Originally appeared in The Irish Times:
I realised the Fairmont was upmarket long before we arrived. What gave it away was not the price of a room, the fancy website or the hotel’s five stars but the automated e-mail booking confirmation: alongside rail and car hire, its getting-there options included helicopter charters from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports – although as these cost £1,400 (€1,575) and £1,680 (€1,890), respectively, my first helicopter ride would have to wait a bit longer.
Working off a more modest budget, we took the bus from Edinburgh instead – open return £9.50 (€10.75). It was no loss: the two-hour journey over the spectacular Forth Bridge and through Fife’s undulating countryside was very pleasant.
Having phoned ahead, we were met at the bus station by the Fairmont Transportation and Concierge Team, a free shuttle bus that runs hourly between the hotel and town.
The imposing, if not exactly attractive, Fairmont is 10km away. Built in 2000 on a sizable estate, this monumental hotel, part of a luxury chain, overlooks both picturesque St Andrews and the North Sea.
While the exterior’s three storeys reference everything from Charles Rennie Mackintosh to classic French chateaus without a clear sense of style or intention, inside is all about one thing: Scotland. From the kilt-wearing porter, the affable Davie, to the life-size portrait of King James I, dressed in tartan, hanging over the fireplace in the foyer – don’t see too many of them for your tourist euro – the Fairmont leaves you in no doubt which side of the border you are on.
“You’ll love your stay here,” Davie remarked as he led us through the revolving doors and towards the first-floor check-in desk.
Large hotels often feel daunting and impersonal, but not the Fairmont. The reception looks on to an open-plan ground floor, with brass banisters leading down to the main dining area and an airy lobby.
Check-in was courteous and efficient. Soon we were admiring the impressionistic coastal scenes on the taupe walls of our spacious soundproofed room. If ever there was a hotel room to live in, this was it: calming dark-wood furnishings, writing desk complete with headed notepaper and cream chaise longue, all complemented by standard features such as flat-screen television and wireless internet. Wooden hangars hung in the wardrobe, and the commodious bathroom was equipped with bath, walk-in shower, matching dressing-gown-and- slipper sets and, I was assured, more than acceptable toiletries. The room also had three telephones.
With a Mediterranean- influenced restaurant, Esperante, and two bars serving food, there was no shortage of meal-time options within the hotel. We were keen to explore St Andrews, however, so the concierge, who, like all the staff, was both helpful and good-humoured, booked us a table at a reasonably priced restaurant in the centre of town.
St Andrews has a quaint, chocolate-box feel: cobbled streets, ivy-covered houses, ecclesiastical ruins and, of course, its august university, which was founded in 1410. Although many of the original buildings have been replaced, we were able to stroll through the quads of two colleges: St Salvator’s and St Mary’s.
It was graduation time, and every bar in town seemed full to bursting with mortar boards and floor-length academic gowns. Admitting defeat in our quest for a quiet pint, we caught the final shuttle and were lying on our comfortable bed before 11pm. Any twinge of disappointment at our Friday evening’s curtailment quickly evaporated in a relaxing fug of Jonathan Ross and a pair of room-service gin and tonics.
At weekends breakfast does not finish until 11am – perfect for a lie-in. Breakfast was above average: a continental buffet well stocked with fruits, cereals, pastries, cold cuts and, although not cooked to order, good sausages, bacon and eggs.
Rather than investigate the hotel’s spa we took a gorgeous stroll in the unseasonably warm spring sunshine. Our walk took us along rugged sea cliffs and past the two 18-hole championship links courses, the Torrance (designed by the Scottish golfer Sam) and the Kittocks. Guests can play both courses at reduced rates (£45-£75/€52-€85, depending on the time of year); non-golfers can book a session with the club’s resident pro.
Very competitively priced, particularly for tourists paying in euro, the Fairmont proves that you don’t have to break the bank, or even be a golfer, to enjoy a relaxing break in the home of golf. Sitting on the bus back to Edinburgh, I wished every luxury hotel could be so friendly, unstuffy and accommodating – and couldn’t help wondering what a spin in a helicopter might be like.
Where St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, 00-44-1334-837000, www.fairmont.com/standrews.
What Five-star hotel overlooking St Andrews and the North Sea with two 18-hole championship golf courses.
Rooms 209 over three storeys, plus two four-bedroom properties.
Best rates B&B from £99 (€112). Sunday spa package, including B&B, from £159 (€179) per room. Book early to save up to 30 per cent. We paid £119 (€135) for a night.
Restaurant and bars Restaurant, cocktail bar and traditional Scottish bar.
Amenities Spa and pool, free shuttle, walks, golf, valet parking and conference rooms.