Scotland: Fife Arms, night among art in the Highlands | The traveler


The Scottish highlands they are a land of legend. Homeland of a thousand rebellions, of eternal tug of war between the clans of the place and the monarch on duty. Territory of long skies and wide mountains, in a landscape that more than compensates for the endless curves that those who decide to head to the Highlands endure. There, in a small town of 500 inhabitants called Braemar, the last jewel of Scotland is located: a hotel that hides inside 14,000 works of art, an impressive hybrid between the luxury hideaway that one goes to get lost and the museum that nurtures those who want to soak up the local culture.

El Fife Arms It was a former British royal family hunting lodge dating back to the 19th century and whose summer residence, the balmoral castle, It is only a few kilometers away and attracts tourists by the thousands. Few of those tourists end up passing through Braemar, choosing instead Ballater, another town, bigger and —probably— more used to coming and going with strangers. Braemar is small and cozy, with a great chocolate shop, half a dozen stores that open two days a week in winter, and a ton of silence that accompanies the dreich, as they call the humid and rainy weather here. The arrival in 2018 of the Fife Arms has represented a huge boost for the aspirations of a people who were already well as they were, but who have embraced the good taste of Manuela e Iwan Wirth, two gallery owners who now own one of the best accommodation in the UK.

One picasso presides over one of the rooms; a picture of Lucian Freud does the same in another. Two fireplaces are responsible for giving the place the homely touch that so many seek when they leave their home, and dozens of paintings, sculptures and installations decorate an establishment that claims to be the hotel with the most works of art per square meter in the world. In addition to those mentioned, it houses a piano with treatment vintage from Mark Bradford Y Robert Glasper, an impressive 21st century fireplace carved by hand and dedicated to Robert Burns (the great Scottish poet, considered their own in the Highlands Shakespeare), a collection of photographs of the British Martin Creed and the legendary Man Ray, works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger Y Archibald Thorburn and even drawings of Queen Victoria herself, who had considerable artistic ability.

And since not only classics and immortals can man live, it houses a good number of works to this, commissioned for the hotel, like the precious work that the Argentine painter has done Guillermo Kuitca for the reception, that of the Chinese artist Zhang Enli for one of the rooms (the staff is amazed at how he painted while lying on a scaffold) or the incredible Richard Jackson that presides over the entrance: a tribute to the omnipresent deer, which here sneaks everywhere.

Hiking next to mountains and rivers

Roads, whiskey, castles, bridges, salmon fishing – yes, everything that is caught must return to the water – and the simple pleasure of the walk, Braemar is located in the center of the Cairngorms national park: 1,170 square kilometers of mountains, lakes, valleys and rivers that in autumn are a real spectacle and in winter a place where it is difficult not to find a span of land dyed in white. Home to three ski resorts and some of the highest mountains in Scotland, Cairngorms is a hiker paradise. There are routes of one hour or three days, of non-existent or extreme difficulty; trails leading to castles or along rivers.

Visitors can choose between walking, cycling or riding a motorized vehicle. For those who do not want to get too tired, the Riverside Walk, what part of the hotel Invercauld and follows the course of the River Dee until it joins the Clunie, it is an ideal option. It can be completed in less than an hour and a half. The same as the Morrone, a route that leaves Braemar on Chapel Brae Road, leads from there to the Morrone Birkwood Nature Reserve and returns to the village without leaving the Dee. For those traveling as a family, the bike ride from Balmoral Castle to Ballater is pure beauty and suitable for all audiences: 14 kilometers that can be done in two hours (round trip). Finally, the most adventurous can take advantage of the versatility of the territory and dare with the 1,248 meters of ascent to the Ben Macdui, the second highest mountain in the UK. There are 29 kilometers of walking with points of great difficulty in which it is recommended to bring good equipment and a better map.

Back, and counting that one may need to dip into a tonic, Braemar has a couple of quite cozy cafes (the Farquharson’s Y The Cairn ­Grill, both with the atmosphere of pub would expect an outsider), and the Fife Arms has its own bar: theFlying Stag. In addition, lovers of Scottish liquor par excellence have Bertie’s in the hotel, one of the bars dedicated exclusively to the whisky Most important in the world. Assembled by Dave Broom, considered one of the great experts on the subject, has just opened its doors with almost 400 references, some of them extremely rare. In front is a teacher of the subject and one of the best nose from the Highlands: Katy Fennema.

Getting to Braemar takes two hours from Edinburgh The Glasgow through landscapes that change radically from season to season, with the company of horses, cows, sheep and – if we are lucky – deer. You don’t get there by chance and the train and bus connections are downright devilish. One can rent a car, get used to driving on the left and get carried away by the leisurely pace of the Highlands. The Fife Arms, already on the list of the most attractive places in the United Kingdom, bases much of its charm on its location, far removed from the main commercial routes. Almost like a secret that costs a lot to keep, but that has already been shouted from the rooftops.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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