The Art of Five-Star Hospitality In Belfast
When you see a double decker bus on the front lawn, quickly followed by the torso of a headless woman and a bear donning boxing gloves…..you know you are not staying in a run-of-the-mill hotel. Welcome to Belfast’s Culloden Estate & Spa!
For fear of suggesting that you might have just stepped into a Lewis Carroll novel or one of Tim Burton’s gothic fantasies, rest assured, it’s all in a day’s work for what is certainly one of Northern Ireland’s finest five-star properties.
Standing on the forested slopes of the Holywood hills, overlooking Belfast Lough and the glorious County Antrim coastline, the Culloden is five or six miles on the outskirts of the city centre, and is probably the country’s premier sanctuary for mind, body and soul.
Indeed, as the only hotel in Northern Ireland featured in the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH)
listings, it is equally fair to say that this property – set in 12-acres of beautiful, secluded gardens and woodland, and featuring some 98-bedrooms and suites – ranks among the best of its type in the world
“She’s got no head!”
“I know darling. It’s one of Jill Pitko’s. I think it might even be a self-portrait if that’s what you call them in the world of sculpture!”
“Do you fancy her?”
“You know me, I’m a bit of a leg man and I have to say....." Fortunately the the conversation moved on before I could get myself into trouble.
“…….and there’s a bear over there in boxing gloves and another statue that looks like Betty Boo.”
“Yes, they're both Patrick O’Reilly’s,” I declared sounding like an expert, but having first taken care to read the artist’s name mounted on one of the life-size sculptures.
Art For Arts Sake
Somehow or other we had managed to arrive slap bang in the middle of Art and Soul – The visually spectacular Holywood International Art and Sculpture Fair – courtesy of an initiative between the hotel and Gormley’s Fine Art.
The biggest combined outdoor and indoor event of its kind in Ireland, the Fair not only comprised some 125 internal and external sculptures along with painting by Andy Warhol, Dali, Banksy and Picasso, but also served to confirm to the discerning art world that they were temporarily staying in a living gallery and a place worthy of hosting one of the world’s premier art events.
The Culloden Estate & Spa is part of the 55-year old Hastings Hotels Group, which has seven luxurious properties of character and distinction across the Province, and was once the official palace for the Bishops of Down but, these days, lays claim to a not so clerically inclined pastime: partaking of the Irish waters: The Cultra Inn, the hotel’s very own pub – located in the main grounds....
....is fun for relaxed dining with lots of seasonal produce (and beverages!) – whilst the Vespers Restaurant in the main hotel building, is now regarded as one of the finest in Northern Ireland.Tea For Two?
It is also home to the scandalously decadent Bridgerton Inspired Afternoon Tea where guests are invited to lay down their hats, lace up their corsets and don their best attire to experience the 19th century splendour of afternoon high society, as enjoyed by the characters in Netflix’s popular Regency drama of the same name.
Stimulating guests' tastebuds with an exquisite selection of finely cut sandwiches and warm freshly baked scones served with indulgent homemade jam and lashings of cream, no detail has been overlooked in the creation of this unique event, from the finest period linen used to dress the table to the fine bone china specifically sourced to give the afternoon tea a totally unique feel.
Following a recent £750,000 refurb of all shared wellness spaces and treatment rooms, The Spa at the Culloden also boasts some of the finest facilities in the UK...
... including eight treatment suites, two pre and post treatment relaxation rooms, a new linear vitality pool that provides floor to ceiling views of the gardens, and a Tylarium – a combination of a sauna and steam room.
It is also home to the ‘Holywood Private Clinic’ a brand new, purpose-built facility based at the Culloden Hotel MediSpa, where wellness and relaxation combine, the clinic offering a private GP service as well as minor surgeries, laser/ IPL and advanced cosmetic treatments.
You can even do a few classes: Aquafit, Yogalates or Pilates. Little wonder that A-listers like the Beckhams and Catherine Zeta-Jones along with hubby Michael Douglas, have been seen there.
Maybe taking advantage of the hotel’s romantic ‘Just the Two of Us’ package!
I’m feeling a little tired,” said my wife, as we strolled round the hotel’s glorious grounds. “I think that glass of wine I had a dinner has gone to my head a bit.”
“Shall we take the bus home?” I replied
“Yes, why not?”
We stepped onto the Bollinger double decker standing majestically just across from The Cultra Inn, almost oblivious to the fact that its engine wasn’t running and neither was there a driver in sight…..just a raft of beautifully manicured tables alongside and the offer of champagne.
“A glass of bubbly sir? Madam?”
“Don’t mind if we do!”
It was a glorious, surreal journey home that night as our alcoholic enlightenment revealed something very special about the Culloden Estate & Spa: it is more than just a property in exquisite surroundings.
The Culloden has atmosphere, a wonderful atmosphere……..and it is in such settings that life’s happy memories are born, the very memories that will sustain you through life’s wearier moments. What a wonderfully happy weekend we had.
Contact & Costs
Culloden Estate & Spa (hastingshotels.com
// 028 9042 1066) offers rooms from £300 per room to include breakfast.
The ‘Bridgerton Afternoon Tea’ is priced at £35pp