It’s nearly four years since I started documenting our Scottish travels on this blog. Yet despite us travelling the length and breadth of Scotland in that time, we haven’t spent a single night in Fife. That was until recently, when we were invited to stay at the award winning Balbirnie House Hotel near Glenrothes. Finally, we’d be spending a long overdue night, in the region where I spent happy childhood holidays – yay.
With a favourable forecast for our trip, we planned to fit in a coastal ramble, lunch and a spot of sightseeing before check-in time at Balbirnie House Hotel.
Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve
Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve is located by the mouth of the Tay Estuary at Fife’s most easterly point. The reserve consists of long stretches of sandy beach, mature pine forest and small lochs. There are way-marked walking trails on the reserve, so it’s a good place for a stroll by the sea.
Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve can be accessed from several locations. Our favourite is Kinshaldy, where you can buy coffee and crepes from The Crepe Shack during the summer months.
We arrived at Tentsmuir at 10:30 a.m. (close enough to eleven for elevenses) and ordered coffees. I couldn’t resist filling my face with a banana, coconut and Nutella crepe. It was deeeeeeelicious.
The Ice House Trail (3 3/4 miles)
The Ice House Trail is a circular walk that skirts the coast, taking in woodland and beach. The trails is rich in flora, fauna and history.
We’d bagged three Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) in the Cairngorms National Park the day before our visit, so our achy legs welcomed an incline free walk. The Wee White Dug powered on as usual – he’s got way more stamina than his two-legged parents.
Along the trail we passed pillboxes submerged in sand, concrete blocks strategically placed to prevent amphibious landings and a lookout tower that was crying out to be glamped in. All remnants of Britain’s WWII coastal defences and a common sight around the Scottish coastline.
Another historic building stood close to the lookout tower – a reminder of the salmon fishing industry that once thrived in the region. Like WWII defences, ice houses are commonly found by the coast.
The ice house at Tentsmuir dates to the mid 19th century. When in use, it would have been filled with ice cut from ponds in winter. The ice was used to keep the salmon caught on the Tay Estuary fresh for import.
After completing the Ice House Trail we left Tentsmuir in search of our favourite lunch combo.
Soup and sandwiches eaten, we decided to pay Balmerino Abbey a visit. The abbey is located in the tiny conservation village of Balmerino. The 117-mile long Fife Coastal Path passes through the village, so it’s worth checking out the Balmerino section if you like coastal walks, quaint villages and history.
Balmerino Abbey was established in 1229 when Queen Ermengarde (the abbey’s founder and mother of King Alexander II) invited a group of Cistercian monks from Melrose Abbey to set up a daughter-house at Balmerino. Cut off from the church due to their remote location, the monks became self-sufficient – farming the abbey lands, catching fish and buying grain from the village harbour.
Monastic life continued at Balmerino Abbey until the Reformation in 1559 brought it to an abrupt end. Around 1600 the abbey became a private residence owned by James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino. It remained part of the Balmerino estate until 1746 when the 6th (and final) Lord Balmerino was executed for his involvement in the Jacobite rising.
Today, the abbey sits all but forgotten in a lovely, peaceful corner of Fife. The building is fragile, but still hints at its former glory.
A gnarled and twisted old Spanish chestnut tree stands beside the abbey. It was once believed to have been planted by Queen Ermengarde, but core borings later disproved that theory. The tree is between 431 and 466 years old, which is still pretty impressive.
Queen Ermengarde lies buried in the abbey grounds, at a spot marked by a tall wooden cross.
After leaving Balmerino Abbey we headed to Balbirnie House Hotel to check-in.
Balbirnie House Hotel
Balbirnie House Hotel is a four star country house hotel, that sits within 400 acres of parkland. The family run hotel is housed in an A listed Georgian mansion.
We felt like A listers checking-in. The interior was equally as impressive as the outside.
The hotel has 31 individually styled guest rooms, a bar, bistro, restaurant and a ballroom. It’s popular with couples looking for a romantic escape, golfers (there are two courses on the doorstep), foodies and overseas tourists alike.
Mr G and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in New York recently. Our venue of choice to toast ten wonderful years, was Tiffany & Co’s notoriously hard to book, Blue Box Cafe on 5th Avenue. It was the perfect setting for sipping champagne and feasting on celebratory cakes. To me there’s nothing quite as chic as the colour scheme of the high-end 5th Avenue jeweller.
So, imagine my delight when I threw open our room door at Balbirnie House Hotel to discover we were staying in a stunning, Tiffany & Co inspired suite, complete with a massive custom made four poster bed and a view of the garden.
It’s not often a hotel room leaves me speechless, but this one did. It was like discovering a little corner of 5th Avenue in the heart of Fife.
If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then — then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name! (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
The boys who also love a bit of grandeur (who doesn’t) were equally impressed.
It felt more like a flat than a hotel room. There was loads of space – those Georgians sure knew how to create spacious living quarters. Besides the fabulous bed, we had a three piece suite and a dining table. Everything about the room invited you to sit down and relax.
An ante room led to the bathroom.
And the bathroom – more Tiffany & Co inspired theming and a silver slipper bath. Wow, wow and thrice wow. I LOVED it.
Time to chill with a G&T
After settling in to our room we headed downstairs to relax in one of the hotel’s guest lounges.
Slumped in a big comfy sofa with a Scottish gin (The Botanist) and tonic in hand, all was good with the world.
The boy’s busy weekend had finally caught up with him.
Dinner at The Orangery
At 7:30 p.m. we left the boy snoozing and headed downstairs to The Orangery Restaurant. I had a feeling dinner would be good.
The chilled ambiance of the hotel continued into the restaurant. Low lighting, muted tones and candlelight gave The Orangery a calm vibe – perfect for an evening of good food, wine and conversation.
I started with bang bang chicken salad. The spicy peanut, chilli and ginger sauce was full of flavour and had a nice little chilli kick. For a chilli fiend like me that’s always a plus.
Mr G had seared scallops with tomato fondue and basil oil. I think he must have inhaled them as his plate was empty quicker than I could blink.
In between courses we had a raspberry sorbet with Prosecco – a great combination and nice palate cleanser.
I had the veggie main of butternut squash ravioli in a tarragon and lemon sauce with toasted pine nuts. I usually avoid butternut squash as I find it bland, but I’m glad I made an exception on this occasion.
Mr G had rainbow trout, which he’s a big fan. Apparently it doesn’t appear on menus as often as he’d like. It lasted marginally longer than his scallops, but not by much.
For dessert we decided to shun sweet and have a Scottish cheese board each. It came with Mull cheddar, a soft pungent cheese called minger, a Scottish brie and blue cheese, plus oatcakes, grapes and quince jelly.
It was an excellent cheese board, including the minger.
I was wrong, dinner wasn’t good – it was excellent.
Tiffany’s Balbirnie House Hotel
We had an incredible night’s sleep in our huge silver bed. It’d be hard going home to our teeny wee double.
Fortunately, we had another meal at The Orangery to look forward to. That would take our mind of such third world problems as not owning a massive custom made bed.
We had a choice of a cooked or continental breakfast. We both ordered cooked.
Haggis and tattie scones, with a decent cup of coffee. If there’s a better way to start the day I don’t know what it is.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. It was time to say goodbye to our gorgeous room. It’d been a blissful, relaxing break and we’d enjoyed every minute of it. Scenic walks, sightseeing, good food and incredible accommodation – what’s not to love.
Our food and accommodation at Balbirnie House Hotel were provided on a compliment basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …….