Dinner on the Orient Express and a private cinema are some just of the highlights at Glenlo Abbey, writes Louise O’Neill.
It was a week before I was due to leave. I really didn’t want to text him but I knew he would see it on Instagram and I couldn’t let him find out that way.
Me: The Irish Examiner is sending me to Glenlo Abbey in Galway for the weekend. I’m bringing Catherine with me.
Boyfriend: That’s nice.
Me: They... they’re organising a falconry class for us while we’re there.
Boyfriend: NOOOOOOOO. How could you do this to me? I want to come too. Can I come? Can I? Please don’t leave me at home.
Reader, I left him at home.
I did feel a pang of guilt as I drove up towards the magnificent old manor house overlooking Lake Corrib.
Built in 1740, its grand entrance and adjacent abbey, constructed in the 1790s as a private chapel for the French family but never consecrated, give the house an imposing feel, but that doesn’t last for long.
The interiors are cosy, with a number of reception rooms that exude warmth and old-world charm, perfect for afternoon tea or relaxing with a good book.
Our twin bedroom was large, decorated in chic shades of pale grey and cream, with a platter of Irish cheeses and crackers awaiting us. The toiletries in the bathroom are from the Handmade Soap Company, a personal favourite of mine, while Catherine immediately fell on the state-of-the-art Nespresso machine and started mainlining coffee, as is her custom.
Our first port of call was the falconry class. In order to save my relationship, I had to pretend to my boyfriend that it “wasn’t that great” but I was lying. (Hopefully he doesn’t read this.)
Our instructor was Jason of Apex Falconry, and he made the entire experience a joy. He was full of fascinating information about falconry, the etymology of words connected to the practice, and his passion for his falcons, eagles, and owls was palpable.
It costs €75 per adult and before the class, Catherine and I thought it was a little expensive but afterwards we both agreed it was, in fact, excellent value for money, mostly thanks to Jason’s skill, patience, and breadth of knowledge. An experience that is not to be missed.
That evening, we had booked dinner in the Pullman Restaurant. It comprises two train carriages of the Orient Express which featured in the classic movie Murder on the Orient Express.
You are given ‘train tickets’ which you have to hand over in order to board the train, and from then on it feels as if you’ve stepped back in time.
The glasses are vintage, there are old battered suitcases overhead, and the music is from the 1930s. We had a private dining carriage (named after Poirot, naturally) and enjoyed a stunning meal.
I had the Irish beetroot to start, which consisted of baby beets, salt baked puree, pistachio sorbet, and tapioca cracker. Catherine had the beef cheek, with pearl onion and Connemara whiskey, which she declared superbly tender.
For my main, I had monkfish with hazelnut crumbs and kale, Catherine enjoying venison with buckwheat, elderberry, and red radicchio. For dessert we shared ‘curds and whey’, all served to us by incredibly attentive waiters.
The Glenlo has its own private movie theatre, with velvet lounge chairs and a popcorn machine.
They usually have two showings a day, one for children and one for adults, but this Saturday night in particular, Catherine and I were the only guests who wanted to avail of the service, so we happily sat down to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s and munched on freshly made popcorn.
The next morning, breakfast was served in a sumptuous dining room, crystal chandeliers shimmering overhead as we admired the view over the Corrib. There was a buffet, and after availing of that we ordered eggs and ate copious amounts of their homemade brown bread.
The receptionist had told us there were bicycles available for the use of guests, so we explored the grounds by bike. Glenlo is set on a 138-acre estate so there was plenty to see, not least of all the excellent golf course.
Neither Catherine nor I play, but I could imagine it would an incentive for many others to visit the hotel. We had lunch and dinner in the Oak Cellar Bar, Glenlo’s more casual eating option, and found the food to be good, the options available wide-ranging, and the staff extremely accommodating.
We sank into the plush chairs in our private cinema again that night (27 Dresses was on) before falling asleep, happy and well-fed.
After another delicious breakfast of waffles and pancakes on our final morning, we walked the grounds and admitted we were genuinely sad to leave Glenlo.
It’s a hotel that offers something for everyone, no matter your age. I can’t wait to go back.