From the moment you arrive and step through the stone archway at Culloden, something magical happens. All the stresses of modern-day life disappear, and you feel as though you’ve come home, this is 5-star Irish hospitality at its absolute best.
Culloden Estate & Spa is on the outskirts of Belfast and is about a ten-minute drive from the centre, even less from George Best City Airport. Built in 1867, the Hotel has been modernised and sympathetically extended. Formerly a Bishop’s Palace, it nestles within 12 acres of manicured lawns.
It has a magnificent sweeping staircase and stained glass window feature. Very Downton Abbey.
There have been a couple of additions to the original house which include additional bedrooms on an ivy-covered wing and conference and banqueting suites.
The award-winning Spa has had a recent upgrade and undergone a total makeover. ESPA spa treatments are on offer in eight treatment rooms. There are two relaxation rooms, a gym and a Medispa.
In the original house, it’s all panelling and painted ceilings. Look upwards to see some real works of art or find a quiet corner to tuck into a book or admire the views.
My visit took place over two days, and I brought my Mum along for company. The Lady Dufferin Suite was to be our home; even I was speechless and a little breathless for a few seconds because this it’s pretty impressive.
The beds are worth a blog of their own. We slept like babies, on a mattress which Goldilocks would have trouble stirring from, and we woke to views that took us straight into the garden and beyond to Belfast Lough.
The bathroom is almost as large as the bedroom, covered in marble from floor to ceiling. There’s a bath and decent power shower along with Jack and Jill sinks so there was no fighting for mirrors. Slippers and bathrobes were on hand as well as ESPA toiletries and the Hastings signature rubber duck. There’s complimentary wi-fi, tea and coffee on hand and a turndown service.
Fine dining is on offer in The Mitre Restaurant with Paul McKnight at the helm who’s an experienced pair of hands. While Northern Ireland is celebrating a year of food; the hotel group have been championing ‘local’ for years, and they’re right behind the initiative. Local produce from local suppliers is key to everything they do here. Executive Chef, Brian Donaldson keeps up-to-date with food trends and takes inspiration from social media and the plates are a testament to this. Their kitchen offers some inspired food and inventive flavours to rival any Michelin starred restaurant. Expect plenty of seafood and top-notch meat all paired with a decent wine list.
It’s also here in The Mitre where the Hotel serves its not-to-be-missed breakfast. Small artisan producers are brought together on the Culloden’s menu, all with one thing in common, high-quality products whether that’s from the natural yoghurt to the sharp apple juice.
A bowl of pin oatmeal, served with cream and a generous tot of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, is an absolute must and will set you up for the day if you don’t fancy the full Irish.
J B Crozier, the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dronmore built a private Chapel during his time at Culloden. It’s now a bright, airy bar, named in his honour. The gin selection is one of the best I’ve seen for a while. There’s great support for Irish gin brands as you’d expect, including Jawbox and Shortcross, and a couple of decent names closer to home.
Wander around the gardens and be sure to sample some of the herbs the Chefs are growing.
A short stroll away, there’s the Cultra Inn a restaurant and bar serving a more relaxed menu, the emphasis again on fresh and local.
Afternoon tea is something of a ritual here, and you’ll be taking it in the Drawing Room. Be sure to skip breakfast; this is a marathon, not a sprint.
We hired a car and found it pretty simple to get around.
We drove to Giant’s Causeway, and skipped around The Old Bushmill’s Distillery and went to Bangor for a stroll.
We didn’t make it to Belfast to explore the Titanic Museum, the Botanic Gardens, the Waterfront or the historic St George’s Market. Next door to the Hotel is Cultra Railway Station with direct links into Belfast and beyond.
Culloden Estate and Spa, 142 Bangor Road, Holywood.