Frequent visitors to luxury hotels will, I think, concede that for all the polished niceties, the wonderful service, the modern decor and so on, they're not the sort of places you could imagine hanging your hat up in permanently. There are perhaps only a handful of hotels in the world, that upon arrival, feel like you've just stepped into a familiar residence that you could quite easily call your home. Such is the feeling invoked by the recently renovated Fife Arms in the small Highland town of Braemar in Scotland (Braemar, incidently is visited by the Queen each year when she likes to watch burly men tossing the caber among other feats of unbridled manliness). Tucked away among the folds of purple heather-strewn hillsides in the Cairngorms National Park, The Fife Arms is as unique and charming a hotel as you'll ever visit, in part because of the wonderful people who work there, but also because it has in no short time, developed a homely atmosphere that takes other hotels decades to develop, that's if they ever do. Hoteliers will know all too well that creating an atmosphere, a feeling, is a thankless task in the main, because it is precisely so difficult to define. Many a hotel has undergone an expensive facelift only to realise that looks can be deceiving, but The Fife Arms is thriving after a major surgery.
First opened in 1856, after Queen Victoria's excursions to the area opened the floodgates for local tourism, the hotel gradually fell into disrepair, eventually morphing into the sort of cheap overnight convenience frequented by weary truck drivers. That all changed a couple of years ago when the art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth bought the property and enlisted the help of celebrated interior designer Russell Sage to completely reimagine the hotel as Queen Victoria might well have dreamt about, while also incorporating the Wirth's great passion for art (there are around 14,000 pieces of work spread about the hotel).