Protected by nature, and blessed with a bountiful micro-climate, this delightful eastern corner of Scotland offers much more than golf.
The ancient tribes and Kings of Scotland knew a thing or two about the value of a formidable stronghold when battling with aggression, whether from fellow Scots, the English over the border or invading Roman armies. Bounded on the north by the Firth of Tay, the east by the raging North Sea and the south by the mighty Firth of Forth, the peninsular of Fife, just over the firth from Edinburgh, has the Ochil Hills as its western defence. Now, much of the acreage is given over to agriculture but, all around the coast, the many harbours and beaches were used to support commerce, whether in fishing or in trading with Northern Europe. Though now fewer in number as commercial centres, and more likely to offer holiday accommodation and yachting marinas, the pretty villages left behind are rewarding attractions in themselves. Among many others, look out particularly for the south-coastal gems of Anstruther, Elie, Crail and the irresistibly-named Pittenweem. Also worth a generous mention is the recent establishment of one of Scotland’s newest distilleries, at Kingsbarns, which will, in 2018, be allowed to market its own-brand whisky, the spirit having matured sufficiently. We are advised that this lowland blend will be typically smooth and satisfying on the palate, without the characteristic ‘bite’ of some highland products. The warlike tendencies of the distant past have left their mark in atmospheric castle ruins like Aberdour, Newark and Ravenscraig but have properly given way to more gentle pursuits and the quiet, unspoilt beauties of the region remain, more than ‘ a good walk spoiled’ awaiting its many visitors.
Mark Twain has been credited with this damning opinion of the game of golf, although historians may dispute this attribution, but the game certainly has its roots here, possibly for more than 600 years, and the modern rules governing the world’s players were formalised in 1897 at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, formed in 1754. Since 2004, an independent body, R&A Rules, has taken over this worldwide function although the USPGA performs the role for USA and Mexico. Regardless of who makes the rules, Fife is the proud home to around 50 courses, both links and inland, and each presents its own challenges. Away from the coast, the sheltered, undulating fairways of Ladybank may hold a special appeal but, for a contest by the seaside, try the fearsome Kingsbarns or the historic Lundin (a Tom Morris course) before making the inevitable pilgrimage to the Old Course, on the edge of the charming, grey-stone city of St Andrews. Bear in mind, it is a public course, so securing a tee-time might be difficult, and (to encourage church attendance) is closed to all play on Sundays. The upside is that you can stand on the Swilken Bridge, in the middle of the 18th fairway, and have your photograph taken, without risk from errant balls.
The ancient university at St Andrews was founded around 1410, but has recently achieved fame as the meeting place of HRH Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. This ‘good-news’ story adds deserved gloss to a beautiful, compact and historic city which is now devoted to sport, education and tourism but which has witnessed centuries of national and religious conflict dating back to Edward 1st in the 14th century and the tragic martyrdoms of Philip Hamilton and George Wishart in the mid-1500’s. You could spend hours strolling the quaint byways, from the well-preserved harbour, past the ruins of the magnificent abbey and the awesome castle and through the ageless university buildings, before emerging behind the final putting green of the most famous 18 holes in golf. Another 400 metres takes you to the famous Jigger Inn, a welcome pint of the finest, Scottish craft ale, a clear view of the ‘Road Hole’ and the opportunity to reflect on a good walk – totally unspoiled!
Just two miles from the delightful city of St Andrews is this impressive 5* leisure resort Fairmont St Andrews, sitting in over 500 acres of coastal beauty and enjoying elevated views of the city, its handsome beaches and the mighty Firth of Tay, with Carnoustie on the far bank. The pristine peace of the indoor swimming-pool and Spa and Fitness Centre will appeal to those not inclined towards outdoors pursuits but, given the location, golf is a given a high priority and the hotel offers, within the vast estate, two 18-hole championship links courses, Kittocks and Torrance, on which to challenge the guests’ skills and patience. A visit, at least, to The Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant is a must, if only for the vistas on offer.
Originally a leading Canadian hotel chain, and now a part of the Accor family, the Fairmont name carries an international guarantee of a memorable luxury experience, with unbeatable levels of attention to guest-satisfaction. To give you an idea of what is considered acceptable, the only other Fairmont-managed hotel in UK is London’s legendary Savoy Hotel, on The Strand. Here, in a setting of outstanding comfort, stylishly designed to reflect the history and landscapes of Fife, the recently refurbished hotel provides hospitality of the highest order. From the moment you draw up in the quasi-palatial, paved courtyard and are warmly greeted, in the smoothest of Scottish accents, you are enveloped in an air of rest and relaxation, contemporary, open-plan spaciousness perfectly blended with sensual comfort. Even the standard guest rooms are of transatlantic proportions, and sumptuously appointed, but the presidential ‘Kingdom of Fife’ suite is something else. Redesigned and reborn, regardless of expense, and with unbroken views from its many windows, this stunning suite will certainly satisfy the most demanding of (fortunate) guests.
Returning visitors (this has been a ‘Fairmont’ since 2006) will be amazed by the transformation of the interior spaces, the design and furnishings achieving the perfect blend of modernity and tradition. The reception area leads seamlessly across to the welcoming cocktail bar, ‘Kittocks Den’, which has a soothing atmosphere in which to relax with friends, and balustrades overlooking the grand staircase down to the 80 feet high, glass-topped atrium. The relaunch has included the introduction of the Savoy Afternoon Tea, inspired by the eponymous sister-hotel, served in a quiet zone of the airy atrium and, rightly, hugely popular. The focal point of this space is a truly fascinating overhead art/light installation, ‘Zephyr’ (by George Stringer), whose colours and movements suggest any number of land- and sea-borne natural phenomena, whether shoals of fish, falling leaves or passing clouds. This feature, together with skilful use of velvet wall-drapes, discreet seating and bespoke screens, combined with artistic lighting and a colour-palette of greens and gold, make for the setting of a surprisingly intimate dining-room, the Squire Restaurant, in which to sample the finest of local produce, in imaginative dishes brilliantly conceived by internationally acclaimed Executive Chef, Steve Wilson, and his ubertalented kitchen team. A stay at Fairmont St Andrews will leave many, indelible memories – all of them good.
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