Two of the world’s most influential art dealers hope their “unique” multi-million pound revamp of a 19th-century Deeside hotel can be one of the top resorts of its kind in Scotland.
The Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar could include a 40-seater cinema and be adorned with paintings, sculptures and murals from high-profile contemporary artists.
The property’s new owners, Swiss art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, are committed to stripping back the building to its Victorian-era roots and blending it with modern designs and art work.
However, while promising a “five-star experience” for visitors, the developers have vowed the hotel will remain at the heart of the community and offer facilities for locals.
Community leaders last night welcomed the news about the plans.
The new-look Fife Arms is scheduled to open in 2018, after the original building closed at the turn of 2015 to allow for refurbishment.
Mr and Mrs Wirth run Hauser and Wirth and are considered among the globe’s most powerful art dealers. They are progressing the plans through their firm, Highland Hospitality Ltd.
The couple own galleries and other properties in Zurich, New York, London, Somerset and Los Angeles.
The Fife Arms was established in the 1800s by the Duke of Fife and thrived as a tourist resort after Queen Victoria made the Balmoral Estate her Highland home.
The hotel’s general manager, Frederica Bertolini, confirmed the firm was now in the process of restoring the Fife Arms into a “first-class” hotel in keeping with the building’s long and fascinating history.
She added: “They (the Wirths) fell in love with Braemar. They saw the hotel as kind of neglected, needing some repair and they decided to do it, to invest this money, almost to switch a button.
“You can see how things changed over the decades and the wars. I think Mr and Mrs Wirth understand this place had been something very special and still is something very special.
“What we are wanting is a building that, yes, will have a huge amount of reference to the Victorian times, but around the hotel, elements of tradition will be mixed with contemporary arts.
“Some of the artists who work with Mr Wirth will be commissioned to do works in the hotel.
“We want to do this out of respect for the building and the history of the building. We are also wanting to transport it into the 21st century.
“We don’t want it to be an exclusive experience, we want it to be an inclusive experience. There will be something for everybody.
“There is a great community spirit in Braemar, you see that in the amount of stuff that goes on in Braemar all the time. It is a big thing for the village. This has been done very thoroughly and with a huge amount of thought and effort.
“There is such a diversity of people that come here. You have got sporting people – skiers, walkers, mountain bikers, families, and you have got international tourists. Braemar has got so much to offer.
“The strength of Scotland as a tourist destination is unquestionable. We know there is a lot more we can do to drive people to the north-east.”
The development will involve reducing the number of rooms from 80 to 46. There will be a spa, cocktail bar, restaurant, banquet room and courtyard.
The hotel will also include a traditional pub, also offering food, and possibly even a library.
There are also plans for a 40-seater cinema which could be used to screen films for the local community – as well as for presentations or art installations.
Highland Hospitality also want the food on offer to be sourced from local estates and farms and use fish from the North Sea – and include vegetables and fruit from nearby farms.
The firm is also in talks to design its own Fife Arms tweed and tartan.
The current estimates are that 90 full-time jobs would be created.
Community leaders in Braemar have welcomed the new vision for the Fife Arms.
Colin Bruce – director of neighbouring Braemar Mountain Sports – said the development would complement his store and coffee shop, The Bothy.
He added: “It’s great to see the investment going into The Fife Arms. The hotel had sadly, but perhaps understandably, suffered from a lack of investment for many years due to the costs involved.
“Braemar and the Eastern side of The Cairngorm National Park has so much to offer visitors. The activities of hillwalking and mountain biking are well established and popular.
“An increasing number of visitors are particularly interested in the natural environment and the opportunities to observe wildlife.
“Whilst there is very good accommodation in the village at the moment, the total number of beds is small. When The Fife Arms reopens as a quality hotel, it is probable going to have very positive spin-off benefits for the other businesses in the village.”
Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority and Braemar councillor, Peter Argyle, added: “This is a hugely important and exciting project, not only for Braemar, but for the whole of Deeside and indeed for the Cairngorms National Park.
“I have been consistently impressed by the quality of the project and by the commitment to making the Fife Arms a real flagship for our area.
“It is tremendously exciting to see an iconic building being restored in great style, but more, to see a hotel project that will bring visitors from all over the world, adding very significantly to the brilliant offering that is Deeside.”
Local councillor Geva Blackett said: “The Fife Arms vision raises the bar in Royal Deeside and will add another dimension to visitor experience in the area.
“The hotel is exactly what Braemar needs and will hopefully be the source of sustainable year-round employment, as well as providing opportunities for new businesses.”