Traveller Lowdown - FAIRMONT ST ANDREWS

Exploring its cobbled streets and pends from the luxe surrounds of The Kingdom Of Fife Suite, Nicholas Chrisostomou discovers that there is much to do in of one of Scotland’s oldest towns aside from playing golf

Home to one of the oldest championships in the world, St Andrews in Fife is as synonymous with golf as haggis is with bonnie Scotland and Glasgow is with Charles Rennie Mackintosh. But who knew that as well as sporting some of the finest golfing facilities on the planet, St Andrews also boasts a beautifully unspoilt Scottish town, complete with the ruins of a medieval cathedral and castle and a picture-postcard-perfect harbour? I, for one, did not. But now I do, I’m somewhat enamoured with the place.

A four-hour train ride or short flight from London will get you to Edinburgh, northeast of which the seaside town of St Andrews is just a 60-minute drive, on Scotland’s magnificent east coast. It’s easily doable for a long weekend and, as I discovered, there’s oodles to keep even a non-golfer happy. Not least, the wonderful countryside surrounding St Andrews is quite simply stunning, sufficiently so to silence me from chatting to my affable driver Gordon, as I am being whisked in the back of an S-Class to my lodgings at Fairmont St Andrews resort.

Surrounded by more than 500 acres of prime seaside and golfing real estate and embraced by two championship golf courses, The Kittocks and The Torrance, the somewhat unpretentious facade of Fairmont St Andrews belies a dramatic and spacious interior within, deftly fashioned to reflect its unique, elevated location surrounded by lush green fairways and the North Sea beyond.

Restrained luxury best describes the design aesthetic throughout the hotel, from the huge open fireplace in the reception area, complete with tartan accents, to the cavernous 50-metre cathedral-like atrium, lit by massive triple-height windows at either end. A sophisticated colour palette of deep-sea blues and sandy browns echoes the hotel’s location and surrounding topography and lends a sense of calm to the space. Crowning the room is a considerable, glittering, chandelier-like sculpture ‘Zephyr’, by artist George Singer, which undulates above guests, its multiple layers of lighting casting soft kinetics and shadows below. This extravagant yet restrained overall feeling of space and light extends throughout the hotel to its 211 guest rooms and suites, multiple drinking and dining options, and extensive spa with 10 treatment rooms.

While many of the guest rooms at Fairmont St Andrews benefit from spectacular vistas across the great sweep of St Andrew’s Bay, the best hotel suite in the county is almost certainly also the property’s crowning hospitality glory: The Kingdom Of Fife Suite. The panoramic, sweeping views from the suite’s private balcony quite literally take one’s breath away, and are reason enough to part with GBP 750 to spend the night in such luxury.

After unpacking, I head into town to tread St Andrews’ cobbled streets and adventure through its concealed pends. It’s not long before I discover a treasure trove of hidden architectural gems and I am at once entranced. Age-old streets and passageways passing through buildings, yield everything from courtyards and quaint shops to traditional Scottish vernacular architecture and historic ruins shrouded in secrets. One could spend days exploring St Andrews’ streets, pausing to admire its buildings and learning about its architectural landmarks.

Commanding its own Wikipedia page, sightseeing fuel doesn’t come much tastier than one of Fisher & Donaldson’s famous fudge doughnuts, filled with creamy custard and topped with fudge icing. Such is their cult following, that the secret recipe has been passed down through four generations, is split into two parts and hidden across five locations. (fisheranddonaldson.com)

Roaming around the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, which dominated Scottish religion until 1560, one can only imagine how spectacular it was in its heyday. Once the largest cathedral in all of Scotland and headquarters of the medieval Scottish church, in centuries past it attracted pilgrims from far and wide. Even in its ruinous state today, St Andrews’ imposing cathedral exudes a sense of stateliness and charm. Predating the cathedral but located within its grounds, for a fiver you can climb to the top of 12th century St Rule’s tower and take in spectacular views across St Andrews and Fife.

Named Scottish Pub of the Year in 2018 and established since 1874, the small family run Criterion in the heart of St Andrews is the perfect place to pit stop for lunch or a cocktail. Sit outside and people watch on South Street while tucking into a steak and ale “CRI PIE’ topped with the puffiest pastry, or choose from more than 70 Scottish gins to sip the perfect G&T. (criterionstandrews.co.uk)

Founded in 1413 by a papal blessing and where Prince William famously met Catherine Middleton, St Andrews is very much defined by its prestigious and aesthetically attractive university which is steeped in history. As diverse as its 8,000 students which hail from more than 100 countries, the university also plays hosts to a harmonious mix of architectural styles, which spans everything from Gothic revival to brutalist, so a stroll around its campus is a must. But avoid visiting St Andrews completely during the graduation ceremonies in June and November, plus the weeks either side, since you’ll struggle to find a place to rest your head at a reasonable price!

