A Spa Break in Northern Ireland at Galgorm Resort and Spa:
Once upon a time an Irish leprechaun sat by a lucky shamrock and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘What’ he muttered to himself ‘could I do to entice that pair of bloggers over to our Emerald Isle.’
Suddenly, the sea mists lifted and he looked up happily.
‘I know, I’ll bring them to Galgorm, Northern Ireland’s finest Spa Resort where they can relax, enjoy some fine dining and discover a little more in just a wee day or two. After all, it’s just an hour across from London to Belfast’
Actually, neither of us needed too much enticing – what’s not to like about a spa which is around 30 minutes from the airport and set in 163 acres of stunning Irish countryside. One with a three rosette restaurant, indoor and outdoor hydrotherapy pools and the promise of a spa treatment each.
We arrived after an afternoon and early evening exploring the Causeway Coastal Route – more of that to come in a separate post. Check in was seamless and our bags were taken up to our rooms. Galgorm is a large estate and the original manor house has been extended more than once. We were given rooms in the deluxe area, opened just last year with stunning views out across the gardens to the river. Deluxe rooms have their own check in and check out facilities and are larger, with distinct lounge areas.
With true Irish hospitality we learnt that the mini bar of mineral water and soft drinks and their own brew beer and all the snacks (enough crisps and biscuits for a midnight feast) were all free. Aromatherapy toiletries in the bathroom were a nice treat and I loved the walk-in shower and large tub, though for me, the positioning of the tap spray at one end of the bath was rather awkward. Robes in the cupboard, plenty of fluffy towels and a bed big enough for a bevy of bloggers was a good start. The rooms were large enough for a seating area with sofa and two armchairs too although with all the things to do at Galgorm I wasn’t planning to stay there for too long.
The next day, breakfast in the River Room allowed us to enjoy yet more of the splendid view. The hotel offers a comprehensive breakfast buffet and a small a la carte selection. While I loved the buffet options I was disappointed by my sourdough french toast which was overly chewy and dry. I can only conclude that sourdough bread doesn’t make a good french toast at all!
But, there are plenty of other options on the menu if you do happen to want an Ulster Fry, Gravadlax, Eggs Florentine or pretty much anything else. I recommend trying the local cheeses and ham which are particularly fine with some of the homemade sourdough and local butter;)
I was a little apprehensive about my spa treatment as I can get claustrophobic and the idea of being half buried in quartz crystals while I had a massage was something that I wasn’t sure would work for me. But, it turned out to be a truly relaxing and reviving experience. Apparently, the German inventor thought up the idea when he discovered that his mother felt much better after relaxing on a quartz sand beach. The treatment involves being cocooned on a bed of warm quartz crystals while Jade, my therapist massaged back, front and legs. It was a very gentle and pleasant experience which finished with a facial cleanse and relaxation in the spa recovery room. It definitely left me feeling more relaxed and cleansed.
I’d have happily spent a week or so exploring the spa itself, a rambling collection of rooms, pools and therapy options – both indoor and outdoor. I missed out on the Beltane fire and outdoor tub and on the Celtic Sauna where you can try an aromatherapy ritual and I was too much of a coward to try the Snow Cabin. But, given a little time…
Instead, we dined at the very fine River Room, the Galgorm Resort’s own AA 3 rosette restaurant and were impressed by the quality of the food and the focus on local ingredients. The Head Chef, Chris Rees, is well known in the area and on a number of occasions when we mentioned where we were staying the response was that ‘we wouldn’t do better’. We were left totally convinced.
After a selection of amuse bouche, home made bread and local butter, I went on to enjoy perfectly caramelised scallops from Kilkeel, Co. Down with local globe artichoke, chorizo and sea aster. A delicate dish with every element perfectly cooked and presented.
My companion picked the local quail, from Ballinteer Farm, Colraine, served with summer truffles and girolles.
We both decided that some Irish beef was in order and picked the dry aged beef with Foie gras, chard, white asparagus and onion. The beef, from Glenarm Castle Estate, Co. Antrim, was beautifully tender, aged for 35 days, with that sweetness that comes from good grass feed cattle.
Dessert for me was a rich and opulent dark chocolate sponge with macadamia, espresso and a topping of caramelised white chocolate.
My companion picked the healthier option – local strawberries from Lisburn, Co. down, with yoghurt from the Clandeboye Estate, Bangor, Co. Down, Bee Pollen and Verbena.
We finished the meal with coffee and petits fours and, exhausted from the day’s activities in the spa, retired to bed!
While the River Room is the fine dining star of the Galgorm Spa and Resort, there are a couple of other places to eat, Gillies bar and grill and Fratellis, an Italian bistro which, in addition to the regular menu has a gluten-free menu, a dairy free menu and even a ‘shrink’ menu which includes pizza, vegetable spaghetti and steak!
Obviously somewhere to head if you spend too much time in The River Room;). While we enjoyed a sharing platter in Gillies on the first night, we didn’t get a chance to try Fratellis – obviously I need to go back.
We also discovered that the resort has a number of self-catering options. There are fishermen’s cottages (for up to four people) and log cabins which can accommodate up to eight.
While you have to pay extra to use the spa resort facilities, these do provide high-quality self-catering with hotel facilities on the doorstep. I know if I was planning to travel with my family or with a group of friends I’d definitely consider staying here.
There are also a number of stunning suites, most of which were in use when we were visiting. Galgorm is well set up to cater for weddings with several dedicated venues to ensure that even if there are two weddings on the same day, the parties never overlap.
And, if I was getting married here, I’d definitely be booking a suite with a private hot tub for my wedding night and asking for use of the hotel’s Rolls Royce…
Galgorm has the ability to be many things to many different people. Apart from the spa, there’s fishing in the River Maine and golf at the nearby Galgorm Castle golf course. And of course, extensive grounds to explore.
By careful use of space, it never feels too crowded and if you want luxury, peace and isolation you can do anything from hiring a private hot tub for an hour to booking a suite with its own hot tub on the balcony and the option of private dining in your own sitting room.
The lively atmosphere of Gillies makes the spa popular with groups, while the River Room offers exceptionally high standards of fine dining.
I was particularly impressed that the staff managed to cater for such a diversity of needs without ever seeming phased. We learnt that the spa and resort has a 97% occupancy rate – and that is perhaps the best reflection of its success.
I’d certainly be more than happy to return – and I’m looking forward to hearing more about the outdoor spa development, including a new Tuscan style garden, which is currently being built.
Thinking about a visit to Northern Ireland now? Why not pin this post for later…
Disclosure: We were guests of Galgorm Resort and Spa
136 Finaghy Road