THE plane was banking right, the city tipping into view in my window, when Belfast’s famous twin yellow cranes became visible. “What are they called again?” I was asked. I couldn’t remember. A chair creaked, and the passenger in front peeked over the headrest. “Samson and Goliath,” he offered in a broad Belfast accent. “I can tell ye how to get to them if ye want.”
The cheery assistance is typical of the greeting you get in Belfast.
After touching down at the George Best Belfast City Airport – named after one of the town’s most-lauded sons – we collected our hire car for the next four days, and arrived at Country Antrim’s Galgorm Resort and Spa less than an hour later. Set in over 100 acres of secluded woodland, and with the River Maine burbling its way through the backyard, it’s a perfect place to relax.
The hotel is the epitome of laid-back luxury, with the original Galgorm – a 25-room former “gentlemen’s residence” – now a 75-room oasis of pastel shades, dark-wood tables and deep sofas. However, the jewel is the thermal spa, which features three steam rooms. Guests are encouraged to “experience the ancient rituals of bathing in cold, cool, warm and hot environments”, which, it is claimed, aids “detoxification, purification and relaxation”.
For masochists, there’s a constant supply of ice to rub over your body after sessions. The spa also offers a hydrotherapy pool, heated loungers to sprawl out on and an outdoor hot tub. Then there’s the Spa Boudoir, a group treatment suite perfect for bridal parties.
After a hard day of relaxing, dinner is served in Gillies Bar & Grill, a massive two-floor dining area at the back of Galgorm. Popular with guests and locals alike, it offers gastropub fare.
One of the beauties of Galgorm’s location is the ease of access to the Country Antrim coast, the most-famous part of which is the Giant’s Causeway. This World Heritage Site has been named one of the UK’s top ten natural wonders. Legend has it the Causeway was built by warrior Finn McCool so he could take on Scots counterpart Benandonner who, being a big feartie, tore up the Causeway to ensure McCool couldn’t follow him. The more scientific explanation is that the 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt rocks were created by a volcanic eruption some 50 to 60 million years ago.
Leaving County Antrim behind, we drove back towards Belfast for a taste of inner city Ireland – and a little more pampering at the Culloden Estate and Spa. Just six miles outside the city centre, the Culloden is the perfect place to unwind after a hard day of sightseeing and shopping in the city, with a large pool, gym and sauna in a beautiful Gothic mansion.
As you would imagine, Belfast isn’t short of a bar or two, but there’s also a thriving restaurant scene to explore. One of the most popular is Nicks Warehouse, tucked away down a cobbled street in a former Bushmills Whisky Bonded Store. Offering such British and Irish classics as beef and Guinness casserole and rump of lamb, there’s also an extensive wine list.
We drove back to the airport, relaxed, refreshed and vowing to return. While a long weekend in Belfast, and the surrounding area provides the perfect introduction to what Northern Ireland can offer, you’re left craving a little more. A little more craic in the pub with the locals who befriended you, a little more of the spa treatments and the relaxation.
And at just over an hour away, with regular flights, we’ll be back for a little more of Belfast very, very soon.
Enjoy a Spring Retreat in a superior room at Galgorm Resort and Spa with four-course evening meal in Gillies Bar & Grill, access to the thermal spa areas and full Irish breakfast. Prices from £87.50pp per night, based on two people sharing. Valid Sunday-Thursday in March. See www.galgorm.com
Rooms at the five-star Culloden Resort and Spa start from £132 per night. Visit www.hastingshotels.com/culloden-estate-and-spa for more details.
FlyBe (www.flybe.com) runs a daily service to Belfast City Airport from Glasgow Airport. Fares start at £67 return. Dan Dooley car hire (www.dan-dooley.ie) offers vehicles for £153.31 a day for a small five-door car.