Peace and tranquillity — those were my two wishes for a recent short break and they were more than fulfiled at the Galgorm Resort and Spa.
Voted by OK! Magazine as the second best spa in the world, I had high expectations and I wasn't left disappointed as the Galgorm is a truly magical place. Nestled deep in the heart of the Co Antrim countryside just outside Ballymena, the Galgorm Resort and Spa is the perfect location to relax and get away from it all.
My wife and I stayed in one of the luxury bedrooms at the opulent 75-bedroom, four-star deluxe Resort and Spa complex. The hotel is truly beautiful, a place where old meets new. Set in 163 acres of lush parkland, the Galgorm also offers countryside self-catering cottages on site and unique log cabins situated alongside the River Maine which can cater for various groups.
With miles of fishing on the Maine, an on-site equestrian centre, golf on an 18-hole championship course, the most picturesque of walkways and cycle routes, as well as the world class spa at Galgorm, you'll find plenty to while away the hours as you escape to the country.
Even at night the hotel makes the most of the stunning room views of the river as it is illuminated. You may catch sight (as we did) of the resident heron fishing for his supper.
After we arrived we had dinner in Gillies Bar & Grill which focuses firmly on local produce and traditional cooking methods. With its large, open log fires, exposed beams and stone walls the restaurant creates a real homely atmosphere. The extensive menu offers something to suit every palate.
For starters we chose The Gillies Platter which was quite substantial with a mixture of fishcakes, cajun chicken strips, cheesy nachos, duck rolls and bang bang chicken.
After cleaning that plate it was on to mains. Despite being very busy on the Saturday night we visited, food arrived quite quickly.
My wife chose the Tandoori monkfish which went down nicely while I opted for the chargrilled fillet steak, which came complete with flat mushroom and plum tomato. My steak was cooked medium rare as requested which always makes me happy. It still surprises me how many eateries in Northern Ireland seem to be unable to cook a steak exactly as requested.
From the number of clean plates I spotted on tables around the restaurant the food seemed to go down equally well with all the other customers. Gillies is definitely worth the drive for the evening meal alone. The hotel also boats the 2AA Rosette River Room Restaurant which friends say comes highly recommended too.
Next morning breakfast was also served in Gillies. On offer was a vast selection of continental and cooked items including all the necessary components of an Ulster Fry. Again the food lived up to the high standards set by Gillies the previous evening.
After such a hearty meal it was time to relax and there are few better places than the Spa at the Galgorm.
The brochure claimed the Spa “is a truly magical place, surrounded and enveloped by nature”. After a couple of hours there I can assure you it lives up to that promise and delivered the much needed peace and tranquillity I had desired. My wife chose the Total Indulgence Facial, which includes a back and shoulder massage, while I went for one of the men’s treatments — a skin refining treatment with a scalp, hand and arm massage. Both of us found them completely relaxing and soothing, carried out by accomplished staff. After our treatments we took advantage of the thermal spa areas which encourage detoxification, relaxation and revitalisation.The Thermal Spa offers the chance to experience the ancient rituals of bathing in cold, cool, warm and hot environments. The infinity hydrotherapy pool contains massage jets to ease away tensions, while the heated cabins provide varying degrees of heat and humidity aimed at targeting different parts of your body, including your respiratory and circulatory systems, muscles and your skin.
After a dip in the pool and the various climate rooms we went for a relaxing soak in the outdoor hot tub. Sitting in it on a cool Sunday morning taking in the crisp country air and views of the rumbling River Maine, I could have stayed there all day.The tub has a view over the river and woodland which gives a feeling of total seclusion. As we sat there we watched as the resident heron fished for its breakfast. It is no exaggeration to say that was one of the most relaxing mornings I have EVER spent.
If spa breaks are not your thing, golfing holidays are equally popular at the Galgorm Resort with the beautiful parkland 18-hole course of Galgorm Castle just minutes away. The resort has a number of special Christmas packages available so if you’re thinking of treating a loved one this festive season a stay at the Galgorm could be the perfect present.