One of the lovely things about being a blogger is being asked to pack a bag for the weekend and head off for a grown up break; somewhere without the kids, somewhere to relax and enjoy and take in somewhere new. Well that’s what I did recently when I headed north of the border and up to Bonnie Scotland to sample the delights of the famous Fairmont St Andrew’s hotel.
Now I must stress I don’t play golf, know little about golf, my dad plays it and I watch the important stuff like The Masters and The Ryder Cup but that’s about it. However, I do know that the Fairmont St Andrew’s hotel and golf course is somewhat of a legend in the golfing stakes and is one of THE courses to play if you go to Scotland. The hotel has a prestigious history and the website is clearly proud of this describing the hotel as ‘ a truly unique and special venue that makes your visit one to remember, with its lavish and stunning surroundings, peaceful setting and stunning cliff top views of St Andrews and the North Sea.’
Arriving late in the afternoon I had travelled over some beautiful Scottish highlands and watched the sun disappear behind the craggy mountains and as I wound the car up the long driveway with smooth sloping greens enveloping either side of me it was clear that the hotel and the golf course had combined two things rather well; a luxury hotel with fantastic facilities.
Set in 520 acres the hotel boasts two golf courses, numerous eateries, 209 sumptuous rooms and a wonderful spa (for those golfing widows!) and I was greeted on arrival with a very courteous valet (dressed in theme with his kilt) who delighted in parking my car for me even if it did look somewhat out of place amongst the Range Rover’s and Bentleys.
The foyer is large and there is tartan, a lot of tartan adorning the floor and the furnishings. It has the air of a big hunting lodge and the size of the hotel does make it seem a little impersonal and more of an American conference hall than a luxury hotel.
Reserving judgment I headed to my room which was spacious, clean and traditionally furnished if a little old fashioned. Cute touches were cookies and a glass of milk and the bathroom was spotless. The bathrobes though were threadbare in places and had dirty cords on them.
Unfortunately the remote control for the TV didn’t work from the bed and I found it unbelievable that there was no hair dryer in a luxury hotel of this standard. That said the room had gorgeous views across the golf course and out to sea and the complimentary Nespresso machine and biscuit selection were demolished with glee. I did request a working remote control and a hairdryer but neither appeared during my two night say.
Dining choices are vast at the hotel and I opted for dinner in the Italian restaurant La Cucina. On the website this is described as a vibrant restaurant with the atmosphere of an Italian trattoria. I love Italian food and was eagerly looking forward to a good meal with good company, it seems though that we caught the restaurant on a bad evening. Approaching the restaurant the whole of the atrium downstairs and the walkway to the restaurant was cloaked in darkness and didn’t offer a warm welcoming air, on entering the restaurant the staff were clearly busy but many looked unkempt in badly fitting uniforms and untidy hair.
We were shown to a table where the chairs resembled the 1980s metal chairs you find in many cheap holiday resorts and a wobbly table. You’d have thought the restaurant would have been briefed on our allowance for the evening for food and drink but a debate ensued as to what we were / were not allowed and a senior member of staff had to be called to confirm arrangements.
Dinner was ordered but starters took 40 minutes to arrive and the restaurant was so busy that staff from the kitchens were called to serve at tables complete with their heat resistant gloves. The food was lovely and presented beautifully, but it was a shame it took so long to arrive. Drinks orders had to be chased and the bar was full of empty dirty glasses that needed washing. Not really the right impression to make on guests.
Additional drinks after dinner were expensive but the bar staff were some of the most attentive and knowledgeable that I came across during my stay. Being well versed in the various whiskies on offer and the best one to try for a whisky novice the after dinner drinks were probably the best part of the evening and it was clear the bar was a popular place for people to congregate as they were much friendlier and personal spaces than the huge foyer and eating areas.
Breakfast the next morning was a similarly disorgnaised affair with staff still setting up 15 minutes past opening of the restaurant, dishes missing, food missing and a general array of chaos. Unfortunately it is the air of chaos and disarray that then detracts from the beautiful surroundings and all too quickly you want to get out of the public spaces and attempt to retreat to somewhere private and out of the hotel.
My guest for the weekend had booked a round of golf for the next morning and despite being told to call the clubhouse at 9am no one was able to assist him, telling him to report to the golf shop in reception (which he did). On doing so he was told to return to the room and wait for a call which arrived an hour later. He ended up playing the Sam Torrence course on his own with no company and as a novice golfer gave up after 2 hours as he’d lost the majority of his balls and playing a course of that quality on your own is no fun.
I can’t say that I would rush back to the Fairmont St Andrews. Maybe my expectations were too high, but really in a hotel that prides itself on its history as the main selling point it appeared to me that this had been lost in the mist of the American takeover and the hotel was nothing more than a golfing resort.
For me the absolutely terrible customer service. and the failure to keep to agreed simple requests coupled with staff who looked like they were dressed in clothes too big and too old didn’t give off the right impression.
If you’re a regular traveller and have paid the best part of £500 for a weekend break what’s so unreasonable about asking for an iron that works? Or coffee with warm milk at breakfast? Or even a simple copy of a receipt?
Invest back in the training of your staff rather and refresh the rather tired and twee decor and the hotel would be somewhere you’d want to head to for a golfing weekend with gorgeous views across the ocean and the headland, at the moment though I’d rather spend £500 on a city break.
From a golfing perspective the course according to my guest was ‘breathtaking and a joy to play’ and if golf is your thing then you would be mad not to want to come at play at this iconic venue. Just for me as a luxury hotel it didn’t work as I spent more time asking and chasing for things than I would usually have liked and that isn’t the point of a ‘break’.