From the Cotswolds to Cornwall, everyone seems to be enjoying their holidays right here in the UK, yet one UK destination often overlooked is Northern Ireland. Merely a hop across the water, Belfast city is bustling with shops and beautiful architecture, and is mere minutes away from the Giant’s Causeway and some of the most beautiful scenery the UK has to offer.
Just a 5-minute drive from the city’s airport is the five star Culloden Estate and Spa – a luxury hotel offering countryside solace, beautiful bedrooms, fine dining and a heavenly spa, moments away from the city.
The hotel has attracted its fair share of celebrity guests, from Michael Douglas to Sir Cliff Richard and Robbie Williams to David Beckham, and given the secluded location and relaxing atmosphere it’s easy to see why.
Originally built for the Bishops of Down, this luxurious historic property was once a palace and still sits on over 12 acres today. The Bishops of Down certainly picked a heavenly spot, on a slope with views overlooking Belfast Lough and the hills beyond. Although The Culloden is grand, the service really couldn’t be warmer or friendlier.
When we landed at Belfast airport (after the shortest flight imaginable – I hardly even opened my magazine!), we rented a car and drove down the road to the hotel. The hotel is so close we almost missed the exit, yet it doesn’t feel close to the airport as it’s surrounded by woods and has beautiful views over the lake and hills.
The interiors are very ‘old-school’ and traditional (there’s even a chess set in the lounge!), but the bedrooms are more modernized and have been tastefully designed. Our room was enormous, with a separate seating, dining and TV area and a modern open gas fire. The marble bathroom had his & hers sinks, a walk-in monsoon shower, and a huge tub to soak your worries away. The best bit of all was by far the super-king-size ‘King Koil’ bed, an enormous bed with a ‘cloud’ mattress that literally feels like you’re sleeping in the clouds!
For those wishing to get outdoors, Northern Ireland’s east coast is breathtaking. Wanting to make the most of our visit to Northern Ireland, we drove along the coast through picturesque towns and villages to the Carrick Rope Bridge and the iconic Giant’s Causeway. A long but beautiful trip through stunning countryside and with breathtaking views – definitely worth doing!
We got back to the hotel just in time to pop in to their lovely spa before dinner. There’s a fully-kitted out modern gym for fitness fanatics, and a large swimming pool to relax, but the spa is definitely the highlight, with plenty of treatment rooms as well as relaxation rooms with sink-into beds, fluffy bathrobes and piles of magazines. I booked in a muscle-soothing massage and was taken to the pre-treatment suite where a thick gown, loungers and a cool glass of cucumber water awaited me. After a few minutes I was taken into a treatment room where I picked out the oils and lay face down, the stiffness eased out of my shoulders and all the knots in my back slowly unraveled. Half an hour in the post-treatment room eased me back to reality and ready for dinner.
The hotel offers fine dining in their elegant Mitre Restaurant, but they also offer a more relaxed and informal brasserie-style dining option at The Cultra Inn – a pub and bistro restaurant in the hotel grounds.
The menu offers a wide range from burgers, stews and curries to steaks and fish dishes, and I ordered a hearty butternut squash and goat’s cheese salad, whilst my guest ordered the steak and the Cultra’s signature Causeway chips. The food was lovely, the atmosphere was warm and cosy and the wine was excellent, and all-in-all it was just how gastro pubs should be.
After one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had (and a well-deserved lie-in), we went down to breakfast – a more formal affair with crisp white table linens, a breakfast buffet with meats, cheeses and pastries and an a-la-carte menu offering everything from eggs Benedict to a full Irish breakfast.
After breakfast we dropped the car back off at the airport, flew back to London and were back home by lunchtime. It’s amazing to think that it’s such a quick, easy and painless journey – I can’t recommend Northern Ireland and The Culloden Estate and Spa enough!