Advertisement

Fairmont St Andrews, Scotland: family-friendly luxury without the snootiness

Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)
Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)

St Andrews and golf go together like neeps and tatties — but on a long weekend at the Fairmont hotel in the city, we discovered a plethora of other gems hiding behind the immaculate apple-green lawns. Friendly Scottish hospitality, medieval history, honest food, stunning Fife coastal walks, a relaxing spa and a bevy of freely-available facilities — and all an easy train ride away from King’s Cross.

Where is it?

On a beautiful bay north of Edinburgh, the Fairmont St Andrews perches on the cliffs on the eastern coast of Fife. The university city’s 400-year-old castle and cathedral are a good walk away, and the 520-acre hotel is bordered by outrageously green golf courses and a craggy, magnificent coastline. It’s a short drive from Leuchars station, which is itself a five-and-a-half hour direct train ride from King’s Cross. (Or an hour and 20 minute flight to Edinburgh, plus the same time again in the car).

We recommend the relaxing train option: the LNER route was lined with excellent scenery and came with working WiFi and decent food, and it feels quite magical to step out of the station to be greeted by St Andrews’ awesome hills and beach scenery.

Fife Coastal Path (Lucy Tobin)
Fife Coastal Path (Lucy Tobin)

Style

You might think St Andrews is all about golf — the sport was invented here in the 15th century — and the Fairmont does have two championship courses, but the hotel’s design is keen to highlight there’s more than just eighteen holes around here.

A vast, glass-sided central atrium showcases the stunning coast out of the window, as does a 19,000 disc-hanging ‘Zephyr’ sculpture by George Singer, recalling the nearby roaring sea’s waves, and the fishing net-daubed carpets.

The atrium at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)
The atrium at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)

There’s plenty of space everywhere, for everyone: alongside the vast grounds, the hotel’s interior is well planned for its golfers, relaxation-seeking couples, and families alike. There’s a spacious modern cinema set in a large conference and events quarter, and a pampering Espa spa is tucked into one corner.

Food & drink

A US-style sports bar opposite the traditional Kittocks Den bar and brasserie with live music and an Italian restaurant across the atrium feels like a buzzy street rather than the usual doldrum hotel lobby. There are four distinctive restaurants: very friendly service at Italian La Cucina, which has a buzzy atmosphere and a nicely varied (but not worryingly dictionary-long) menu, including a mozzarella bar from Fife’s local buffalo farm.

Three quarters of all the food at the Fairmont hails from Scotland, and head gardener Johnny is trying to ensure a fair whack comes from his greenhouses and gardens en route to the restaurant.

Alongside imaginative pizzas and excellent pastas (simple arrabiata and spicy nduja stracciatella went down well) there are rabbit, sea bass, veal and venison mains. The kids’ menu includes favourites like cod and chips, and Bolognese but also Parmesan gnocchi and bruschettas for more adventurous eaters.

Breakfast is a substantial buffet, with a tasty selection of salmon, deli and meats, bacon rolls, fruit, berries and cereals, oats and Bircher muesli, sausages aplenty, an egg and pancake chef. Information about the (local) providence of meats and cheeses is a nice touch, although the baked goods were lacking somewhat.

The low-key looking Kittocks Den served up an excellent dinner: alongside the usual salads and burgers were haggis, game casserole and spot-on foraged mushroom strudel.

St Andrews’ Bay, the golf clubhouse restaurant, has a menu stretching from simple sourdough sandwiches, burgers and soups to fresh lobster and Josper-grilled steak, all served in front of excellent cliff-top views.

Children aged five and under eat free at all the hotel’s eateries, which is a nice touch - although under-advertised, you have to ask.

Facilities

A large chunk of the Fairmont St Andrews’ guests will start, and finish, with the two pristine golf courses. One, the Torrance, was a qualifying venue for the 150th Open and host to DP World Tour last year. But if you don’t know a driver from a putter (like me) this hotel is a quietly brilliant stay too.

The spa at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)
The spa at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)

There’s a  cinema showing three (free) films per day during our holiday visit; a warm, sixteen-metre pool with plenty of loungers alongside a well-equipped gym, there’s pilates and outdoor sports classes, the spa has ten treatment rooms plus cosy relaxation rooms and a detailed menu of relaxation options — go for the excellent signature 80-minute back, face & scalp treatment (£135 for 80 minutes).

At the sports simulator in Zephyr bar you can whack golf balls, kick football and rugby balls, hurl lacrosse balls or play zombie dodgeball against a huge screen whilst your score is carefully totted up for competitive types — like tenpin bowling with less waiting and more fun.

There are greenhouse talks and guided coastal walks, a well-equipped kids’ room has a small soft play, giant jenga, Guitar Hero and other arcade games that are all free to play, as well as Xboxes and air hockey. Outside is an astroturf football pitch, croquet, boules and other grass games and giant chess. The hotel has a really friendly feel, with groups of kids constantly joining in kick-abouts and making friends.

Extracurricular

The hotel puts together a packed itinerary of carefully planned activities, especially for families in the school holidays, and they are mostly all free too. We loved the hotel-wide scavenger hunt (which involves asking the staff for some of the answers and highlights exactly how friendly and lovely these Scots are) and the little cinema showing flicks ranging from kids’ faves like How to Train a Dragon and Little Mermaid to adults’ classic films (Juno, Gladiator) in the evenings.

Pizza-making lessons are excellently-run and free, including the pizzas to gobble at the end. During candle-making with head gardener Johnny our kids learnt how the on-site beehives worked and took home golf-ball shaped (of course) candles. BMW pushbikes are free to borrow from the front desk (only available for around age 8 to adult, though).

Fairmont St Andrews by air (Supplied)
Fairmont St Andrews by air (Supplied)

There’s so much to do you might not leave the hotel — but that would mean missing out on the drop-dead gorgeous surroundings. The 115-mile Fife coastal path crosses a few metres from the Fairmont’s clubhouse; we dumped the buggy there and lured our kids on the one hour, 15 minute (plus many snack and exploring stops) walk into St Andrews, crisscrossing stunning rocky and then sandy beaches.

Once in town, visit the cathedral and castle ruins, amble the cobbled streets and indy shops (albeit the big chains have made their mark here too) and do not miss Janetta’s almost 120-year-old ice cream parlour. Don’t let the queue (long even during freezing downpours as locals and students flock) put you off and do go native with the tablet-flavoured gelato.

A complimentary shuttle bus will take you to or from the three miles to St Andrews’ town centre too.

The attentive Scottish hospitality shined through each day of our stay in St Andrews: the hotel’s breakfast waiter who prepared a special (marshmallow-based) breakfast for my children’s teddy bears one morning; delicious homemade Easter Eggs at turndown, extra snacks for the kids when dessert took a little extra time to emerge one evening. At breakfast, some cheeky golfers packing up bacon butties for their lunch on the table next to us were offered tin foil to keep them in. Fairmont St Andrews is luxurious, without the snootiness.

Which room?

Rooms are modern, with brown checked carpets, tartan touches, soft white beds, and luxurious marble bathrooms with Rose 31 toiletries. Antiques mingle with beachy driftwood sculptures, and collages of local heroes hang from the walls.

Tartan decor at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)
Tartan decor at Fairmont St Andrews (Supplied)

Go for a sea-view room if you can — the waves aren’t quite near enough to lull you to sleep but drawing back the curtains in the morning gives a postcard-worthy sight.

Details

Rates start from £350 per night for a double room on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information, please visit fairmont.com/st-andrews-scotland. Travel by rail with LNER, London to Leuchars from £28.90 one-way. fairmont.com