There is something about the change of seasons that always spurs on a little “me time”. Summer may have ended but we weren’t quite ready to submit to the winter blues just yet, so we decided to treat ourselves to an indulgent escape to one of the top spa locations in Northern Ireland.
Galgorm Spa & Resort is just shy of 30 minutes drive from Belfast’s city centre, set among 600 acres of Ballymena countryside you will feel as though you have discovered a hidden oasis when you pass through its impressive gates.
We arrived to a seriously heavy downpour as we drove along the winding entrance, the rain however does have one upside in these parts – the impressive River Maine that surrounds the property was in full flow and looked spectacular to say the least.
Galgorm has recently invested over €11 million in extending and upgrading its rooms, Thermal Village and grounds. Before you set foot inside you will pass their beautiful “Serenity Gardens” with private wooden relaxation huts dotted throughout and a stunning Cabana with open fire, blankets and plenty of shelter from the elements.
We were staying in one of the newly designed deluxe rooms, one of the 48 rooms added during the extension, which boasts their own private reception desk making check-in not only very personal but also seamless.
It is unlikely you will spend a lot of time in your room in a resort like Galgorm, but that said, who doesn’t love a well appointed room with views overlooking the cascading river below, a complimentary mini bar and a dreamy king sized bed?
There are two main draws to Galgorm, firstly the world class spa facilities and secondly the 340 gins on offer in their cocktail bar. Yes you read that right – 340 – and the goal is apparently 400. Easily the most extensive gin menu in the country, with plenty of good local options and a fair few exclusive bottles rarely seen on these shores.
Although a tough toss up, we decided it was a safer decision to visit the Thermal village first, swimsuit and fluffy towel at the ready. The lift leaves you directly into the spa reception where you can indulge in one of the many treatment (pre-booking advisable) such as a hot quartz poultice massage, personalised spa facial or you can really treat yo’self and book the Paris suite which is a private spa for two and ideal for a couples retreat where you can both enjoy a seaweed bathing ritual.
We spend quite enough time together as it is so instead opted for the hydrotherapy pool to ease all of our aching muscles. If you are braver than us then check out the Snow Cabin, designed to invigorate and increase blood circulation this wintery playground is -10 degrees so not for the faint hearted, but a lot of fun and you can always heat back up in one of the outdoor hot tubs set on the banks of the river.
Pampering done we booked into the evening Gin Tasting which rotates every week, and is an intimate yet informal way of learning a bit more about each gin and what bases work best in a cocktail, priced at €20pp we would highly recommend, it’s great craic and the cocktails were delicious.
Dining options at Galgorm are fairly diverse, it is a five star resort but there are no formalities and definitely no stuffiness, one of its biggest draws we believe. There is Gillies bar and grill which is hugely popular with locals, does a legendary tomahawk steak and offers up lots of healthy options if you want to take the detox seriously.
Fratelli Ristorante is another option for the pizza lover in all of us, ideal for all the family with its “build your own pizza” for the little ones and very well priced.
If you fancy a light bite or a decadent afternoon tea you can enjoy either in the River Room Conservatory which enjoys unrivalled views of the gardens and river due to its elevated setting.
We booked into the 3AA Rosette River Room Restaurant and opted for the five course tasting menu beginning with Ham, Lardo, Broad Beans and Girolles to kick the evening off, we decided against the wine pairings and instead opted for a light bodied Californian Renwood Zinfandel 2012 which we hoped would work with most dishes.
This was followed a superbly flavoured Cured Halibut with hints of curry leaf, lovage and slivers of radish.
Monkfish and scallops is a combination which will rarely let you down when cooked well, Head Chef Chris Rees creates a menu that changes daily and has an impressive confidence in his cooking. The dish was perfectly executed, set in a light bisque and topped with the ingredient du jour – seaweed, although in this case more like sea lettuce which was delicate enough not to overpower.
Skeaghnore Duck was a pleasant surprise to see on the menu as Silver Hill is more prevalent in these parts. Cooked more rare to medium a succulent breast sat ready for devouring, simply accompanied by some kale, beetroot and pickled onion.
One of the advantages of choosing the tasting menu is dessert is a given, never a bad thing, and our Chocolate, Caramel and Coffee creation was surprising light textured with the caramel cup claiming the tastiest morsel of the night title.
Well fed and well watered we enjoyed a fantastic rest after our day of pure indulgence, but Breakfast is well worth getting up for. The executive wing enjoys a later an hour later check out than the rest of the resort so no traffic light systems here. Instead you will find one of the most varied offerings we have seen in some time with lots of healthy options and an impressive Ulster Fry for those who want to splurge.
Our visit to Galgorm sparked more messages on our socials accounts than we have ever experienced, the surprising part was so many people didn’t know this exquisite oasis even existed. Many resort locations can be too focused on the holistic and can leave many disappointed on the food and beverage side. Not Galgorm, this resort ticks all the boxes – luxury, relaxation, entertainment and a unique culinary experience that will be etched in our memory for some time to come. The only downside … coming home!
Overnight Stay for Two including a Five Course dinner is available for €314.99.
To book this unique Taste Reader’s Offer click HERE.
Galgorm Resort & Spa
136 Fenaghy Rd,
Ballymena BT42 1EA,