Lough Erne Resort – October 2020

The start of October saw us continuing our annual leave. After a few days chilling at home following our stays in Carlingford, Derry, Bushmills and Ballygally, we were looking forward to getting away again.  October is our wedding anniversary month, so we were planning to do something special. But as is the case lately, the situation was ongoing and ever changing.

Lough Erne golf course

We had booked to spend a night in Lough Eske, but in the weeks leading up to our stay government guidelines changed in County Donegal and it was now recommended only essential travel should be happening. So, we moved our stay in Lough Eske to a night in November when we’re off. Next we decided to book 2 nights in Bishop’s Gate in Derry, where we were meant to stay the previous week before it was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak. However, days before our wedding anniversary restrictions in Derry were tightened, meaning we would have been confined to the hotel for our stay. The morning we were meant to go we contacted the hotel and cancelled our stay, and went back to the drawing board. We knew we didn’t want to venture too far, and that it would be best to stay in Northern Ireland. We realised this was the ideal opportunity for us to stay somewhere we’d always wanted – The Lough Erne Resort in Fermanagh. Luckily for us they had rooms available, so we booked a couple of nights, finished up packing and threw our cases in the car.

Jetty near Tully Castle

Fermanagh is about an hour and half from Belfast going down to the M1, with the Lough Erne Resort being 10 minutes away from Enniskillen town. It rained the whole way down in the car, which seemed to make the journey feel longer. We were glad when we arrived at the hotel, and were greeted by the doorman holding a golf umbrella to shelter us as we carried our bags in. A quick temperature check at the door, some hand sanitizer, and we were in. The cosy feeling inside was in stark contrast to the dull, wet afternoon outside – there was a fire burning in the hearth, soft music was playing, and the hotel lobby was decorated with beautiful autumnal features. We checked in, booked in dinner for the two nights, and then headed up to our room.

room at Lough Erne

It was a beautiful room. The bed was unbelievably comfortable, and the bathroom was well sized with a walk-in shower and freestanding bath. The view we had was also amazing, overlooking the lough, golf course and reed bridge all at once. After settling into our room and freshening up we headed downstairs to grab a couple of drinks, but not before booking in afternoon tea for the next day. After some drinks by the fire looking out at the rain we went back to the room and got ready for dinner.

view from our room

We had dinner in The Blaney Bar the first night, which had a lovely relaxed feel to it. There was a small crowd in, so the atmosphere was lively. We had salmon fritters and dim sum to start, before sharing a delicious bento box. We decided to pass up on dessert, and instead have a Midnight Express cocktail, a wonderfully moreish cocktail that was like an espresso martini with a chocolate orange twist.

Midnight Madness cocktail

The next day the weather had improved significantly, so we thought it would be the perfect chance to explore the countryside around the hotel. Neither of us had been to Fermanagh since we were children, and we were amazed at how beautiful the county was. When talking about the beauty of Northern Ireland most people mention the breath-taking ruggedness of the Antrim Coast, and the rise and fall of the peaks in the Mourne Mountains, but Fermanagh often goes unmentioned, apart from the now Instagram famous Cuilcagh walk. With its rolling hills, stunning lakes and old trees dotting the landscape, it’s a truly stunning place. The area surrounding the hotel had a rich history, and there were a couple of 17th century castles nearby: Monea Castle, and Tully Castle, which we checked out. Then it was back to the hotel for afternoon tea.

Monea Castle

The afternoon tea was served in the beautiful Catalina restaurant, and it was absolutely delicious. We spent a couple hours enjoying a mix of sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, all beautifully prepared. We were full after eating so much, so we went for another walk, this time around the grounds. After a loop of the golf course we headed back to the hotel.

Dinner that night was in the Catalina, the setting for the hotel’s more fine dining experience. We had booked in for a five-course meal, and it was incredible from start to finish. First up was an amuse-bouche served with a small cocktail. For starters, we went with foie gras, and crab ravioli, and mains were the beef, and stone bass, all served with wine pairings. We finished up the meal with petit-four, and desserts – some ice-cream, and another celebrating different texture of apple.

The stone bass main

We left the Lough Erne resort the next day very pleased with our stay. From start to finish the entire stay was a pleasant one, in every sense. The setting was beautiful, the food and drinks delicious, and all the staff were friendly and welcoming.  It truly was a five-star experience, and we both agreed it was the best hotel break we’ve had. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that when we got home we booked another stay, this time in December for a mini Christmas break. We’ve already started counting down the days!

Until then stay safe and keep planning the next adventure!

