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Issue 30 - The first resort (St Andews)

Scotland Magazine Issue 30
December 2006


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The first resort (St Andews)

An ideal family winter break? Kate Patrick thinks she may have discovered it, and right on her doorstep too

If you are reading this from Miami or Santa Monica you might be only marginally interested in our nation’s winter holiday predicament. You have Baja and the Caribbean on your doorsteps, complete with miles of virgin white sand and as much midwinter fun and sunshine as you need. For those of us who live in chilly Scotland, on the other hand, the downtime between Boxing Day and New Year can get a little dreich.

So my family and I found ourselves with time off, and the opportunity to get away.

Europe? Well, cultural winter city breaks with their parents don’t much appeal to children aged 13, 11 and nine. Skiing? Too cold for wimps. Cyprus? Not open yet.

How about EuroDisney? You won’t like the long, cold queues, said a friend who had suffered them with his three children.

Longhaul to Dubai? Like a building site with expensive designer shops, said another jaded sophisticate.

It hit us over a fine dram of the Glenrothes late one evening that the answer was a lot closer to home: St Andrews. Or, more specifically, the Fairmont St Andrews, the shiny American resort (formerly St Andrews Bay), on the cliffs just outside the historic town. Which, of course, begs the question: why would you go to such a charming, idiosyncratic corner of Fife and stay at a hotel that wouldn’t be out of place in, say, South Carolina – with its barn-like proportions, identikit rooms and two beautifully sited but absolutely freezing (at this time of year) golf courses?

Well, because, with the possible exceptions of the Italians or Club Mark Warner, no one can do family entertainment better than American resorts like this (ok, it’s run by Scots, with some Eastern European and assorted oriental staff; but the ethos is there).

Between Christmas and Hogmanay, there was not one corporate-suited, golfing businessman to be seen. The place was full of local(ish) families, all having the time of their lives. One Edinburgh hotelier told me he brought his family here every year – “it’s the best kept secret around,” he said.

For a start, the children’s beds were covered in chocolate Christmas trees and kites – and with the two glorious St Andrews beaches, East and West Sands, just a short drive away, this would be pure fresh-air kite-flying heaven. Then there was an itinerary to humour the most cynical tweenie, which included riding on the beach at Kinshaldy near Leuchars, quadbiking over the tufty farmlands next door; a round on the Torrance (the more demanding of the two hotel courses) for the golfers in the family; a spa treatment for the spa-goer; daily swimming (with child-free times too), a few eat-out suggestions and an invitation to the Christmas cabaret evening, with Scottish Sinatra-wannabe Craig McMurdo and his foxy singers.

Best of all for the parents is that there is not a knobbly bunkbed nor dribbling trickle of shower to be found. All the bathrooms performed as you’d expect an American bathroom to; and the beds were vast and comfortable. Family holidays based in hotels are infinitely more enjoyable if you can retire to a room like this at the end of the day.

Apart from its 209 rooms and suites, the hotel’s key feature is a massive, all-purpose area, with a double-height ceiling and arrangements of sofas, chairs and tables.

When I first visited I didn’t much like the atmosphere in this space; but when the hotel is full of families, and there’s a festive buzz in the air, it’s actually very relaxing.

My children loved the freedom of the breakfast buffet – anything from pancakes and maple syrup to the full Scottish fry-up – and during the day would congregate to play pool or order exotic ice creams or milk shakes in an environment where they weren’t required to be on best behaviour.

And in my experience, when children aren’t required to be on best behaviour, they generally perform better.

Top of my list for grown-up entertainment was the hotel’s Mediterranean restaurant Esperante – an intimate space created above the atrium and decorated with an intriguing glass wall, painted to depict a Tuscan landscape. Here the service was attentive and personal, and the menu used fresh Scottish ingredients in classic Italian and pan-Mediterranean dishes.

Dinner here was a real treat, and the hotel even helped us to savour it by laying on room service and DVDs for the children.

The hotel proved to be a base full of enchantment for everyone, and there were also some successful excursions. Early dinner at The Barns, a cottage-like restaurant about two miles up the road at Kingsbarns, was a hit. The Barns serves up high quality Scottish steak or burgers and chips – not much else to choose from, but they really know their stuff when it comes to steak, and the service is very friendly.

We also dined at the Doll’s House in St Andrews itself, an informal bistro in Church Square with something on the menu for everyone – and it looked so pretty dressed in its Christmas lights. The hotel runs a regular shuttle to the town centre, so there’s no excuse not to take some time to wander through the ancient stones of the castle, cathedral and university, before picking up a legendary fudge doughnut from Fisher & Donaldson, or an ice cream from Janetta’s Ice Cream Parlour (yes, even if it’s snowing).

One crisp, sunny, winter’s morning sticks in the memory too: we walked past the golf club house, and through the gate that leads on to the Fife Coastal Path. This is a trail that starts in North Queensferry, just north of Edinburgh, and winds around the Fife coastline all the way through the East Neuk to St Andrews and beyond. The stretch that passes the hotel dips and rises from pebble beach to cliff, but gives perhaps the finest impression of the natural beauty of this area.

We had such a full and fulfilling time during our four days that the children didn’t even ask if they could try out the Bay Gulls club. Maybe that’s just because they think they’ve outgrown designated kids’ clubs and are ready for the real world – or at least the real world according to the Fairmont St Andrews.

Me, I’m happy to have clocked out of reality for a few days, and lost myself in this fun, vibrant and unpretentious place: a new take on an old world.

The Fairmont St Andrews, tel: +44 (0)1334 837 000
The Barns, tel: +44 (0)1334 460 820
The Doll’s House, tel: +44 (0)1334 477 422