Inside The Fife Arms, our favourite Braemar bolthole

Look around the luxury Scottish hotel, found just a stone’s throw from the royal residence of Balmoral…

It’s a short, all-too-easy overstep from cultural celebration to cultural stereotype. It’s a delicate balance, a slight difference — a line finer than the windowpane checks on a square of Farquharson tartan. But in Braemar, The Fife Arms Hotel has got it cracked.

Because, whilst you’ll find tartan draping down over the windows, and some serious stag heads mounted on the walls, this five-star Highland hotel doesn’t feel like it’s playing up to clichés. Rather, it all thrums with authenticity; from the ‘Black Pudding Bon Bons’ in on-site pub The Flying Stag, to the 365 disparate and delicious whiskies in Bertie’s Whisky Bar.

And it’s here — in the beautiful, well-stocked Bertie’s Bar — where we’ll begin. When Gentleman’s Journal headed north of the border to check into The Fife Arms last autumn, we had our thirsty eyes on the new whisky bar. It opened in May 2021, and really is a treat for your tastebuds — and senses beyond. Softly-lit and with a blend of gentle music piped into the place, it’s the ideal atmosphere for a masterclass in the Scottish spirit.

Because the team at Bertie’s really know their stuff. The bottles are unusually arranged by flavour profile — Fragrant, Fruity, Rich and Smoky —  and there are six whisky tastings laid on every week, guided by the hotel’s masterful ‘Whisky Ambassador’, Katy Fennema. Particularly worthy of your time is a spirit created especially for the hotel, blended in partnership with whisky writer, Dave Broom and Alex Bruce, Managing Director of Scotland’s most acclaimed independent bottler and distiller, Adelphi. Buy a bottle at the on-site gift shop for £95.

But Bertie’s isn’t the only bar or restaurant at The Fife Arms. You’ll also find The Flying Stag, The Clunie Dining Room and Elsa’s Bar tucked into corners and crannies around the place…

And perhaps the most lip-smacking of these offerings is The Clunie Dining Room. Bringing fine-dining to the Highlands, it’s an exquisite fusion of modern meal-making and traditional Scottish grub. Particular highlights from the menu include the ‘Roasted Sound of Mull Scallops’, the ‘Douglas Fir Cured Salmon’ and the hearty ‘Highland Beef Fillet Wellington For Two’.

But there’s charm in the less-formal dining options, too. The Flying Stag — a sort of pub-slash-café — is a lovely option for a post-hike lunch. If you have a chance, try those ‘Black Pudding Bon Bons’ we mentioned earlier. But don’t fail to leave without ordering the ‘Chocolate & Almond Tart’. With sweet trimmings of honeycomb and candied orange, we squeezed in three servings during a two-night stay.

Elsa’s Bar, bright pink and perched on the corner of The Clunie Dining Room, is a quintessential nightcap spot. Inspired by fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s signature style, the bijou bar mixes a mean ‘The Douglas’ cocktail; infusing Green Chartreuse and gin with house-made ‘Douglas Fir Bitters’. It’s stiff stuff — and will have you thankful that your bedroom is just a flight of stairs away.

In total, there are 46 individual guest rooms and suites to be found in The Fife Arms — each distinctly decorated to tell a separate story of Braemar. The ‘Royal Suites’ are inspired by some of the more noble visitors to the village, the ‘Victoriana Suites’ reflect the hotel’s history as a 19th century coaching inn and ‘The Artist’s Studio’ is a one-off option that offers stunning views over the surrounding landscape as is decorated in homage to The Bloomsbury Group.

Even the more modest rooms are inspired by leading figures in Scottish culture, from icons involved with literature and astronomy to engineering and exploration. Each is idiosyncratic, and features artwork and objects made from natural materials such as heather, horn and tweed. There’s even a selection of smaller ‘Croft Rooms’, each with a cabin bed and room enough for one or two guests.

But, threading this whole Caledonian tapestry together, is the overarching, all-important atmosphere of homeliness — the idea that, the moment you walk through the door, it’ll feel like you can kick back and relax completely.

It’s an atmosphere that the kilted staff work as hard to stoke as they do the hotel’s roaring fires. Kindly, considerate and with accents just the right side of authentic for visiting Americans to understand (and there are a lot of visiting Americans), everyone from the barmen to the bellhops are constantly on top, hospitable form.

Which brings us back to the thorny, thistly idea of cultural authenticity. Because, to look at these pictures, or hear the stories of The Fife Arms, you may worry that the whole hotel won’t feel natural; that it may teeter on the edge of stereotype. But once you check-in and experience it for yourself, you’ll realise that it’s less hackneyed — more honest. 

Outside the front doors, for example, knobbly gloss-red columns prop up the hotel’s striking stone visage.

Look closer, however, and you’ll notice that these aren’t some quirky, fabricated feature. Rather, they are genuine local tree trunks — stripped, dipped and built organically into the very structure of the hotel. And that’s as natural as it gets. 

Inside The Fife Arms, our favourite Braemar bolthole

The Fife Arms

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