Now that summer’s begun flirting coquettishly with us, like a Jane Austen character flashing a glimpse of her petticoats, holiday season must soon be upon us.
This presents a number of decisions – Stay at home or go abroad?; City sights or poolside lounging?; Activity-filled action break or peaceful romantic retreat?
Perhaps it’s our recent nuptials or just my soppy disposition but recently I’ve been thinking rather a lot about the ideal place for a loved-up couple to spend a few days away…and I think I’ve found the answer.
A while ago, we were invited to Fermanagh, to the Lough Erne resort. As a county, it’s known for being the land of perpetual precipitation and sure enough we arrived to rain and departed in drizzle. Nonetheless, we were utterly charmed.
Here are 5 reasons I believe it may be Northern Ireland’s most romantic hotel destination.
1 – The restaurant
Dinner in resort’s Catalina restaurant sets the tone for a weekend’s wooing . The regal cream and gold décor, alongside the cooking of chef Noel McMeel (just named Best Chef in Ulster by Ireland’s Good Eating Guide) and the views over Castle Hume Lough add up to an exceptional dining experience .
Who could fail to be seduced by a menu that includes dishes like wild mushroom ravioli with cep purée and tarragon oil or succulent, pink Thornhill duck breast with roasted artichoke and blackberry and buckthorn gel? From the locally caught salmon among the starters to the Kettyle beef main and Glastry Farm ice cream served with the rhubarb soufflé, we were impressed by the dedication to the best of Northern Ireland produce. The cosmopolitan range of wines, available by glass and bottle, is excellent, with pairing recommendations helpfully included in the menu.
It would be just as easy to fall in love with the surroundings . The arched windows of the dining room frame a beautiful, lakeside backdrop, so if you do get tired of gazing lovingly at your paramour, there’s plenty more to look at!
The soft lighting, unobtrusive service and the way the pillars segment the large dining room helps to create an intimate environment to enjoy a special meal with a special someone.
At around £52 a head for the three course menu, it isn’t cheap, but the quality is unstinting and Noel McMeel and his team’s food is an exercise in skill and imagination.
2 – The rooms
There is a broad range of rooms, suites and lodges (starting from around £115) and while they may vary in terms of size and choice of facilities, they are uniformly elegant and comfortable with rich woods and luxurious fabrics. The traditional décor may not be to every taste, but it has a timeless quality and we enjoyed its old world charm.
The accommodation is spacious and the beds are incredibly comfortable (especially if you like a firm mattress). The bathrooms are also a standout feature, with the Traditional (standard) rooms getting a roll top bath and a brilliant shower. Our suite came with a balcony, a vast four poster bed and a double jacuzzi bath big enough to float the QE2.
Who doesn’t enjoy a long, luxurious soak? The couple-sized bath was a wonderful addition, maintaining the pre-marital idyll. Lynsey could unwind under a blanket of bubbles with a glass of wine, while I sank into a sofa watching the football next door – bliss!
To ensure peak romance, try to get a room facing towards the lough as some of the ‘courtyard’ rooms appear to face onto the carpark.
3 – The five star feel
From the sweeping drive, straight out of Brideshead Revisited to the thick carpets and rich brocade curtains and the Waspish, country club-style restaurant, the hotel feels exclusive.
I’ve experienced a few 5 star hotels that enjoyed their status by dint of ticking certain boxes – swimming pool – check; tiny gymnasium (read set of dumbells and a treadmill) – check; 24 hour reception desk – got that…etc But they didn’t feel sumptuous. This does.
While it is a large hotel, there are lots of little hideaways where you can get lost together. If you time it well, you might two empty wingback chairs flanking the roaring log fire in the Gordon Wilson Library – if so, you’re in for a treat.
The staff are similarly first rate, from the warm welcome by the concierge to the friendly, knowledgeable front of house team in the restaurant.
4 – The views
Fling open the curtains and this is the sort of view that awaits from the lakeside rooms.
It would be difficult not to be inspired by the stunning scenery Fermanagh has to offer. From lush green farmlands, inland waterways to densely forested hills, it’s perfect for lovers of the outdoor life. Despite having a huge appreciation for beautiful countryside the thought of being at one with nature has never been high on Lynsey’s agenda of things to do. Needless to say, she much preferred being able to survey the lovely landscape from the lap of luxury at the Lough Erne resort instead of at close quarters, huddled in a tent in the surrounding wetlands.
We loved just watching the bulrushes gently bending in the wind and seeing the sunlight shimmering on the lakes. This not only is a golfer’s paradise but a prime spot for anyone just needing a bit of restoration for the soul.
5 – The Thai Spa
All guests have free access to the Thai-inspired spa area – a soothing haven of relaxation. In the morning, the large windows allow sunlight to stream in, making it an uplifting, invigorating place to begin your day. In the evening, the gentle lighting helps to create a more muted, drowse-inducing ambiance.
The 14m infinity pool is long enough to swim a few length, though a bit cool (and public) for canoodling. Guests also have complimentary use of the large jacuzzi and thermal suite (consisting of a steam room filled with eucalyptus vapour – to cleanse your body of impurities, apparently and a light therapy sauna which is supposed to promote skin exfoliation and tissue toning). If you still feel a little tense or want to really treat yourself, there is a huge array of therapies, including several tailored to couples, available in the ten treatment rooms.
Keep an eye on the resort’s own website as it’s frequently updated with special offers on spa treatments and packages.
So, have we tempted you to give the resort a try? Or perhaps you have your own favourite romantic spot? Let us know in the comments section.
[Disclaimer – Last year we were invited to try the Lough Erne resort, therefore our stay (aside from drinks and extras, was complimentary. This is not a paid review. Opinions my own.]