Every Sunday during term time, look out for hundreds of undergraduate students walking St Andrews Harbour pier, wearing the university’s traditional red gown in different ways, depending on which year they are in. And every year on April 30th, in a tradition known as ‘The Gaudie’, students led by a piper process by candlelight to the East Sands, where they lay a wreath at the site of the shipwreck of the Janet of Macduff.

Part of a stretch of natural undefended coastline and famous for the opening scenes of the internationally acclaimed film Chariots of Fire, West Sands is the most famous of St Andrews’ three beaches and extends for almost two completely uninterrupted miles, bordered by a large expanse of sand dunes and the world-renowned Old Course. When the tide’s out, there is no better place to stretch your legs in St Andrews and let the North Sea breezes clear your head, and once the sand is at your feet, the sense of getting away from it all is absolute.

At one time the very life-blood of St Andrews, when the town’s early inhabitants would go about simple lives of fishing and farming, its picturesque harbour is inextricably linked with the life of the coastal town it serves and small fishing boats still bring in fresh shellfish daily. Bordered by a row of colourful buildings and stacks of lobster pots on the quayside, the harbour is the perfect place to pause after a busy day of sightseeing and enjoy the fresh sea air.

On your way out of town, heading back to Fairmont St Andrews, be sure to stop at Balgove Larder. A butchery, café, farm shop and steak barn all rolled into one, Balgove is a treasure trove of delicious foodie goodies which showcases the best local produce under one roof like nowhere else in Scotland. (balgove.com)

Stroll along miles of unspoilt sandy coastline where an Oscar-winning movie was filmed. Follow old paths, explore ancient streets and marvel at magnificent ruins. Wander along winding trails and explore botanical gardens. Feast on delicious fare and sample locally-made gins. Gorge on doughnuts or catch a show at the theatre. Or play a round of golf on a world-famous championship course. Everything is possible in one of Scotland’s oldest towns. An effortless, unspoiled combination of ancient and modern, traditionally local and international, St Andrews is truly a town like no other. (visitscotland.com)

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<strong>THE KINGDOM OF FIFE SUITE</strong>
<span class=”s1″>FAIRMONT ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND</span>

Ancestral home of numerous Scottish monarchs, world famous for its golf links and boasting some of Scotland’s best scenery, Fife is a proud and historic region with its own distinct identity and terrain that varies from gentle hills in the rural hinterlands to windswept cliffs, rocky bays and sandy beaches. The seaside town of St Andrews on Scotland’s east coast, together with the surrounding hills and hamlets, have always evoked a dramatic yet comforting and traditional feel. It is this same sense of ancient, inviting and inspiring natural geography which is reflected in Fairmont St Andrews’ recently refreshed Kingdom of Fife Suite.

Situated in the north wing of the property and the largest accommodation in the building, this veritable presidential suite’s generous square meterage offers magnificent views of the resort’s two golf courses, rugged coastline and the town of St Andrews in the distance.

Comprising a huge bedroom with decadent marble-lined bathroom en-suite; over-sized dressing room with separate butler entrance; spacious dual-aspect open-plan living and dining room, and guest cloakroom, the Kingdom of Fife Suite is crowned by a private terrace offering panoramic, sweeping vistas towards the North Sea and beyond, accessed from both the lounge and bedroom. The suite has also been configured in such a way as to optionally add a second connected bedroom en-suite, which opens into the main living space as well as having a separate entrance from the corridor outside.

The interior design aesthetic of the Kingdom of Fife Suite is heavily influenced by the history and topography of St Andrews and features a traditional yet sophisticated mix of textures and materials that link its rooms to the striking landscape beyond their walls.

The location of St Andrews and the fishing villages that surround the town are specifically referenced via a rope design in the carpets and knotted tie-backs complimenting full-length pure wool curtains. To further anchor the suite in its location, a number of Scottish suppliers provided its main décor elements, including wallpapers by avant-garde Glaswegian fabric and textile designers Timorous Beasties.

Meanwhile, the suite’s furniture is upholstered in fabrics produced by a number of celebrated Scottish companies, including Andrew Muirhead and Bute Fabrics. Overall, the effect is one of warmth and comfort, imbuing the suite with an intensely cosy and inviting atmosphere to contrast the sometimes-dramatic weather of St Andrew’s Bay.

To complement this inviting ambiance of understated luxury, new artworks were commissioned for the suite in tandem with Peter Millard and Partners. These include a mixed media collage-like piece hanging above the fireplace, which combines local historical elements and maps to make an eye-catching centrepiece and cultural focal point in the suite’s lounge.

In its new incarnation and boasting such a breathtaking location and splendid outlook, the Kingdom of Fife Suite is almost certainly the county’s most outstanding accommodation and the perfect place from which to explore the stunning surrounding countryside and gorgeous town of St Andrews.