Hotel Deal of the Week: The Culloden Estate & Spa
The Culloden Hotel & Spa has gained a reputation over the years as a place of calm. Only minutes from the Royal Belfast Club and the rows of millionaires' properties on Hollywood's Gold Coast, it's easy to see why this oasis from the rapidly expanding skyline of the nearby city has become so popular. The locals love it and having the glass doors to a grand hallway opened by a top-hatted doorman makes for a very pleasant introduction.
Originally built as a palace for the Bishops of Down, the old house which makes up the main hotel is something of a grand old pile but staying at the Culloden has something more of a country club feel to it. Fellow guests come to relax at the Spa or take the air in the gardens, well-heeled locals sip afternoon tea in the gothic salon or sip G&Ts from the elegant drawing room with views of Co Antrim through the waters of Belfast Lough.
Like most country house hotels, the Culloden has extensions but, much to its credit, the newer areas are not pastiche copies of the original buildings. I was pleased to discover the rooms were large, the decor minimal and the attached bathrooms unashamedly modern. Almost straight from the pages of interior design magazines - a marble-topped tub for two, a huge walk-in shower and luxury concealed fixtures which take a bit of working out but are more impressive for it.
As difficult as turning off the plasma and leaving bed is, going to a spa hotel and not doing the spa seemed a little rude. Adjusting to the stillness of the relaxation area before being preened and pampered with an aromatherapy facial was bliss and sometime after the exfoliating, cleansing and toning was done with, so was I. A deeply relaxing head massage saw me into a trance before I was gently awoken and led through to a candle-lit suite to lull any remaining doubts about my newly found state of relaxation. All too soon my afternoon in the spa was over and thoughts turned to dinner.
Pre-dinner drinks were taken with canapés next to a tinkling piano. Once you've done sipping wines looking out at the lough, the tables come allocated by a bow-tied maître d' and, as it all feels like something of an occasion, dressing for dinner is still the norm rather than the exception.
There is a less formal bar and lounge on the hotel grounds, but as my package included four-course dining at the Culloden's Mitre Restaurant it was an occasion to simply enjoy.
As anticipated, dinner was excellent, from the canapés to the coffee with a fantastic spiced Gresham Duck in the middle. The wines were good, the views were great and it would have been worth my fare alone if only for the service. Having never had my dinner revealed to me with the lifting of antique silver cloches, the presentation was also something of a treat.
Probably the best feature of any stay at the Culloden are the acres of sloping terraces, mature gardens and the woodlands which wrap the house from all sides. By day the grounds look down on the boats and ferries which make for the comings and goings of Belfast Port and in the evening there is the serenity of the lights from the towers at Harland and Wolff beyond. The Culloden isn't perfect, but it is more than worth a visit and it deserves its five stars if only for the hotel bar which was once the chapel at the Culloden estate. Were they alive to see it now, what the Bishops of Down would make of that particular aspect of service is anyone's guess. Excellent value.
Room : 4 / 5
Food : 4 / 5
Service : 5 / 5
Atmosphere : 4 / 5
Value for Money : 5 / 5
What's the deal:
I sampled the Midweek Gourmet Package which is available from Sunday to Thursday and priced from £160 per room based on two people sharing.
The deal included overnight accommodation in a superior room, a four-course dinner at the Mitre Restaurant and a full breakfast. The package is available on the Culloden Estate website.
For more information visit http://www.hastingshotels.com/culloden-estate-and-spa.