Cosying up at The Colloden
Tucked in amongst a mountain of fluffy pillows is the way autumn mornings are meant to be spent. As I drew back the curtains, greeted by the mist rising over Belfast Lough, it was difficult to comprehend extricating myself from my cosy suite at the Culloden Estate & Spa.
I’d checked in on a drizzly evening the previous night after picking up my hire car at Belfast International Airport. Despite the weather, I was looking forward to two days of exploring Northern Ireland and retreating to the comforting estate with its welcoming log fire in the bar.
The Culloden sits just a few miles outside of Belfast city centre, a majestic gothic mansion set back from the road to Bangor. The 105 rooms are spread across the main house and more modern garden wings, with many featuring original high ceilings and the Junior Suites feature views of either the manicured gardens or Belfast Lough. I was pleased to discover mine had the latter.
This year the property received a £5m refurbishment, resulting in a new facade to one wing, larger rooms, a complete redesign of the Mitre restaurant and an upgraded spa.
Exploring the main house will lead you downstairs where you’ll find roaring fires, plenty of armchairs and sofas to curl up in with a book, and a snug drawing room with views of those vistas across the water for a post dinner round of chess.
The property has two onsite restaurants. I’d booked in to dine at The Mitre, the fine dining option within the main house as opposed to The Cultra Inn in the grounds, more of a pub/brasserie atmosphere and menu. I’m thankful I did, though more on that in a minute.
If there’s one thing The Culloden and its parent company Hastings Hotels is big on, it’s gastronomy, with as many ingredients as possible used in their dishes which are sourced from local suppliers. Something they’re understandably proud of, each table is graced with a little booklet defining the heritage of what’s used in its kitchens. From the award-winning Gracehill black and white puddings served at breakfast sourced locally in County Antrim, to free range eggs from Clements Eggs in Carrowdore, vegetables from Strangford Lough’s Willowbrook Farm and venison from the Baronscourt Estate in County Tyrone, the provenance of your plate is in front of you in black and white.
In my opinion, dinner should always begin with freshly baked bread - this time sourced from a family at the heart of the local bakery industry for three generations no less - which didn’t disappoint. An amuse bouche of smoked salmon, with capers and an English mustard emulsion did exactly what it was designed to, awakening the tastebuds for what was to come. For a starter, soft mounds of whipped goat’s cheese were accompanied by juicy slices of beetroot, shallots, pecans and a delicately sweet beetroot meringue. It was followed with some tender, juicy local lamb from the nearby Morne Mountains, with a hearty if a tad filling side of pearl barley and winter vegetables. Seasonal comfort food at its best.
It was after my main had disappeared that I was glad for choosing the table I did at The Mitre, with a window view to ponder, rather than dining down at The Cultra Inn, for I would have missed what happened next. As the sky above Belfast Lough began to turn to fire as the sun sank, I abandoned my dessert and sprinted up the stairs to my room with my camera, where I hovered, perched on my windowsill, for the next half hour as the most breathtaking sunset I’ve ever encountered danced across the sky, changing every moment from fiery reds and oranges to majestic shades of purple and rich pinks. It was a dazzling display I shall always remember.
After returning to my abandoned meal to finish my wine, the lure of the Crozier Bar’s log fire proved too much, and I found myself drawn to an armchair with my book to see out the rest of my evening, before the lure of my bathtub and king size bed became too much.
Breakfast at The Culloden
The following morning, as I pondered how many of the pillows I could realistically fit in the tiny boot of my hire car, there was a knock at the door, signaling the arrival of my breakfast trolley; a spread of the locally-sourced foods calling out to be eaten in bed, while swaddled in a bathrobe as I listened to the morning radio.
With a day of exploring the streets of Belfast and the rugged Irish coastline ahead of me, a full Irish breakfast of eggs, tomatoes, sausages et al. really was the only option. Accompanied by freshly squeezed juice, a pot of coffee and a bowl of sweet, crunchy homemade granola with yoghurt and fruit compote, my hunger was satisfyingly quelled.
Before heading out for my day, there was the Culloden’s spa facilities, which awaited me. While there is a gym and fitness class timetable for those who might be interested (not me) I was more enticed by the swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and treatment menu, which boasted an indulgent menu of ESPA treatments and spa packages that fuse advanced techniques with ancient therapies. Tempting as it was to stay in a cycle of spa-time for the rest of my trip, I somehow managed to lure myself away.
Despite being mere minutes from the city centre and located on one of Belfast’s busiest roads, The Culloden has a knack for making you feel like you’re a world away from, well, the rest of the world. As we hurdle towards winter, a spa break staycation weekend of hibernation and delicious food should be high on everyone’s agenda. I might just start a campaign for it to be recognised as a treatment on the NHS, such is its powers of revival and restoration.
Double rooms at The Culloden Estate and Spa start from £230, room only. Spa treatments start from £40.
The Culloden Estate and Spa
*During this trip I was hosted by the lovely team at The Culloden. All words and opinions are my own.
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