When you think of your next weekend away, it’s easy to fall back on the favourites you already know and love. But if you haven’t been to Northern Ireland, there has never been a better time explore uncharted territory and some of the finest hotels and resorts on this fine Isle. Whether it’s a culinary escape, pampering break or golfing tour you’re after, I defy you to feast your eyes on the following luxury destinations without wanting to hop in the car and head up the M1.
It’s not just the luscious scenery, landmarks like the Giant’s Causeway and Game of Thrones backdrops that will entice you, Northern Ireland is celebrating its Year of Food and Drink in 2016 and there has never been a better time to sample the exciting food scene that is developing across the counties, from award-winning producers to exceptional restaurants. Steeped in history and waiting to be explored, Northern Ireland needs to be on your radar.
We at TheTaste are hard-pressed to pick a favourite Northern Irish hotel, but the chosen are a dozen decadent destinations guaranteed to leave you wondering why you hadn’t ventured North before and itching to plan a return visit.
Housed in former headquarters of Ulster Bank dating back to 1850, The Merchant is the grand dame of Belfast hotels, oozing luxury from the moment you ascend the steps. Extravagant is an understatement, The Merchant is a one stop shop for opulence.
Head to The Cocktail Bar to have World Class Drinks Best Bartender in Ireland Andrew Dickey whip you up something special before heading to The Great Room Restaurant, possibly Ireland’s most grandiose dining room. Head Chef John Paul Leake offers an impressive 9 course tasting menu with emphasis on seasonality of ingredients if you want to really spoil yourselves. Retreat to your immaculately appointed room or stay up to sample one of the Merchant’s three other bars – The Cloth Ear, The Champagne Lounge and Bert’s Jazz Bar. Better yet, make your way to the rooftop hot tub – a night at the Merchant is one you will never forget.
Built to house the Bishops of County Down, the sprawling Culloden Estate overlooks all of County Antrim and sits on the banks of Belfast Lough on 12 acres of woodlands. Just a short drive outside of Belfast city, Culloden is a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Capital. The palatial property is home to a selection of fabulous restaurants for all palates, Mitre for fining dining at the talented hands of chef Paul McKnight or The Cultra Inn for more casual dining on the grounds of the Estate.
Slieve Donard is the kind of place where you wake up, look out the window and pinch yourself – panoramic views of the Mourne Mountains and Dundrum Bay make this a most breathtaking location. Slieve Donard is flanked by the prestigious Royal County Down golf club, so enthusiasts can choose to play 18 holes in a world-renowned course before heading to the Oak Restaurant for a sumptuous dinner. Alternatively, put your feet up in the fabulous ESPA, indulging in the Spa-tisserie package which includes an array of treatments and Afternoon Tea – what could be better?
If you want to spoil your taste-buds on your weekend away, Lough Erne Resort’s Noel McMeel is the man for the job. Formerly of Castle Leslie, Noel has appeared on Great British Menu on numerous occasions and is a champion of sourcing the finest local ingredients for his delicious creations in the 3 AA Rosette Catalina Restaurant, which offers stunning views of the Lough. Another perfect destination for those who prefer sand traps to tourist traps, Lough Erne is also home to the Faldo Course and a Golf Academy to hone your back swing.
Embrace your inner Cersci or Jaime at Ballygally Castle, perfectly located on the Antrim Coast where Game of Thrones is filmed. Rumor has it many of the stars unwind at Ballygally in between filming but if you’re not lucky enough to bump into one you can always indulge in the Game of Thrones themed Afternoon Tea instead. Or if you’re really brave, book in for Halloween – Ballygally is supposedly haunted!
Despite its historical roots, Galgorm Resort & Spa has every modern comfort you could ever want and it is a spa lover’s dream destination. With a new Thermal Village , the first of its kind in Ireland, you can plan your entire break around pampering yourself and unwinding completely from the stresses of every day life. Book into a meditation class in the River House before sampling the Sanarium and Snow Cabin, refueling in the Elements Spa Cafe in between. Coming back to reality will be the only downside to a trip to Galgorm.
The Europa is a Belfast landmark in the heart of the city and its grand entrance is a focal point of the city, welcoming you to the cosmopolitan city that Belfast has become. Recently undergoing a million-pound refurbishment, the Europa is the perfect central base for exploring the enticing Belfast dining scene, from EIPIC to OX or indulging in some retail therapy in the near-by Victoria Square.
Make your Belfast city break a five star frolic at the central Fitzwilliam Belfast. The cutting edge decor and stylish, spacious rooms at the Fitzwilliam mean this is just as luxurious as its Dublin sister, with a reputation for attracting the celebrity set. If you want to be central yet still feel like you can get away from it all, the Fitzwilliam offers a haven in the middle of bustling Belfast.
Malmaison is a chic hotspot to see and be seen, housed in a converted warehouse it is achingly cool. The Malbar is a destination in itself, with their skilled mixologists known as ‘Malchemists’, imbibe here with an Orange Brulée or sexy Smoked Old Fashioned. The funky decor carries through to Malmaison’s bedrooms, all dressed in plush velvet and leather – everything about Malmaison is alluring.
Beech Hill Country House is many things, and consistent is one of them – Beech Hill picks up awards year after year. Only 30 minutes outside the city of Derry, it is perfectly located for visitors hoping to explore Northern Ireland’s second city. Chef Ryan Burke in the fantastic Ardmore Restaurant produces seasonal cuisine which is predominantly based on ingredients freshly plucked from Beech Hill’s own walled garden for a delicious dining experience.
Just outside historic Enniskillen, Manor House Country Hotel is a 17th century luxury lakeside property and a perfect culinary break. Head chef Rory Carville, who earned a Michelin star in Dublin’s Lock’s Brasserie in 2013, has elevated the Fermanagh dining scene with his innovative cuisine in The Belleek Restaurant. Savour every bite of his ‘True to the Region’ menu looking out over one of it’s most beautiful features – stunning Lough Erne and the Manor House’s own marina.
Last but by no means least, Ardtara Country House is nestled away in a lush Antrim woodland and what awaits its visitors is nothing short of a fairy-tale. With just nine bedrooms, Ardtara is perfectly intimate and the ideal destination for a heavenly getaway with your beloved, having been awarded the title of Most Romantic Hotel by the AA. Adding to its accolades, Ardtara’s restaurant won Best Hotel Restaurant in Ulster in 2015 meaning a meal and night to remember is guaranteed here.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!