Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

East meets west at Galway's Glenlo Abbey Hotel

Lakeside retreat is on the right track with Orient Express dining and old-world charm.

By Martin Breen

I have managed what I thought impossible — spending an evening on the Orient Express without leaving Ireland.

Galway has always been a city close to my heart, thanks to many fond memories of childhood holidays in the Salthill area, so when I was given the opportunity to stay at the five-star Glenlo Abbey Hotel, I jumped at the chance.

This fantastic hotel, with its old-world charm, contemporary elegance and gentle grandeur, can rightly boast that it has the most unique dining experience as it was there that I enjoyed a fabulous meal aboard the Orient Express.

The Pullman Restaurant, in the grounds of the hotel, comprises two antique railway carriages from the famous train. As well as starring in the classic Agatha Christie film, Murder on the Orient Express, one also formed part of the funeral cortege of Winston Churchill in 1965.

Their history is spelled out for you on the menu but, trust me, you will sense the history by sitting for any length of time in one of the carriages with their wood panelling, antique lace curtains and fine china.

The food was excellent, so little wonder that awards it has won include two AA Rosettes, Best Private Dining with the Restaurant Association of Ireland, and a 2017 Gold Medal Award for Ireland’s Fine Dining Restaurant.

Glenlo Abbey is rightly proud of sourcing excellent local produce, and this was clear on every plate. Of particular note for me was the Castlemine lamb, which came with black garlic and carrot sauce, accompanied by some superb rosemary and sea salt potatoes. The waiter had recommended it and he was right on the money. I also sampled the wonderful Galway pollock with hispi cabbage, parsley and horseradish, which again was perfection.

You may be pleasantly surprised at the cost, with a three-course meal coming in at €69 — a lot, lot less than aboard the moving Orient Express. There are many restaurants across Northern Ireland which could never match such surroundings but would still charge much more.

The beautifully restored carriages aren’t the only pieces of history on site. The hotel on the banks of Lough Corrib is itself steeped in history. The abbey was built in 1740 for the Ffrench family, one of the original 14 tribes of Galway. Its original features are still there for all to see, including a chapel built for the private use of the lady of the house.

The rooms in the hotel exude grandeur with their period furniture, plush carpets and elegant decor. The uber comfortable king-size bed and its pillows were among the best I have ever laid my head on. The marble bathrooms are also opulent with L’Occitane toiletries lined up for you on arrival.

The hotel is family-friendly with junior menus available and a tepee can be installed in your bedroom for the little ones, with interconnecting rooms and babysitting, cots and rollaway beds also available. When you can tear yourself away from the bed, check out the hotel’s cinema. You can even watch Murder on the Orient Express there — an experience to remember after dining on the Pullman.

I can also heartily recommend breakfast in The River Room restaurant. It offers a great selection of cooked-to-order breakfast dishes, including the full Irish, omelettes, pancakes and fish dishes. There is also a buffet selection of meats, breads and pastries.

Afternoon tea comes was also impressive. Offerings include Connemara smoked salmon brown soda sandwiches, chicken liver parfait on brioche buns, Galway goat farm cheese mousse on sourdough bread, passion fruit and coconut eclairs, Glenlo Abbey battenberg and raspberry mille feuille with crème chantilly (just writing this makes me want to go back and try it).

To walk off all that fine food, you have loads of activities in the grounds of the 138-acre lakeside estate to choose from. You can take the walk right around the walled estate, play a round of golf on its excellent nine-hole course (or just hit some shots in the driving range) or try your hand at archery, fishing (rods and tackle are provided), cycling or falconry. The estate has an impressive collection of birds of prey, so expect a fascinating encounter with them.

If you fancy heading into the city to enjoy its famous hospitality or shopping, the centre is only a short taxi ride away. There are some brilliant pubs with live music worth checking out, including The Quays, which is one of the most famous.

Further afield, there is much to explore in the wonder of Connemara, so you are never short of anything to do here. But, trust me, you will find it hard to leave the abbey at any time. Little wonder that WB Yeats described Galway as “the Venice of the west”.

Travel factfile

To book Glenlo Abbey, call the hotel on 00353 91519600, e-mail or visit Celebrate Christmas in style with a special three-day package from December 24 to 26, costing from €950 pps and €395 per child.


Christmas Eve:

÷ Arrival from 2pm with valet parking.

÷ A mulled wine drinks reception by log fires.

÷ Candlelit dinner in the River Room Restaurant from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.

÷ A selection of festive movies shown throughout your stay.


Christmas Day:

÷ Awaken on Christmas morning to breakfast served in the River Room.

÷ Champagne Reception prior to your Christmas Day lunch.

÷ Gourmet five-course Christmas Day Lunch at 1pm or 3.30pm.

÷ Relax for the evening listening to resident pianist from 4pm to 7.30pm.

÷ Light fork supper served that evening in the River Room Restaurant.


Boxing Day:

÷ Breakfast at your leisure in the River Room.

÷ St Stephen’s Day treasure hunt.

÷ Glenlo Abbey table quiz.

÷ Dinner served in the River Room restaurant that evening from 6.30pm until 9.30pm.

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