The Culloden Estate has a reputation as a stand-out, luxury spa hotel precedes it in Northern Ireland. Almost everyone to whom you mention it will remark on the quality of its calibre.
Located just six miles outside of Belfast, along the coast of North Down, it is the only Northern Ireland property in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group. The hotel has sprung from an original Gothic mansion built in the 1870s – once the official palace of the local bishop – and now has many extensions and out-houses that sprawl across a scenic landscape.
Inside, the ground floor has the feel of a country lodge, with deeply patterned carpets, flowers springing from vases on tables and portraits of well-fed and well-bred men and women from centuries gone by. This is wonderfully broken up during our visit by displays of work by New York pop artist Keith Haring, an LGBT+ icon famed for his cartoonish prints in the 1980s.
And the notable artwork doesn’t end there. The beautifully kept grounds were the summer we visited peppered with modern pieces as part of the ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibition, showcasing the works of Dali, Picasso, Warhol and Banksy – alongside Irish artists too. This brought a modern twist to the Victorian setting, and whether you’re on the grounds, or sat up above in the hotel, you can enjoy glorious views across Belfast Lough to Carrickfergus on the other side.
We enjoyed the spacious rooms in one of the hotel’s best suites, which has ample space for relaxing in a living room environment or socialising around a table that overlooks the grounds. The suite itself was in a wing opened by tennis player Bjorn Borg – himself a happy visitor at the hotel.
A Bridgerton-inspired afternoon tea was one treat we indulged in at The Culloden – served up with delicious cakes and sandwiches and just a little Prosecco. While the tea trolly they rolled out for us was an enjoyable old-fashioned quirk, the sweet bites themselves were modern twists on chocolate, lemon and strawberry favourites. The service here was excellent and indicative of what we’d quickly come to expect of everyone at the hotel.
Right on time
While you’re Out There
The North Down coast is one of the most beautiful (and well-heeled) spots in Northern Ireland, and you could enjoy one of the beach spots including Helen’s Bay, or visit the Royal Belfast Golf Club. For young families, the seaside fun of Bangor is just a 15-minute drive away, while you can also be exploring the grand grounds of Stormont (Northern Ireland’s parliament building) within 5 minutes.
The Culloden’s much-enjoyed spa has been renovated and reopened, and guests can once again enjoy the large pool, the smaller Vitality pool, the sauna and steam room – as well as a selection of treatments. We enjoyed a head, neck and back massage in the tranquil spa area which winds away from the fun of the pool area, and enjoyed some relaxation time afterwards in a large, comfortable room designed for just that.
Right at the heart of the hotel, Vespers Restaurant is one of the finest in Northern Ireland, but after a day of indulgence (and yes, maybe more cakes and Prosecco), we opted for the other dining experience at the Cultra Inn. This is a gastro-pub affair situated just a few minutes walk within the grounds, offering a great excuse to take in the previously mentioned art and scenery. While the menu was full of family favourites, it’s hard not to recommend the fish or scampi dishes which are as fresh as they come, being located right there at the mouth of the Irish Sea.
The ‘Bollinger Bus’ parked up next to the Cultra Inn also offers guests a chance to sit for a glass of champagne in a garden picnic environment before returning to the main hotel for the night.
The Culloden boasts a roster of famous guests, from royalty and politicians to actors and musicians. During our brief overnight stay, we spotted no fewer than two household names, but needless to say, this is not a place where people are pointed out or bothered. Rather, it’s a refuge for many who work in the emerging TV and film production business in Belfast.
If you want a luxury stay just outside the city limits, with all the advantages of some country peace and quiet, look no further.