Sunday 19 November 2017

Fermanagh: Island Girls and Lusty Ladies

Northern Ireland breaks

At the end of the day: Sunset across Lough Erne, home to the Lusty Beg Island Resort, an utterly beguiling place.
At the end of the day: Sunset across Lough Erne, home to the Lusty Beg Island Resort, an utterly beguiling place.
Lady of the lake: Madeleine relaxes on the balcony of her wooden lodge at Lusty Beg Island Resort overlooking the lapping waters of Lough Erne
Madeleine Keane

Madeleine Keane

She reminds me she’s an island girl as we bowl past the lakes of Virginia where we used as children visit our only brother in boarding school.

I’d forgotten when inviting my youngest sibling to accompany me on this spa jaunt that indeed she’s always had a passion for  islands. Most summers see Justine venturing off to some enchanted isle or other. Inisbofin, Achill, Valentia — indeed, only last summer the pair of us abandoned  our daughters and our dogs and left them with the menfolk and took a boat to legendary Clare Island.

Storm Harry hovers as we head off to Lough Erne and the brilliantly monikered Lusty Beg Island Resort. Red post boxes signal that we’ve entered Northern Ireland, and before long we’re through Quinn country and Enniskillen and on Boa Island; a causeway brings us to Lusty Mor and suddenly there’s a slipway and a dinky navy ferry which carries car, two sisters and luggage across a small, choppy expanse of lake to our weekend retreat.

Exquisitely beautiful, this is an utterly beguiling place. The resort comprises a main reception area with restaurant, bar and wedding venue and an assortment of chalets, lodges, suites and cabins. Nor is there any shortage of activities here; in addition to the plethora of obvious aqua-based activities offered by the locale’s watery setting, there are tennis courts, a football pitch, off-road tracks, a clay pigeon shoot and an archery area. Not to mention a well equipped spa and leisure centre, of which more anon.

Justine and I were staying in a three-bed (four-starred) wooden lodge. With two twins and a master bedroom, they sleep six, and are fully equipped with everything from LED TV and stove to all the mod cons in the kitchen; management have also kindly stocked the essentials of life —herbal teas, decent coffee, pistachios and prosecco. Bathrooms are contemporary and expensively kitted out, downstairs there’s a shower/wet room and my top floor suite has a verandah overlooking the lake.

Their signature cocktail here is a Lusty Lady (obviously) and the barman hands me mine explaining that it’s made with rum, schnapps, grenadine, strawberries and lots of care, before heading into the dark woods and a very inclement night to check out a chirping alarm in our cabin.

Lady of the lake: Madeleine relaxes on the balcony of her wooden lodge at Lusty Beg Island Resort overlooking the lapping waters of Lough Erne
Lady of the lake: Madeleine relaxes on the balcony of her wooden lodge at Lusty Beg Island Resort overlooking the lapping waters of Lough Erne

Dining is relaxed and unfussy and we both opt for starters of gambas pil pil, followed by ribeye with chips. We sleep blissfully in the complete dark offered only by such a remote spot, the silence momentarily shattered by a thunderstorm that passes so closely overhead that the house shakes and someone remarks later that it was like a bomb going off.

We wake to wind and snow, which lends an even more ethereally lovely  air to the place. After breakfast we take advantage of the sunshine to walk the perimeter of the island. We’re both navigationally challenged (even armed with GPS and an AA printout we couldn’t manage getting from Dublin to County Fermanagh) so natch we get a bit lost. But what a wonderful place in which to lose the plot. I half expect to bump into Mr Tumnus for it’s like being in Narnia when Aslan returns: the quiet forest, the stilly lake, the drifts of melting snow everywhere. My horticulturist sister observes that the superb quality of the lichen indicates the purity of the air. Our stroll is a mere preamble to the later activity when, after excellent chicken liver pate and mushrooms on toast in front of a roaring fire, we take a RIB out on the lake. Our genial boatman zooms over the choppy water, passing a snow-covered Ben Bulben, a family of swans, a few tiny islets. Kaipo, who landed in Ireland from his native Estonia 14 years ago on St Patrick’s Day and never looked back, tells us how Lusty Beg comes into its own during the summer with hundreds of crafts buzzing about on the lake, all manner of water sports occurring while music plays over the loudspeakers. He lets me drive the boat back. The island is also only half an hour from Donegal and its stunning surfing beach — Rossnowlagh. Interestingly, with the Iowa caucuses due to take place the next day, we’re not too far from the ancestral homes of two US Presidents — Woodrow Wilson and James Buchanan. We are near Belleek too and Florence Court, fabled for its gardens and its 18th-Century house.

Earlier, over hot whiskeys to fortify us against the winter chill, the ebullient owners, Arthur and Liz Cadden, explain that they’ve spent a quarter of a century developing the resort. When the conference business, on which they relied heavily,  fell off a cliff in September 2008, they  were forced to reinvent; the wedding  market was an obvious route for such an idyllically romantic locale and now they do about 150 a year. There’s one on while we’re there; and in both detail and ambience it’s compellingly lovely — the table of heart-shaped shortbread and pink cocktails, the vintage Daimler to carry the bridal party across the lake, and a lone Scottish piper playing the bagpipes as dusk descends upon the island.

Meanwhile, the spa hums with the sounds of an eight-strong hen party preening and pampering themselves. Serendipitously, Justine and I had enjoyed our treatments the previous day — a deluxe facial (complete with back, feet and head massage) for my little sis and a smashing 90-minute muslin bag massage for moi. I also take full advantage of the pool, sauna, steam room and outdoor hot tub — tiny snowflakes fall on my bare shoulders as I sit in its warm, soothing waters. Island Girl and Lusty Lady vow to return: who knows — maybe with a bride in tow.

Getting there...

There are two special offers until the end of March;

• Two night mid-week bed and breakfast inclusive of €27 voucher for spa or activities per room €133 ( Sunday - Thursday)

• Couples’ Getaway - two night mid-week bed and breakfast in cabin suite inclusive of couple’s sea weed bath €301. (Sunday - Thursday)

Contact details: Boa Island, Kesh Co. Fermanagh, BT93 8AD (+44)2868633300

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