Many people in Great Britain might think of Northern Ireland as a pesky side-issue in the never-ending Brexit discussions, but have they ever actually visited the picturesque region? The Culloden Estate and Spa on the outskirts of Belfast arguably exemplifies the very best Northern Ireland has to offer. It presents tradition, refinement, and the unmistakable Irish welcome.
Built on the gentle slopes of Holywood Hills and having commanding views of the Belfast Lough, you would not be surprised to hear it was built as an official residence of the Bishops of Down back in 1876. Thankfully, this heavenly spot has been vacated by the bishops and is available to mere mortals for hotel stays. The location is unbeatable with 12 acres of palatial gardens, yet at the bottom of the gardens is a train station that takes you to central Belfast in under 15 minutes with Belfast city airport being just three stops away.
The resplendent décor inside is populated with exquisite antiques, all arranged in a tasteful manner that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of The Crown. Burgundy walls and stained-glass windows are prominent features in the main reception area and grandiose drawing-room, which is to be expected given the clerical history of the venue. But there are also intimate touches including a cosy fireplace in the drawing-room along with a smartly polished chess set.
What stands out in The Culloden is the number of suites they have, and they are individually named even if you are staying in one of the junior suites. Space is never an issue here with the state suites all being over 550 sq. ft. With all categories, you get exceptional views either of Belfast Lough or the immaculately landscaped estate gardens.
You wouldn’t expect anything less than the best toiletries here and they supply customers with exclusive ESPA products. And to add a personal touch, you also get a Hastings hotels duck. Nespresso machines are offered in all the suites, while the king-sized King Koil ‘cloud beds’ will ensure a restful night’s sleep.
There are two main options for dining at the hotel, Cultra Inn and Vespers. The former serves top-notch gastropub classics whilst the latter is their signature, fine-dining restaurant. Some dining establishments pay lip service to provenance but at The Culloden, they actively promote it.
At Cultra Inn, the golden, crispy scampi I tried along with chunky hand-cut fries were, naturally, from Ireland. Whilst at Vespers, they are even more specific with the lamb coming from the Mourne mountains and their beetroot cured salmon coming from Glenarm. In the current tough, economic climate, it’s more important than ever to support local businesses.
They’ve smartly placed Cultra Inn in a separate complex at the bottom of their garden so any pub frivolity does not impact on the tranquillity of the hotel guests. The timber-frame design with steel supporting beams helps to portray a more relaxed atmosphere. On the other hand, Vespers is all about gothic grandeur with the refined elegance of the surroundings in keeping with the quality of the cuisine served up.
Their spa facilities have been winning accolades aplenty following a refurbishment this year which includes a brand-new linear vitality pool, a Tylarium (a combination of sauna and steam bath), and additional treatment rooms. They have spa treatments that cater to all needs whether it is the golfer’s tonic to re-energise those tired limbs or maternity massages for expectant mothers, all conducted using high-end ESPA products. And if you are worried about the inclement Irish weather, they have heated massage tables to ensure maximum comfort during your treatment.
If you want to go out and about, there are countless options from Titanic Belfast to Ulster Folk and Transport Museum which is just five minutes away from the hotel. You can go on a Game of Thrones tour or enjoy the many stunning golf courses nearby. Rory McIlroy was born in nearby Holywood.
In a nutshell
Enjoy a regal staycation any time of the year at this resplendent institution which offers not only history, but modern comforts aplenty. You might feel like you are in the countryside, but it is only a short distance away from the centre of Belfast.
Culloden Estate and Spa offers rooms from £100 per person on a bed and breakfast basis.