The Rabbit Hotel review - a boutique burrow with outdoor spa and Balearic buzz
The Rabbit has a resident Cockapoo too, and has been named Northern Ireland’s Hotel of the Year...
“How do you feel now, and how would you like to feel afterwards?”
It’s a simple question, and a very effective one. I’m sitting in a wood-clad treatment room in The Rabbit Hotel & Retreat, a new boutique offering from Galgorm Collection. The therapist, Orlagh, puts me at ease and explains the onyx hot stone massage that’s about to zap the week’s worries away. Whatever about rebalancing ions, it works in a way I know how to describe: I chill out.
It’s a sweet introduction to this “laid-back little sister” to the hugely popular Galgorm resort, 30 minutes up the road. A £10m/€11.5m reboot of the old Templeton Hotel, The Rabbit is a clever, cosy and catchy stay that has thought everything through — from the boho-meets-Balearic vibes of its outdoor spa to The Loft, a banqueting-style wedding venue under the eaves.
And the AA has just named it Northern Ireland’s Hotel of the Year.
The rating: 7.5/10
Arrival & location
Rewind an hour or so, and we’ve pulled up after a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Dublin. The Rabbit is 15 minutes from Belfast, on the outskirts of Templeton, and looks like a blend of English inn and Swiss chalet. A tiled roof slopes right down to the garden, the spa overlooks a leafy little lake, and we lug our wheelie cases over a rough surface past a black Land Rover Defender. Its reg reads: ‘A Rabbit’.
Inside, there’s a lovely, personable check-in and a chance to meet the resident Cockapoo, Florence. But there’s a confusing layout. An octagonal lobby space is all but empty. Another lounge feels off-limits, set up for wedding displays with a couple of staff working on laptops. A single receptionist sits around the corner, in a corridor that gets droughty when doors open, and quickly fills with guests.
The reception layout is evolving, manager Lynsey Gordon explains, and will shortly move to that octagonal room to form a joint spa and hotel check-in. There are future plans for a gym and cottage-style rooms, too. The hotel is learning and improving as it goes. 6.5/10
Service & style
Country inn, lakeside retreat, hip spa hotel. The Rabbit blends bits of all, and I’m not surprised to hear Gordon cite The Pig’s UK getaways as influences. Country chic, artfully mismatched furniture and antiques like a stag’s head and servants’ bells slot in neatly with the saucy spa and funky art — a painting of Steve Martin and Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is just one example.
The spa (or ‘Relaxation Burrow’) is the big talking point. “We opted for a slightly different feel,” Gordon smiles. “Maybe the two-metre disco ball gives it away.”
An outdoor pool with glass wall, Roman columns, mood lighting and Ibiza chillout-style playlists clearly clicks with the couples and groups of women around us (“If we don’t think someone’s going to put a picture of it on Instagram, then we need to rethink,” she says).
Our treatments are first-class, and I like the heated patio, cabana-style bar buzz and details like the yellow-and-white striped towels, but it’s chilly moving between treatment rooms, relaxation area, tubs, sauna and salt chamber in the autumn air. The relaxation room has four double waterbeds, though they feel very close to each other, and there’s no lake view while lying or sitting on these. 7.5/10
Thirty-three rooms at the hotel range from ‘Snug’ to ‘Comfy’ in size, with the top end offering outdoor baths and wood-set stoves. We encounter several fire doors and short stairways getting to these (there is currently one accessible room), which is a bit tricky with cases.
Design is punchy and warm, however, with iron-framed beds, printed wallpapers, a neon ‘Bar’ sign and gorgeous wooden floors. Extras include a fab Dyson hairdryer, robes and flip-flops, and ‘Munchies’ trays with snacks like Keogh’s crisps (£2/€2.30) and candyfloss (£2.50/€2.87).
Those quirks, and the mini Marshall speakers, aren’t the only touches reminding me of Press-Up Group hotels like The Dean and Glasson Lakehouse. But all pieces of the puzzle fit. I smiled when opening the door. 7/10
Food & drink
Coeliacs are in for a big treat, with a full gluten-free menu, including rare gems like onion rings, apple crumble and its signature Hunter’s pie. It (and the breakfast pancakes) got a thumbs up from my wife, who is coeliac. Vegans and vegetarians get their own menu, too.
“It’s food for everyone,” a waiter says when I compliment the menus later. If only more hotels thought that way.
The open kitchen anchors a surprisingly big 280-seater space (aiming for locals and guests), and it’s busy throughout the Saturday we stay. The menu has an Italian-American feel, with mains from £17/€19.50-£23/€27.40. The 8oz steak burger, scampi and house fries go down a treat, as does a smoked mackerel salad to start. Live tunes kick off Thursday to Saturday in Hunter’s Bar, creating a homely, buzzy space after your spa adventures. 8/10
The bottom line
The Rabbit won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those whose cup of tea it is will love it. At this price point, I felt some details fell short — the relaxation room, for example, and some niggles like an annoyingly creaky bed frame in our room (when I tell staff, there’s a genuine apology and a promise to look at it right away).
But overall, here’s a fresh, fun take on what a hotel can be, and one that never loses sight of creature comforts or the guest experience.
A day spa package is available from 8am to 2pm, including lunch, a 60-minute treatment and full spa access (£135/€156pp).
Ask at reception for walking trails in the area, or drive 10km to nearby Antrim and Lough Neagh.
B&B from €213-€425 in Snug rooms, or €357-€570 in Comfy rooms with outdoor baths. Pól was a guest of the hotel. rabbithotel.com