Stephen Rogers visits the five-star resort hotel that hosted the G8 summit in 2013 on the shores of Castle Hume Lough.
I AM AN extremely reticent person — it drives my family insane — I find it nigh on impossible to pour praise on the most impressive of sights.
So it pains me to have to try to describe the initial impression bestowed upon a first time-visitor to the Lough Erne Resort.
In fairness, it had a little help… even its expert designers could not have choreographed the erthereal mist which had descended over Castle Hume Lough, the off-shoot of Lough Erne which laps tranquilly on the shores of the 120-room hotel and its lodges as we pulled up.
Non-golfers like myself could try to slyly claim the beautiful view is deteriorated by the course which stretches into the distant view from the hotel — but it would be a cheap, unworthy shot merely levelled to get a rise from devotees of the game.
In truth the manicured lawns of the course merely accentuate the beauty of the 600-acre estate which has been enhanced since the hotel opened in 2007.
While guests of the hotel, our aim was to test how the five-star luxury service could adapt to a clientele whose only care for stars is the number they can get beside their homework.
As a location which hosted world leaders, including Barack Obama, at the G8 Summit in 2013 and which claimed Hotel of the Year at the 2014 Northern Ireland Tourism Awards, the Lough Erne Resort barely needs to prove its credentials as one of the leading luxury retreats on this island.
But the hotel wants people to know that children are just as welcome as those paying the bill and its staff pull out all the stops to make sure their stay is a good one.
The suite we were given in the main hotel building featured a cavernous bedroom with separate dressing room, bathroom and living room.
Strategically placed period furniture and artwork gave the impression of classical elegance, though the flat screen televisions in both the living room and bedroom, combined with the monstrous Jacuzzi and large “rain” shower in the bathroom neatly added modern five-star comfort.
The view over Castle Hume Lough was stunning enough, but the hotel ensures guests can take in every aspect with complimentary high-powered binoculars.
While the four poster-bed was as comfortable as one would have expected, it was also a bonus that the roll beds brought in for our children were as comfortable as those which they had left behind at home.
When you stay in a hotel of this calibre you expect each and every meal to be an event and the resort did not disappoint.
That is not surprising given that the executive chef is Noel McMeel, one of the North’s foremost food experts who famously created the banquet for Paul McCartney’s wedding to Heather Mills at Castle Leslie.
On first glance, the menu for our evening meal in the hotel’s Catalina Restaurant appeared simple in the extreme with starters of “Beef”, “Venison”, “Duck”… but when my “Rabbit” and my wife’s “Crab” emerged, they were the epitomy of fine dining.
My main course of Noel McMeel’s signature “Lough Erne Pork Dish” offered an array of porcine pleasures while my wife’s “Stone Bass” was also a triumph. The children’s “cygnet” menu offered the usual fare, but cooked to the highest standard.
When one wants the most from such a culinary experience, the little things matter and it was great that a potential tantrum was averted when the waitress assured the four-year-old there was no problem at all for bangers to be whisked away from mash and introduced to chips.
Our other evening meal was in the Loughside Bar & Grill, overlooking The Faldo Championship Course and Castle Hume Lough.
While not quite touting the pomp and ceremony of the Catalina restaurant, the food still bore the hallmarks of McMeel’s high standards with well-cooked main courses and desserts which proved popular with adults and kids.
A word must be thrown in for Shane in the hotel’s reception area, who made the children’s day by driving us from the front door of the hotel up to the entrance of the loughside in one of the resort’s many golf buggies, a service the hotel offers all guests. The four-year-old would happily have been driven all the way back to Cork in one.
While fine dining encapsulated the evening experiences on both nights — wholesome, well cooked food was the hallmark of breakfast. As well as the usual Ulster fry ingredients, there was a wide range of fish, breads, pastries and drinks on offer.
A test of any restaurant breakfast experience is the quality of the poached eggs and the resort’s yolks were the perfect side of runny.
At this point I must turn to one aspect of the review which I was not relishing – only because my knowledge of all things golfing is well below par (I know just about enough to pun).
The golfers I encountered all seemed exceptionally impressed with the two Championship 18-hole courses, the Faldo Course, (which opened in July 2009) and the Castle Hume Championship Course.
An indication of their quality must be found in the fact that the resort will host the Irish Open in 2017.
What I will say is that, even as a non-golfer, going for a run around the perimeter I could clearly appreciate the military precision of the maintenance, at least.
As well as the stunning scenery and walking options, the hotel has a lot to offer non-golfers including a fully equipped Thai spa and a pool affording one of the best views one could experience while doing laps.
Lough Erne is a tourist trove in its own right offering the chance to fish, enjoy watersports or take a cruise in idyllic scenery.
The Marble Arch caves have been a magnet to tourists for decades. One of Europe’s finest show caves, visitors can explore a natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers with their glistening white stalactites.
The Beleek pottery museum boasts pieces dating back to when pottery was started there in 1857. There is also a guided tour covers all of the production areas of the pottery giant
The Lough Erne Resort offers a range of special offers throughout the year including golf and spa breaks and gourmet hotel breaks.
For family hotel breaks, prices for the luxury five-star self catering houses start at €147 per room per night when booked for seven nights. They offer a maximum occupancy of six adults.
* For the latest offers visit www.lougherneresort.com/special_offers/index.html
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