The modest gated entrance a mere stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Ballynahinch town centre gives away little of the serenity which lies beyond in Montalto Estate.
As Business Month traversed the drive past the vast lake on a sunny autumn afternoon, worries of deadlines and captions eased away. These were briefly replaced by worries that perhaps my dusty diesel car was a little down at heel to be pulling up outside such an elegant Georgian house but when you’re greeted by a host such as David Anderson any such concerns quickly disappear.
It’s easy to see why he’s considered by various world leaders, kings, queens and politicians as one of Northern Ireland’s true institutions, for it was he who provided warm hospitality on their trips to Hillsborough Castle.
Household manager at the Secretary of State’s residence for 25 years, David knows how to make even a gnarly old hack feel at home in such opulent surroundings. And what a home.
Montalto House was built in 1760 for Lord Moira and went through a number of hands before being bought by the Wilsons — of generator manufacturer FG Wilson fame — in the 1990s. The family moved in and embarked upon an extensive renovation programme to bring the house to its original glory. The decision to open the house up to guests meant further refurbishment along with the decision to bring David on board.
“David’s enthusiasm about what we were trying to do confirmed we were on the right tracks,” David Wilson, grandson of the late Fred Wilson said. “He’s one of the few people who would be comfortable running a house this size.”
What they are doing is offering up the estate as a high-end venue providing accommodation, hospitality and events.
The difference, and what the two Davids regard as one of the property’s unique selling points, is that guests pay to hire the whole venue in its nine-bedroom glory rather than on a per room basis.
“The entire estate, grounds and all, are yours for the time you are here,” David Wilson said. “Whether you’re a business or leisure group you can have complete privacy with the freedom to move around the place as you like.”
That’s not to say guests are left to fend for themselves, rather they’ll be looked after like a royalty.
“Guests will be coming to stay with me,” David Anderson said. “If I’m not your best friend when you arrive, I will be by the time you leave.”
With a team of household staff and caterers behind David, Montalto can cater for 64 at breakfast, lunch and dinner in the sumptuous surroundings |of the main dining room while a number of smaller rooms double as meeting rooms or for more intimate dining.
And being something of a ‘fixer’, David can arrange |most trips or events, such as Royal County Down or Royal Portrush golf courses, at a moment’s notice.
Montalto is obviously aiming for the top end of the market, whether business or leisure, so it would be remiss not to ask whether now might be a difficult time to be starting out.
“The interest has been amazing,” David Anderson said. “We’re offering a bespoke service that you can’t get anywhere else and as a result we’ve appealed to people who appreciate the best service in the best surroundings.”
That confidence in the product is exhibited by Montalto’s future plans which include converting one of the farm buildings to accommodate larger events along with attracting more visitors from the United States, many of whom traditionally head to the Republic.
Certainly there’s plenty in Montalto to attract well-to-do visitors from around the world and you can’t help thinking visiting dignitaries might be tempted to nip down the road from Hillsborough and check |in to David Anderson’s new house the next time they’re on these shores.
I doubt they’d leave his |company in an embarrassing plume of diesel smoke.