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Culloden: A palace fit for a King

The sheer decadence of the five-star estate and spa is not just for celebs - you can get the VIP treatment too.

By Martin Breen

Going to the gothic grandeur of the fabulous Culloden Estate and Spa is the ultimate solution to the January blues.

Sitting in the Holywood Hills, overlooking Belfast Lough, the luxury five star hotel offers the best escape from everyday life and an unforgettable experience.

The Culloden hotel stands in 12 acres of beautiful secluded gardens and woodland and this 105 bedroom establishment seems to be going from strength to strength.

Originally built in 1876, it became the official residence of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and was once known as the Bishop’s Palace. This year it celebrates 50 years since it was bought by Hastings Hotels who still own it.

Despite many renovations and extensions over the past half century, they have not detracted from the hand-cut stonework  of the original building, and the chapel which was dedicated over a hundred years ago is today used as the hotel’s bar!

As soon as I entered the hotel’s historic Gothic mansion — the majestic centre-piece of this resort — it really had a fairytale like feeling. The palatial surroundings and the high levels of personal service mean you feel like you are the King (or Queen) of your very own castle.

The hotel offers so much including the fantastic Mitre restaurant, run by top chef Paul McKnight, which offers a selection of mouth-watering gourmet dishes. Of particular note is their seven course tasting menu for £60 — a feast for the palate and the eye. The hotel has its own herb garden so most of the food is seasoned by produce handpicked from it.

You can also dine in the Cultra Inn in the grounds of the hotel for a less formal meal with its cosy pub feel. Its Sunday lunch is a particular hit.

The Crozier Lounge bar is the perfect place to wile away the hours by the cosy fireplace, often with the piano playing in the background. They have a great selection of drinks including an impressive gin menu I have started to make my way through.

I was lucky enough to be staying overnight in the Dufferin Suite, a spacious room with breathtaking views of the hotel gardens and Belfast Lough. Recently renovated, all the state suites exceed all expectations.

Everything about the suite is big — the room (more than 550 sq ft), the bed, the bathroom and even the 55” HD TV. It was the perfect place to spend a night to escape from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. It was worth the indulgence! The only time you need to be disturbed is if you order room service or avail of the housekeeping visit where staff offer a turn down service, some chocolates and a check that you have everything you need for a good night’s sleep.

If you can manage to pull yourself away from the comfy bed the next morning breakfast is served until 10am each morning at the Mitre restaurant and includes continental as well as Irish and other options including eggs benedict.

Over your breakfast you may even bump into a celebrity or two.

During my recent stay Billy Ocean was tucking into a healthy breakfast but you could as easily see U2, Robbie Williams, David Beckham, Van Morrison or One Direction chewing on their toast as they are among a small handful of stars who love the Culloden.

After breakfast I headed down to the award-winning Culloden Spa. In the past year it has undergone a refurbishment adding exquisite upgrades to its relaxation room, female changing suite and treatment rooms and adding a new luxury manicure and pedicure area, walk-in showers and a new corridor that links the spa to the hotel.

Offering the ESPA range of products and therapies, it has eight treatment suites, two pre and post treatment relaxation rooms and a Zest Juice Bar.

After spending a few hours there I can easily see why last summer it was named Spa of the Year at the Northern Ireland Hair and Beauty Awards. The knowledgeable staff and the relaxing and rejuvenating experience it offers are first class. Treatment wise I opted for the deep muscle massage. This greatly helped alleviate deep-seated tension and muscular stress as each treatment is tailored to your needs. I would highly recommend it. Afterwards you can take a dip in the spa’s swimming pool or chill out in the hot tub.

The Spa attracts guests and locals such is its reputation and is a big hit with its celeb guests. Those spotted there in recent times include One Direction’s Harry Styles, X Factor judge Louis Walsh and Kylie Minogue.

The Culloden offers a five star service that isn’t just reserved for celebrities. Each guest is made to feel like a VIP.

Travel Factfile:

- The Culloden Estate & Spa is currently offering a special deal for £90 per person sharing which includes luxurious accommodation with a welcome cocktail on arrival and full Irish breakfast.

- This offer is valid until February 28, 2017. For more information or to book check out www.hastingshotels.com/culloden-estate-and-spa/

- Find out more about the Culloden Spa treatments by visiting www.hastingshotels.com/culloden-spa or calling them direct on 028 90 42 1135.

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