With my wife’s 40th birthday rapidly approaching the pressure was on to pull something special out of the bag.
Then the invite popped into the email inbox…would I like to visit the Galgorm Resort and Spa in Co Antrim?
‘Perfect!’, I thought, that’ll do and so we set off on a weekend that will live long in the memory as one of the most pleasant and (without two little ones in tow) most relaxing weekends of our lives.
In the years BC (before children) myself and Liz had been lucky to spend many a lost weekend in various hotels around the world with nothing to distract us but wondering what to have for dinner that night but these had become a rare luxury in recent years.
The sprawling the 163-acre estate is home to the original 18th Century gentleman’s residence
So there was a lot riding on this particular weekend, offering as it did, a momentary chance at bliss without the added emphasis of the fact it was marking a big birthdate milestone.
And, truth be told, it never occurred to me that we could find exactly what we were looking for just an hour’s drive north of the border.
As it turns out, this hidden gem is located in some of the most stunning scenery in this part of the world.
Located just outside the town of Ballymena, the sprawling 163-acre estate is home to the original 18th Century gentleman’s residence that has been carefully converted into a luxurious 74 bedroom, four-star deluxe hotel with a world class spa and all the facilities to boot.
Driving slowly along the twisting, tree-lined avenue into the estate the outside world gently slipped away to be replaced by an ornate palace of perfection set beside a fairy-tale bubbling brook.
Standing on the balcony of one of the 44 ‘Superior’ rooms (there are also 22 ‘Standard’ rooms and seven ‘Junior Suites’) we had been allocated for the weekend we were shushed into a spell-bound silence by the bucolic scene below.
One of the beautiful tearooms with views over the gardens
With a view over the gentle hills sloping down to the river, and the rolling forested mountains around us, we just sighed and took it all in.
After a full night’s sleep spent in a deep slumber with the windows open to a fresh early summer night, we strolled down to Gillies Bar and Grill, just one of the hotel’s three restaurants, where we enjoyed a slap-up breakfast with lashings of hot coffee. Then it was back to the room to decide what to do with our day.
This is when we faced our only predicament of the weekend.
With some world-famous sites less than a 40-minute drive away, including the scenic Glens of Antrim and the North Coast, which, of course, features the Giant’s Causeway that I had never seen, the idea was to jump in the car and hit the road.
But, to be honest, the lure of the thermal spa, just one button away in the elevator, proved too much.
Padding down in our whiter than white bathrobe and slippers we were soon immersed in the heated pool where we lay back and enjoyed the water before exploring the various heated saunas.
Part of the thermal spa
Then it was outside to the bubbling jacuzzi and hot tubs where we met some friendly visitors who informed us that a few hours spent at the hotel for afternoon tea in the conservatory was something of a local highlight.
When we got back to our hotel room we realised three whole hours had gone by so it was a short rest before we got dolled up for a night in the Fratelli Ristorante, a fantastic Italian eatery which is also something of a local institution.
With live music and a young crowd filing in from the outlying areas, the already buzzing restaurant soon turned into a frenetic party spot as the night took off.
Back at the hotel, the beautiful bar had attracted the beautiful people in for a night of fun and dancing but it was all we could do to have a late after-dinner drink before we got ourselves back to the room to sleep off what had been an amazing meal.
The rooms almost guarantee a good night’s sleep!
The following day’s breakfast set us up for the drive ahead but before we left we had a quick stroll around the estate where we noticed all the various activities on offer including fishing on the River Maine, hiking, clay pigeon shooting and horse riding.
With so much on offer in one place (and more is to come in August with the completion of an additional 45 Deluxe and three Signature Suites, leisure facilities and the creation of an outdoor Thermal Village) it would appear that for us at least it will take a few more trips to Galgorm before we finally get to see the Giant’s Causeway.