We begin our first ever trip to Northern Ireland in style, with a night at the luxurious Culloden Estate and Spa, a five-star hotel near Belfast. My seventeen year old daughter and I are spending a few days away while my son is on school summer camp. I’m feeling pretty stressed before we leave home, and am delighted to accept an invitation to escape, briefly, by reviewing two luxury hotels: the Culloden and the Slieve Donard (you can read my review of the Slieve Donard here. Details of what we did on the trip are to follow).
Culloden Estate and Spa
The Culloden is a grand and imposing hotel set in landscaped grounds overlooking Belfast Lough. Built in 1876, it’s part of the Hastings Hotel Group and was the first five-star hotel in Northern Ireland. Apparently it’s popular with visiting celebrities, such as the England football team, Tom Jones and Tony Blair amongst others.
It takes us just half an hour to reach the hotel in our hire car from Belfast International Airport. When we arrive, our room isn’t ready (it’s 11am) so we leave our bags with the concierge and drive back to the city for lunch and an afternoon at the excellent Titanic Experience, around six miles away (I’m writing about that in a separate post).
Back at the Culloden a few hours later, our room is ready. The very helpful concierge shows us to the spacious Muirfield Suite on the seventh floor and explains where everything is. It’s all very splendid, as you can see from this short video which I film on my phone, after leaping around the room for a bit in excitement, much to my daughter’s disdain:
The room is spacious and airy, and looks out to the landscaped grounds on two sides. The furnishings are luxurious and modern, and the decor is in shades of green and gold, which I find calming and relaxing.
There’s free wifi throughout hotel, and next to the beds there’s a Roberts radio with Bluetooth. We don’t need to use the gas log fire which is mounted in the wall, but this would be great in the colder months.
The bathroom has everything which you’d expect from a luxury hotel (although my daughter laments the fact that hotels never seem to provide bubble bath).
We both love the Espa toiletries which are provided. The towelling robes are satisfyingly thick and soft. There’s a mini rubber duck on the bath – we later learn that this is a feature of Hastings Hotels, and that the design of the ducks changes every so often.
I’m surprised that although there’s a kettle with tea and coffee (including decaf), there’s nowhere obvious to plug it in. After an unsuccessful socket hunt I have to put the kettle on the floor to plug it in – which isn’t ideal.
After a cup of tea, it’s time to check out the hotel spa, which is free for guests to use. We’re given towels, robes and slippers at the spa reception. After a session in the steam room, where we end up discussing politics with a Canadian guest, we find some loungers and read for a while. I swim a few of widths of the hexagonal pool, and then it’s time to get ready for dinner. The women’s changing rooms are spacious and well thought out. There are fresh bath mats to use when you come out of the shower, as well as hairdryers and moisturiser.
Dinner that evening is at the Cultra Inn, a kind of posh pub in an old building within the hotel grounds. We stroll along lavender-lined paths to get there. The menu has a vegetarian section and I opt for green Thai curry, while my daughter chooses fish and chips. The food is fine.
Back at our room, a couple of maids are finishing the turn down service. They’ve tidied the room, closed the curtains and left a couple of chocolates and bottles of water by our beds.
When I go to plug in my phone charger I find that there’s nowhere easy to do so. There’s a socket next to the bed, but it’s angled so close to the wall that my charger can’t fit in to it. I end up plugging it in behind the curtains.
My bed is ridiculously comfortable, and I sleep very well. My kids always talk about bed comfort when we stay anywhere, so I really notice what beds are like in different places. (The beds are exactly the same at our next hotel, the Slieve Donald, and I find out that they’re called Cloud Beds and are manufactured in Ireland by a company called King Koil.)
Next morning we have breakfast at The Mitre restaurant downstairs. It’s a very plush affair, with classical music playing in the background and helpful staff all over the place. The food is good – much of it is locally sourced, and there’s a booklet on our table to explain where the various ingredients come from. The service is pretty disorganised, although the staff are all very friendly.
While we’re checking out, the concierge brings our car to the entrance and puts our bags in the boot. He then gives us a map and directions for our journey. We stop off at the excellent Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, next to the hotel, before heading along the coast to the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa for the next stage of our trip.
My daughter says:
’It’s a nice hotel. I like the bed because it’s comfy. The bathroom’s good because it’s big. The shower’s good. The people are nice.’
On the spa: ‘I like that the steam room is big because it means that you can stretch out and you don’t have to wait for people to get out of there. There aren’t many loungers. The pool’s good but not for doing lengths for fitness.’
‘I enjoyed our stay at the Culloden. It was very relaxing, our room was gorgeous and the staff were all really friendly and helpful. The beds couldn’t be more comfortable. The hotel’s in a great location for exploring Belfast and Northern Ireland. It’s a detail, but the sockets in the room really should be better positioned – you don’t expect to be scrabbling around on the floor to plug in a kettle or charge your phone in a five-star hotel.’
Rooms at the Culloden Estate and Spa five-star luxury hotel near Belfast cost from £80 per person per night, room only. The Muirfield Suite where we stayed is a State Suite and costs considerably more than that – the price when we stayed, including breakfast, was £695 per night.
Disclosure: We received one night’s accommodation at the Culloden Estate and Spa for the purposes of this review.