Carol Hunt checks into the five-star Lough Erne Resort in Co. Fermanagh.
There's a story about the G8 visit to the lakeland splendour of Lough Erne Resort that, if it isn't true, should be. Seemingly, both Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama wished to work out their muscled physiques very early in the morning.
A time long before mere mortals like you and I would dream of even turning over in our beds, let alone donning tracksuit and runners to get a hard physical training session. Obama, spring chicken that he is, got to the gym in this five-star hotel first. Naturally, his security detail came too. So there was no room left for the Russian dynamo.
Not to be outdone in the macho stakes, Putin shrugged off such Western luxuries as indoor training machines and central heating. Real, macho leaders trained in the outdoors, a la Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV. And so, Castle Hume Lough - the offshoot of Lough Erne that laps against the resort greens - was cordoned off at dawn while Putin stripped off and dived into its murky, freezing depths, accompanied by, one presumes, a pretty miserable security detail.
He swims out a little and then returns, his point made, his reputation enhanced. God knows what the locals thought of a Russian ex-KGB officer taking a dip in a lake before breakfast, but knowing the amiability of the people of Fermanagh, I'm sure they took it all in their stride.
My visit to the five-star resort, which is nestled in the Fermanagh lakelands, included neither gym visits, lake swims, or oddly enough, golf. It was to be a weekend of pure, solitary relaxation, albeit interspersed with walks, a few visits to the spa and lots of good food. My family, all golfing nutcases (I use the term affectionately), are bemused at the idea that the one person in the extended family who has not yet (there's always time) discovered the delights of golf is the one who gets to enjoy a luxury weekend at a resort which boasts a Nick Faldo-designed golf course.
Even worse, it's the weekend of the Irish Open and there are all manner of golf enthusiasts to chat with in the elegant Blaney Bar. I travel via Bus Eireann, a quick journey from Busaras to downtown Enniskillen. There isn't a taxi to be had for euro or sterling in the weekend downpour of rain. But Enniskillen people being innately charming, a lone taxi driver with a woman and her granddaughters as passengers takes pity on me, and after a detour to her suburban home we land at the manicured lawns of the 600-acre estate.
Initial impressions are of Scottish Highland grandeur. And seemingly Loch Lomond was the inspiration for this large sandstone castle-style building, surrounded by guest lodges with pointed, conical towers evoking lairds, damsels and any number of knights in shining armour.
Stephen Cox, the front-office manager, is full of chat and advice on where to go and what to do during my stay. I tell him I plan to walk a lot, checking out the golf course. He asks if I play. I tell him I don't. He says I can always take a lesson and I wonder how I will manage to squirm out of such a kind offer - my family would never let me live it down. The affable Shane brings me up to a suite overlooking the lake and when I see the room I vow not to leave it for, oh, at least a week, if not two. It has a four-poster bed, you see. Not only that, but if, like me, you were reared on romantic novels like Forever Amber and doomed Scottish Stuart queens, you will probably have always had a yen to sleep in one, with the curtains pulled tight all-around. Yes, unlike most other pseudo-four-posters I've experienced, this was the real deal - all heavy braid and ruffles and real curtains.Royal bliss.
But first, the sleep in the princess bed must be earned and a walk beckoned. Stephen had kindly provided me with a map of the estate and, even though the rain was still pelting down, I spent a wonderful two hours traversing the golf course, a landscape so beautiful and inspiring I thought I might just be persuaded to take up golf if it ensured a return visit.
There's a wooden bridge, swans, forest glades, hills and valleys, bats and rabbits. When I mention the rabbits to Lee, our superb waiter (though he's so fantastic, professional and brilliant at his job I feel he should have a more salubrious title), the following evening, he notes drily that the grounds-keeper will not be impressed at all with that news. Ah yes, we agree, there may have been rabbit on the menu but there should be none on a five-star golf course.
The menu! The head chef is Noel McMeel and though he was off that night, we were cared for fantastically by the aforementioned Lee. The drive from Dublin to Enniskillen is just over two hours and it would be worth it just for a visit to the Catalina restaurant. McMeel has worked all over the world in top hotels and restaurants for many years, and it shows.
The food, most of it sourced locally, is sublime. And, conveniently for an amateur like myself, a suitable wine is suggested to go with each course. Kilkeel crab, local quail, Lough Erne lamb, each course is more delicious than the last, but the piece de resistance is Pat O' Doherty's black pudding fritter. This is to die for, as are all of Pat's pork products. Lee tells us that he keeps his little piggies roaming free on a Lough Erne island and has a shop in the village. I refuse to think of cute Babe piglets lolling around the Fermanagh countryside and ask if Pat opens on Sundays? I have to have more.
Did I mention the spa? It's a perfect way to relax after a hard day's golfing. Or after a lazy afternoon sightseeing in the bustling town of Enniskillen. There's far more to this resort than mere golf. But if you are a fan, the Irish Open 2017 will be held here. I might even go!
Two nights bed and breakfast in a luxury lodge for two adults and two children, one family dinner in the Loughside Bar & Grill, use of the Thai Spa Infinity Pool (swim times apply), a range of activities available daily - rates are from €326 per night with additional children from €135 each. (Sunday-Thursday)
Lough Erne Resort, Belleek Road, Enniskillen, Fermanagh, BT93 7ED, Northern Ireland Telephone: +44 (0) 28 6632 3230; see lougherneresort.com.