In a tranquil corner of Fife, a charming country house hotel is snapping up top awards.
Sonja Cox finds out what keeps people coming back for the Rufflets experience
I felt like I’d stepped back in time as head housekeeper Heather took us up to our room, showing us around and telling us about Rufus the teddy bear, who should be placed outside your door when you don’t want to be disturbed. A nice touch, I thought.
Heather handed us our old-fashioned key to the door – nicer than those electronic cards most hotels have, which invariably don’t work, and you have to be superhuman to open the door fast enough when it flashes green. Anyone with young children will know my frustration as they like to ‘help’ open the door, and you have to run back to reception to get your card reset.
Little touches can make a big difference. Like the cute tin of homemade shortbread on our tea and coffee tray. A note telling us to ring for fresh milk. Beautiful antique furniture dotted about. And who can resist an array of complimentary Molton Brown bottles in the bathroom?
Not Jack Nicklaus, for one. The famous golfer stayed at Rufflets for many years while playing The British Open at St Andrews. He described it as his ‘favourite hotel in the world’, but spent his first night sleeping on a sofa in the bar, as there were no rooms. Nicklaus then stayed there with his family every year he played The Open, winning the claret jug three times, including twice at St Andrews in 1970 and 1978.
Golf is of course the main attraction of the area, but spectacular beaches are nearby, as is the quaint medieval town with its excellent shopping, museums and restaurants. If you’re a prince looking for a princess, the ancient University of St Andrews, founded in 1413, has a great reputation. And if you need an excuse, St Andrew’s Day is just round the corner…
Back to the hotel though, and the reason for our visit – to experience the high standards and level of service that have just won Rufflets a top accolade in the AA hospitality awards, namely .
The Hotel of the Year award is given to hotels that are recognised as being outstanding examples in their particular market. This turreted mansion just outside St Andrews may be small in comparison to many hotels, but what it does do, it does well.
During our weekend break, the staff were friendly and helpful, even printing out train times for our day-trip to Edinburgh (I would highly recommend Christmas lunch at The Dome).
Rufflets is essentially a peaceful retreat ideal for couples looking to get away from it all. The 24 luxurious bedrooms are very comfortable, almost like a home from home, with quality fixtures and fittings. Our room had a separate bedroom accessed via the bathroom, with two single beds, TV and wardrobe, making it ideal for families and friends.
A drawing room with fireplace is a relaxing place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink, while the library is perfect for a light lunch. Afternoon tea is a must, and Rufflets’ is said to be one of the very best in St Andrews. Freshly baked scones and delicious cakes with a selection of decadent finger sandwiches can be enjoyed indoors – and if the weather permits, al fresco on the terrace.
Ten acres of landscaped gardens include a walk down to a pretty bridge over a stream, and the restaurant boasts ‘zero food miles’ for the herbs, vegetables and soft fruits the gardens supply.
There are three smart self-catering lodges (where dogs are welcome), and the garden suite, voted one of Scotland’s finest hotel wedding venues in 2014, is a self-contained extension providing a stylish setting for weddings and celebrations, without interrupting other hotel guests.
The house was built in 1924 as a home for Mrs Anne Brydon Gilroy, the widow of a Dundee jute baron, and it’s her initials you will see engraved on the stone above the door leading to the gardens.
In 1952, the seven bedroom house was bought by two couples, George and Margaret Cook and Anna and James Meldrum, who ploughed their life savings into making it a hotel. The two women were sisters and the men, lifelong friends. Today the hotel is owned by Mark and Christopher Forrester, grandsons of two of the original founders, while their mother, Ann Murray-Smith, remains a director.
Head chef Grant MacNicol is from the north-east of Scotland. He has game-keeping in his blood, with both his father and brother involved in the industry in Sutherland. This heritage comes through on the menu at The Terrace Restaurant, which offers modern Scottish cuisine made with local ingredients. Starters include smoked grouse breast with mushroom blue cheese ravioli, while main courses feature pheasant breast stuffed with truffle, and loin of Highland venison cooked in cognac juniper butter.
There’s a perfect mix of beef, pork, fish and seafood, with the finest hand-dived king scallops coming from the west coast.
Nothing was too much trouble for the kitchen, as we did our normal pantomime act of messing around with our food order. A simple piece of fish was ordered for our daughter – nothing more, nothing less – and that’s exactly how I’d describe Rufflets.
Winter breaks including 2 nights’ luxury accommodation, 3 course dinner on both evenings (allocation towards a la carte menu) and full Scottish breakfast cost from £82.50 per person per night based on two people sharing a Classic Twin or Double Room.
Visit www.rufflets.co.uk or phone 01334 472594