Northern Ireland has been in the global golfing spotlight on many occasions in the last few years thanks to the performances of its home-grown talents turned Major Champions Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, not to mention the amazing Rory Mcllroy. These sensational golfers all herald from what many believe to be the best golfing land on the planet and I've just returned from experiencing a little taste of the magic.
A short hop in the air across the channel with the very efficient yet inexpensive Flybe from London to Belfast had me in the Emerald Isle in just under an hour and at my hotel - the wonderful Galgorm Resort & Spa - in time to tee off in the afternoon.
The Galgorm Resort & Spa truly has to be one of Northern Ireland's hidden gems. This wonderful stately home-turned lavish hotel can be discovered if you are driving towards the famous Causeway coastline of Northern Ireland and is tucked away from the hustle and bustle in a lush green landscape which is dominated by the dramatic River Maine. The estate buildings have been tastefully restored with a modern twist so that you really feel like you have been transported back into a bygone era as you walk through the grand hotel entrance doors. Inside original features have been given a modern luxurious twist, ensuring that your experience at Galgorm is truly five-star. Many rooms boast wonderful river views and the tranquil sound of the water babbling as you lie in the comfy beds can't fail to help you fall asleep.
For the keen golfer there are courses galore, the famous links at Portrush is a short drive away, as are the equally famous golfing tests that await at the world-renowned Portstewart and further afield Royal County Down, but for the ultimate in convenience of playing golf on your doorstep you can't beat a game at the nearby Galgorm Castle golf course. Ranked among the top six golf courses in Northern Ireland and a host venue to a EuroPro Tour event every year, Galgorm Castle is a course that caters for every standard of golfer. While it does a great job at providing a grand stage for Europe's promising young professionals to demonstrate their skills it is equally enjoyable to play if you are a novice or new to the game thanks to generous forward tees. The course enjoys a serene setting with holes meandering through a fertile country landscape. Tall trees provide character to tricky doglegs and the rain has definitely played a part in the growth of long rough grass which defines the fairways but provides a torturous trap for wayward balls. Water hazards are plentiful so take enough balls as you'll lose a few and make sure you pick up a course planner as several of the tee shots are played to fairways where a hidden hazard dissects the hole. There's an enchanting halfway hut hidden in the trees where you can fill up on a soup and slice of the local sour bread but make sure you save room for dinner back at the hotel, as Galgorm's chefs are amazing.
Food lovers are spoilt for choice at the Galgorm Resort, which has three fabulous restaurants on offer. Fine-dining connoisseurs will relish a meal in the River Room Restaurant, so-called for its peaceful river views. For a more casual atmosphere then book a table at Fratellis and you'll be treated to delicious Italian cuisine, or reserve a booth in my favourite place, the Gillies Bar & Grill with its wonderful rustic setting overlooking the stables and food to die for. I'd highly recommend the Sweet Chilli Chicken to start with, followed by a perfectly cooked steak and skip the sides to save room for a heavenly desert such as the warm chocolate fudge cake - yum! For after-dinner drinks head into Gillies own Pub, where you can enjoy live music and traditional Irish Craic.
No stay at Galgorm would be complete without spending a few hours unwinding in the Thermal Spa, and there's no better place to relieve those aching golfing muscles after your game. The perfectly placed outdoor Jacuzzis have the most amazing views of the river and are so warm that even a rainy day won't deter you from heading out. The outdoor theme cleverly continues inside with indulgent wood décor that makes you feel as though you are part of the forest. With more Jacuzzis, saunas and steam rooms to enjoy your body will be in detox bliss. For a special treat book yourself in with one of the spa therapists. There are plenty of popular pampering choices available on the spa menu - I treated myself to an intense and incredibly effective muscle release massage - pure heaven!
With so much on offer the Galgorm Resort & Spa is a great getaway whether you are seeking a quiet romantic getaway as a couple, a fun golfing break with friends, an action-packed family holiday or you just simply fancy treating yourself to some serious pampering. It's so private and peaceful it might just be Northern Ireland's best kept secret, but let's keep the secret to ourselves shall we!
Practice your swing at the stunning 18-hole championship Galgorm Castle Golf Club. Enjoy overnight accommodation in a Superior guestroom, a four course evening meal in Gillies Bar & Grill, a hearty breakfast and access to the Thermal Spa throughout your stay.
Tee up for a round of golf at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, just minutes from the hotel and upon your return head to the Spa for the ultimate in relaxation, choose from one of the following 40 minute treatments each: Bladderwrack Body Buff, Turkish Soap Massage, Voya Back Massage, Hot Lava Shell Back Massage, Spa Manicure, Spa Pedicure. (Treatments must be booked directly with the spa on: 02825882550)
Prices from £155.00 per person sharing, based on two people sharing Sunday to Thursday
Prices from £185.00 per person sharing, based on two people sharing Friday & Saturday
Subject to availability. Please be aware golf is not available on a Saturday.
For more information and bookings visit www.galgorm.com or contact the Resort direct on: 028 2588 1001.
Award-winning Flybe, Europe's largest regional airline, offer daily flights from London Gatwick to Belfast City with prices starting from as little as £90 return. One of the bonuses of booking with Flybe includes a generous hand baggage allowance (20% larger than other airlines.)