Slieve Donard Resort & Spa Newcastle, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
The Slieve Donard has long been counted among the best hotels in Northern Ireland, and despite spa hotel competitors popping up lately, our recent visit found prestige and top quality service is maintaining the hotel’s reputation.
Situated in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains (and the Slieve Donard peak from which it draws its name), the hotel is perched at the edge of the seaside town of Newcastle in Northern Ireland’s County Down.
With its commanding red brick and turret-style roof windows, the Slieve Donard Resort never fails to impress when it comes into view. First opened as a railway hotel in 1898, it strikes somewhere between London’s St. Pancras and a Disney castle.
The lobby is a bustling area with friendly and impeccably dressed staff. It sprawls out into the greater ground floor, with staircases and balconies overlooking the various rooms where guests can stop and have a sit or a drink while enjoying the views.
We visited at the height of summer, and it’s evidently popular with families – given its large number of spacious rooms, and close proximity to the seaside and other amenities. Rooms are spacious and comfortable, with many excellent views to be enjoyed across the landscape outside.
But if you’re there to switch off, the hotel’s spa area is a unique treat, generally considered one of the best in Ireland. It boasts a 20 metre swimming pool, a bubbling Vitality Pool, a sauna and a steam room – all looking right out onto the waves crashing in against the nearby shore from the Irish Sea. The recently refurbished spa also includes a double treatment room and a private relaxation area for couples or small groups.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
Enjoy some fish and chips in the adjoining seaside town of Newcastle, or channel your inner Rory McIlroy at the Royal County Down Golf Club which backs on to the hotel. If you’re travelling to the Slieve Donard Resort from Belfast, you can easily take in the charms of Strangford Lough. You can kayak and paddleboard on the lough, or if you’re looking for a delicious lunch, look no further than Daft Eddy’s.
After a lazy afternoon dip, the jewel in the crown of Slieve Donard is the evening dining experience. Following some excellent cocktails (a Cosmo and an Espresso Martini), we indulged in fresh cod and beautifully cooked duck breast, all presented as part of colourful and varied dishes. A special mention has to go to the chef’s signature arancini balls which work well as a starter – though we’d gladly have them for breakfast, lunch, or even as a late-night snack if the choice was there!
For a more casual bite, the Percy French Inn serves Irish-style meals just within the hotel grounds, and it seemed to be more frequented by families enjoying their stay, while couples appeared to prefer the main hotel dining room.
A few guests had a walk around the grounds to burn off their evening meal, but you can also head for a nightcap in the Chaplin Bar – a cocktail lounge adorned with movie posters from the silent film star’s pictures. A plaque on the wall shows Chaplin registered at the hotel in 1921 after coming to Ireland in search of a lost love, who had sadly died in the Spanish Flu pandemic just shortly before.
This touch of history is not unique to Slieve Donard but peppered throughout the Hastings Hotels in Northern Ireland, where exhibitions and displays tell guests the stories attached to the buildings which often long precede the current owners.
A particularly fetching display here shows vintage posters advertising Northern Ireland as a holiday destination in the first half of the 20th century. The weather might not be guaranteed, but from the scenic views, the great hospitality and, of course, the reassuring refuge of the Slieve Donard, it certainly remains a destination to keep on the bucket list.