A staycation is one of my all-time favourite things to do; where can you indulge in a spa break with a friend or family member, relax and enjoy the ambience, delicacies & surroundings of some of our most prestigious hotels. The five star Culloden Estate & Spa has been on my radar for years. So much so that it was a bit of a long-standing jovial joke in my family. My Aunt lives in Belfast, and although I’ve been up and down that M1 motorway for over 25 years, I’d never stopped in the luxurious Culloden for anything but a longing look outside. “Someday,” I’d say… “I really want to stay!”
Thankfully the opportunity arose for that much-wanted staycation, and this time with one of my best friends Katie who had flown over from Edinburgh, especially for the experience. We were like two peas in a pod, eagerly awaiting the countdown to go and stay in Northern Ireland’s most prestigious landmark and famous hotel.
As we cruised into the driveway of the Culloden, we were greeted by the friendliest doorman, who helped take our weekend bags while we checked in. For me, the incredible size and beauty of the building did not disappoint. Built-in 1876 as an official palace for the Bishops of Down, who picked a heavenly spot on a wooded slope overlooking Belfast Lough and has been extended over the years. The hotel, both inside and out, is stunning. Not only do you have the 12 acres of mature gardens, but it’s also only nine miles out of Belfast city, so if you fancied a night on the tiles, you’re only a short cab ride away.
Katie and I were only too delighted to relax in our suite, complete with a roaring fire and an oval dining table. We were keen to relax and enjoy the old school surroundings of this traditional and tasteful haven.
On our first night, we dined in the ‘Cultra Inn’, which is on the grounds of the hotel & had delicious Sunday comfort food that one can only dream up after a drive up from Dublin. We tucked into succulent lamb with a glass of Merlot and a locally produced organic apple crumble with ice cream to finish. The ‘Cultra Inn’ is a cute little friendly pub at the end of the driveway into the majestic hotel. We loved it and sat for serval hours over a crackling fire to soak up the atmosphere. The staff were excellent and attentive, and the cosy mahogany features and tasteful tartan seating make this a go-to place for Sunday lunch or a late meal.
After dinner, we merrily went to the main hotel and lounged at the bar for a nightcap. The decor inside the hotel is simply beautiful. Burgundies and emerald greens are the order of the day, offset by original marble fireplaces and the stunning stained glass windows at the top of the stairs that adorn the staircase. The drawing-room on the left with that inviting open fire has a lovely view of the lough through giant bay windows, and for me, it epitomised all that is sumptuous and intimate at the same time. From the minute we arrived, we exhaled and began to relax.
Over the next two days, Katie and I dined from the extensive menu. Everything from steak to spaghetti and sampled the wine list. I was very impressed by the staff and their kind and friendly approach to all who come through the doors. It really is a family-friendly hotel but is secluded and intimate enough to herald as a getaway for couples or honeymooners alike. For friends like Katie and I, it’s perfect as it encompasses glamour, luxury and high-end wellness – the ultimate treat! For the most part, it was all about self-care, so we had two wonderful full-body massages in the Spa, which hosts ESPA products which are my absolute favourite. The Spa is so beautiful you can simply switch off from the moment you enter. Pale tiles, stone walls and candles in giant copper lanterns lead to a sunken octagonal pool. We dipped in and out of the pool and listened to the relaxing music while indulging in the steam room that overlooks the lough – could it be any more perfect?
Katie is a bit more of a fitness guru, so she took to the gym for a spell of yoga, and we had lunch brought to us. A delicious open prawn sandwich complete with a glass of Prosecco. The treatment rooms dapple in eastern philosophy with Japanese shoji screens and wood. After a long swim, lunch, fizz and fits of laughter by the pool, we were only fit for a catnap on the giant loungers & snoozed there until dinnertime.
My time at the luxurious hotel was simply wonderful, and we indulged in time out in the stunning suite with a daytime 40 winks after breakfast in the tastefully decorated sage green and dove grey room. We even managed to find the perfect ‘girlie’ movie ‘Dirty Dancing’ with Patrick Swayze, which had us twirling around the massive room and collapsing in a fit of giggles. This truly was a weekend away for best friends! Katie and I were able to completely relax and managed to find time to sample a few of the incredible cocktails that the head barman makes. They went down far too easily!
I was very pleased to see that the hotel uses carefully selected local ingredients and that even stretches to the breakfast with the muesli and organic granola. ‘Vespers’, their stunning fine-dining restaurant, wasn’t open on the Sunday but that’s ever more the reason to return to experience it as I believe it’s one of the best establishments in Northern Ireland and has a cheese platter to die for!
All in all, this was an incredible experience. After our final walk around the sumptuous grounds, Katie and I had a few snaps taken outside and hopped in the car for the short two hours back to Dublin.
The five star Culloden Estate and Spa is the perfect getaway and had us fit and fighting for another week ahead. We were relaxed from head to toe from our mini-break & one that was absolutely worth the 25-year wait!
The Culloden Hotel Estate and Spa
Bangor Road, Holywood