It is not really surprising that Galgorm Resort and Spa has recently been crowned the Best Luxury Spa Resort in Northern Europe at the prestigious World Luxury Hotel Awards.
Set within 163 acres of lush parkland, the luxurious Ballymena hotel can't be beaten for total escapism. It may only be around 35 minutes from Belfast, but you feel like you're a million miles away from the city. Little wonder, then, that the hotel has attracted celebrity guests including Hollywood stars Mischa Barton, Michael Fassbender and Liam Neeson, and British TV presenters such as Denise van Outen.
Chilling in a hot tub or the outdoor heated pool overlooking the majestic River Maine has got to be the best way to relax. I certainly found my own little piece of heaven there.
Its state-of-the-art facilities include an extensive selection of riverside hot tubs, indoor and outdoor heated pools, steam rooms and saunas. Many guests also perch themselves in the Orangery seating area sipping a refreshing juice, herbal tea or glass of bubbly while rocking on swinging sofa seats beside real orange trees.
They have extensive hot and cold thermal experiences, including the Snow Cabin - the only one in Ireland - which offers a bracing spa experience at -15 degrees.
The private hot tub experience, wood-fired and eco-friendly, is worth the money for a special treat, with an option of a £69pp deal for a sharing platter for two including fruit and savoury skewers, tortilla crisps with salsa, truffles, and one chosen cocktail of the month per guest. Galgorm also offers a unique 'Irish Spa Experience' with their take on the Finnish aufguss sauna ritual in a glass-fronted Riverside Celtic Sauna. My sister and I spent hours just relaxing in the hot tubs and pools, watching the skies above and river below.
I was there to try one of the new treatments after Aromatherapy Associates became Galgorm's exclusive spa product partner. Each of the spa treatments available incorporate Aromatherapy Associates' hand-blended essential oils.
Its new Forest Therapy collection is inspired by the Japanese ritual of forest bathing, shinrin-yoku. Forest therapy is a practice that involves spending time in nature, and uses all of our senses to soak up the therapeutic atmosphere of the forest, with studies showing its ability to improve overall wellbeing.
Blended with 22 of nature's finest essential oils and ingredients, including pink pepper, ho wood and cypress, my 90-minute treatment commenced with a cleansing facial and guided inhalation before embarking on a deep tension-releasing massage on my back and legs. Following this, a warm grounding mud mask to my feet and hands was applied by my therapist before an amazing scalp massage to cleanse away the stresses of modern-day living.
But it wasn't all about the spa as Galgorm is a food haven, with three on-site restaurants, afternoon tea in The Conservatory, and the Castle Kitchen & Bar, a BBQ smokehouse located at Galgorm Castle Golf Club with transfers from the resort.
Last month, Galgorm Resort picked up another award - this time the AA Four Red Star Award for outstanding hospitality. My stay showed me this was no fluke as the experience was first-class.
The resort's fine-dining restaurant, the River Room, was awarded three AA Rosettes for culinary excellence but I have found the food at Gillies and the Italian-themed Fratelli's restaurant on site exceptional, also.
My sister and I dined in Gillie's bistro during our recent stay. For starters we had the Gillies platter, a taste sensation with a mix of spiced chicken wings, BBQ ribs, club salad and seafood crumble. For mains, I opted for the succulent salt 'n' chilli chicken with Asian salad and a side of garlic cubes, which was all washed down with a glass of red. For dessert, we were just able to squeeze in a few spoonfuls of warm chocolate fudge cake, which was absolutely divine.
Next morning we returned there for a full Ulster fry with all the trimmings which was delightful and set us up for the day ahead.
After your dinner, make sure to check out the hotel's Gin Library which stocks over 400 varieties, making it the largest in Ireland, apparently. There is also live music every night in Gillie's Pub which is great for a nightcap or two.
Our base for our night away was one of the quaint country cottages within the stunning parkland estate. Each is set within its own pretty garden location, and has been designed to be contemporary yet comfortable, boasting a spacious open-plan living area with fully equipped kitchen, lounge and dining space and a bathroom fully stocked with spa products - perfect for modern day R&R.
Most importantly, the beds are uber-comfortable so you can be guaranteed a great night's sleep.
You may think the Galgorm Resort has it all, but the owners are not resting on their laurels, with exciting and ambitious plans over the next three years. These include the creation of the 'Log Village' - Galgorm's answer to Soho Farmhouse for those who want a rural retreat with all the Galgorm 'comforts' we have come to know and love.
The resort will also be further extended with an additional 64 luxury guest rooms, exclusive rooftop spa and expansion of the outdoor Thermal Spa Village to include a lazy river. This will take investment there to over £60m by 2023.
I know I will be back again (and again) to see what this jewel in Northern Ireland's crown has to offer in the years ahead.
The Forest Therapy Experience Day Spa package at Galgorm Resort and Spa is available from £150 per person and includes:
B&B rates are as follows:
Galgorm Resort & Spa,
136 Fenaghy Road,
Phone: 028 2588 1001