbury is an armchair journey to Scotland’s coolest and most interesting hotel.

Courtesy Phaidon.

“The Fife was ultimately renewed through the labor and love of dozens of local businesses, historians, craftspeople, artists and artisans,” the Wirths write in the book’s opening chapter. “Using local materials and unique Highland building techniques, they helped us create something that could exist only in Braemar.” The hotel is “a world enclosed,” they note. “It is a place to get lost indoors—in the thousands of art objects and natural specimens, the delicious food that changes with the seasons, the sumptuous but playfully designed bed chambers, and the lively fireside and barstool conversations that are as long and beguiling as the walks for which Scots are duly famed.”

But in the end, they write, “the magic of The Fife Arms’s interior draws most of all from the world outside: the flora, fauna and exquisite natural landscape of Scotland are at the heart of everything at the hotel. From the colors in the tartans in our decor, to the ingredients in the lotions specially made for our guest rooms and spa, every detail inside The Fife Arms was designed to express the enchantment of the Scottish landscape.” 

Until you can actually make it to Scotland, a copy of the Fife Arms and a dram of your favorite single malt in a comfortable chair by the fire is certainly the next best thing.