The Blue Book’s Glenlo Abbey Hotel has been adding rooms and upgrading interiors, complementing a unique restaurant set in carriages from the Orient Express
Do you know that you can eat dinner on carriages from the original Orient Express in Galway? For romantic souls, rail enthusiasts or anyone looking for a night out with a tasty side of theatre, The Pullman Restaurant may be reason enough to book a stay at the five-star Glenlo Abbey Hotel.
But there’s plenty else besides. A private home until the 1980s, the 73-bed, Blue Book hotel has been getting hands-on TLC from owners John and Marie Lally for several years now. Splashing out more than €10m since 2019, they’ve added 25 rooms, upgraded interiors with Dublin’s Millimetre Design, and added the new Palmers Bar & Kitchen and Glo boutique spa during the pandemic.
Glenlo treated Covid lockdowns as an opportunity to evolve, as well as a challenge — and we couldn’t wait to step aboard.
The Rating: 7.5/10
After navigating Galway’s notorious traffic, this grand old house is a welcome relief coming into view off the N59. The 138-acre estate lies about 4km from the city, its grounds and nine-hole golf course sprawling downhill toward Lough Corrib. There’s a refreshing sense of space, and a hint of the Connemara landscapes on its doorstep.
Driving through the cast-iron gates, we were greeted by a doorman in top hat and tails, had our luggage whisked away and, though several parties were checking in, staff still found the time to answer questions properly and give us a short, friendly tour. That made us feel looked after.
The house dates from 1740, and the main entrance features an imposing set of limestone steps. Guests with reduced mobility should call ahead about accessibility and alternative routes around the building. 8/10
Glenlo’s reception rooms are a warren of old-world luxury, and subtle upgrades give its lounges new life. I snuck in a creamy pre-dinner pint by the window, surrounded by antique furnishings, duck-egg green wallpaper and a serenading pianist. The abbey itself was built in 1790 as a small church but was never consecrated — you can sit inside with a drink or afternoon tea (it would also be a perfect space for small weddings; above). Connecting corridors can feel cramped, though, especially at busy times like breakfast.
Service and staffing are stretched all over Ireland, but solid training shone through here. Staff felt more laid-back and personable than more formal five-stars, from the receptionist rescheduling bike rides to the staff member delivering popcorn to the small movie theatre.
Watching a private movie screening was a highlight for us. Other activities include fab falconry experiences (€75/€50pp), golf (€50 for guests) and resort bikes for a spin around the estate paths (free). The new Glo Spa is a neat addition, but a small one, with four treatment rooms, compact changing areas and Elemis products. 7.5/10
From classic to superior and suites, all rooms have been refurbished by Millimetre. The brief was to merge classic and contemporary features, and we could see that in a space blending rich notes like damask wallpapers, gilded mirrors and brass lamps with fresh orchids, a swimming-pool-sized bed and modern air-con and lighting that gave us control over mood and tones.
I love massively thick towels in a hotel, and they were bouncing off the rails here — along with a huge, powerful shower and Handmade Soap Company products. Bare bedroom walls and plain bathroom tiling left me craving the odd splash of art, however, and our bath was too small to be useful. We couldn’t help noting that noise travels in the corridors too. 7.5/10
The Pullman is the Glenlo’s X factor, a two-AA-Rosette restaurant in vintage railway carriages that starred in Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Staff lean into the theatricality of it all, issuing tickets as you board (“Enjoy your trip!”), and there are lace curtains, brass luggage racks and audio of a train playing under light, loungey music as you eat. Tables are tight, but it absolutely oozes atmosphere.
Dinner costs €72 for three courses with canapés, breads and petit fours, and it’s good to see Irish ingredients like McGeough’s beef, Sliabh Aughty honey and Ballyhoura mushrooms infusing the menu. For me, dishes didn’t quite hit the heights they did under Alan McArdle several years ago, and an error with a gluten-free order at one point made us nervy, but was promptly dealt with. But it’s definitely worth booking a night away for, and bonus points for a children’s menu that went beyond mere box-ticking.
Palmer’s Bar & Kitchen is the new casual option, with an outdoor terrace. Several large flatscreen TVs give the feel of a sports bar here, but the sparkling bar and leather booths add a little luxe. A slow-cooked lamb shank (€21.50) and zingy spicy chicken bap (€17) went down a treat at our table, with a lovely Rioja wine recommendation too.
We ate breakfast in the River Room, where à la carte options include the choice of a small or large cooked breakfast — an idea that should be standard in hotels. 7/10
Request a room on the Pullman side for views over the train carriages and Lough Corrib. Afternoon tea (€35) is an option to experience the hotel without overnight bills.
Galway’s Christmas market runs from November 12 to December 22, with its Big Wheel, carousel and wooden chalets.
Mixing contemporary elegance with the character and luxury of an 18th-century house isn’t easy but, year by year, the Glenlo Abbey keeps getting better. It feels like a little sister to Ireland’s larger, more famous five-stars, but has taken an international step up in joining the exclusive Small Luxury Hotels of the World portfolio. Eleven luxury, self-catering lodges are due to open in 2023. All aboard!
A Christmas market package costs from €240pp, including B&B, an escort to the market, and a private movie. Pól was a guest of the hotel.