In the busy world we now live in, like me, you maybe find it difficult to switch off and relax. I’ve often been told about the benefits of spa breaks and how they actually do allow you to reset your inner self, a bit like switching a computer on and off again I suppose!
It might surprise you to discover that Northern Ireland is home to award-winning spa resorts. I have focused on the counties of Down, Antrim and Londonderry as, coupled with their proximity to stunning country and coastal walks, spas in those counties provide the ideal detox on a short break.
The scenic and tranquil Roe Valley Country Park near Limavady, renowned for its spectacular riverside views, woodland walks and opportunities for salmon & trout fishing and canoeing is an ideal location for the Roe Park Resort. Based on an historic country estate, the resort boasts an 18 hole golf course, a 4* hotel with two restaurants and an award-winning spa and leisure complex. The opulent and comfortable suite we stayed in was one of four in the more historic part of the building. The large bay window offered stunning views across the golf course to the town of Limavady, with Binevenagh Mountain in the background. The resort caters from many interests, from children through to the older generation, with plenty of activites on offer. The Spa offers an Aqua Meditation Chamber, Sauna and Steam suite, Heated Pool and Gymnasium, along with treatments from Facials to Body Wraps. Of the two restaurants on site, we enjoyed the casual atmosphere of the Coach House Brasserie, which overlooks the greens of the Golf Club.
The Galgorm Resort near Ballymena is set in 163 acres of parkland and makes full use of the River Maine, which flows through the estate. Guests enjoy the chance to be close to nature and experience the relaxation offered by Irelands first Thermal Village. This wasn’t our first visit to the Galgorm, but it was our first since the multi-million pound investment in the facilities. Luckily our stay coincided with a period of great weather, so it wasn’t difficult to venture out to the riverside hot-tubs, Celtic Sauna and the Snow Cabin. The Orangery and the River House offer amazing relaxation spaces. We particularly enjoyed the feeling of being in the open air with the river flowing alongside. The whole experience was really well thought out, making full use of the natural space available. Of course, the village spa is only one part of the Galgorm experience. Gillies Bar & Grill or Fratelli restaurants offer a casual dining experience and the more formal River Room restaurant and the Gin & Cocktail bar in the Conservatory allow guests to enjoy their stay as they see fit. The resort is a favourite of many celebrities passing through or filming in the area including Denise Van Outen, Liam Neeson, Jemma Kidd and Michael Fassbender, so you never know who you might bump into!
The Victorians were quick to realise the benefits of sea air and relaxation, so it is little wonder that the coast at Newcastle, Co Down was seen as an ideal destination. The very grand Slieve Donard Hotel is steeped in history, previous guests include movie stars like Charlie Chaplin, and in more recent times Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta Jones. The hotel sits on the beach at one end of Newcastle promenade alongside Royal County Down golf course, at the other end, as the song says, the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea. The spa is spread over two floors. Upstairs, guests can try holistic therapies in one of the 16 treatment suites. Downstairs, the Swimming and Vitality pools are my favourite areas as they enjoy stunning views of the coastline. Accommodation at the Slieve Donard is quite stylish. There is a modern feel, yet you can sense the history of the place as you take in the sea air and landscaped grounds. Dining is sophisticated too. The Oak Restaurant offers an array of dishes prepared using local produce while, not too far from the main hotel, the Percy French Inn has a log fire and relaxed atmosphere.
Each resort is attached to, or close to, a Golf course and whilst Rory McIlroy won’t be losing any sleep over my golfing prowess, I find hitting a few golf balls at a driving range quite enjoyable. Spa resorts have won me over, my partner and I left feeling refreshed, re-energised and already planning our next spa break.