Brianna and Iain

Ballygally Castle Hotel -September 2020

Hello everyone,

As mentioned in our final causeway coast guide we spent a night in the Ballygally Castle. This hotel is always special to us as it is where we had our wedding reception. We would pop in for a bite to eat a few times throughout the year, but we thought this time we would spend the night and have dinner.

On our way to Ballygally we stopped off in Glenarm to have a bite of lunch in the Glenarm Tea Rooms, these are part of the Glenarm castle and walled gardens. This is a place we always try to visit at the weekend and find that its full making it difficult to get into – especially during current circumstances! But the grounds were really cool, there is a workshop that sells really unique items, a clothes shop, fudge factory, gardens to walk around and a castle. The tea rooms provide afternoon tea, coffee and your usual fare – the food was good and reasonably priced.

After this we journeyed on to Ballygally Castle along the coast road, the castle is a 17th century castle that overlooks Ballygally bay. It has a modern section and then the older castle and exterior walls alongside a beautiful walled garden and river area. The hotel is owned by the Hastings group who own a chain of 4- and 5-star hotels across Northern Ireland, we aren’t normally huge fans of chains but we find that Hastings generally provide great service and accommodation.

On arrival our rooms were ready so we went and freshened up, our room this time didn’t have as good a view as previous stays – overlooking the roof of the function room, however as always with this chain the room itself was top class. We always find that they have the most comfortable beds, and the bathroom and shower are always great! We spent the afternoon in the lounge having a few drinks and chatting, the setting is really beautiful here and we sat by the window looking out over the Irish sea.

Dinner in the Garden Restaurant

Our stay included dinner and breakfast in the hotel, we had booked in that evening in the Garden restaurant for food, for dinner Iain had prawn cocktail, and chicken and mango curry and Brianna had the pate with toast, and salmon with crushed baby potatoes. If we are being honest about the food we found that whilst it was fine, the quality and flavour were lacking.

We had stayed at the Bushmills Inn the night before and the food was much better – another issue we noticed during this visit was the lack of staff. There appeared to be only one staff on the bar and serving all the guests in the lounge and during dinner only two staff members for the whole restaurant. Whilst the service was friendly and helpful the staff members were run off their feet – at one stage, we noticed ourselves and three other tables in the lounge waiting for drinks orders to be taken.

Overall, we found that the Ballygally Castle as always has great rooms and is a beautiful hotel, but compared to other 4 star experiences the food and service weren’t quite up-to-par during this visit.

Stay safe and keep planning the next adventure!

Brianna and Iain

PS. you can’t miss the Ghost Room if you visit

Shipquay Hotel, Derry – September 2020

In our previous blog post, we talked about our night in Carlingford. The next day we headed north again, but not before stopping off for some Irish Tayto and Cadbury. We had booked into Bishop’s Gate in Derry for a night, a city we’d been to once before for an hour or so, but never spent much time in.

Entering Derry in the car

We were really looking forward to our stay in the hotel, as it had so many positive reviews online. However, a problem arose as we approached the Glenshane Pass. A phone call came through from Bishop’s Gate to say they were unfortunately having to close for 48 hours due to 2 members of staff testing positive for Covid-19. They quickly reassured us however that they had a room available for us in the nearby Shipquay Hotel, should we want it. After pulling into a carpark and taking a quick look at it online, and seeing that it had the same level of high-praise reviews, we phoned back and confirmed our new booking.

The entrance to Shipquay Hotel

The hotel is a beautiful boutique hotel originally built in 1895, and is in a great location in the city. It was only a five-minute walk away from the car park on Bishop Street, and handy to a number of bars and restaurants; it was also close to the famous City Walls. We were a bit early, and our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags off and went to grab some lunch. We stopped in at The Thirsty Goat, where they were continuing the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. After some stew for Iain, and bangers and mash for Brianna, we went to Blackbird bar around the corner for a drink, before going back to Shipquay, where our room was ready for us.

Bangers and Mash at The Thirsty Goat

The hotel had upgraded our room from a premium to a superior, and had brought our bags up to the room so we didn’t have to, which was a lovely touch.  Our package also included a glass of prosecco on arrival, which we enjoyed in our room with some delicious chocolate truffles and chocolate chip cookies. Already we were realising why the hotel had so many good reviews. An interesting touch about the rooms was that they were all named after different streets in Derry, rather than numbered. We were in the Silver Room, which was the original name of Shipquay Street. Our room was beautiful, with a lovely modern feel to it. There was a well-sized en-suite bathroom, with both a walk-in shower and freestanding bath. The room also had lovely soft bath robes and deliciously smelling Voya products.

Shipquay Room
VOYA products in the bathroom

When we had originally booked our stay at Bishop’s Gate we had a 2-course included into the price of our stay. Shipquay had upgraded us to a 3-course meal, which we loved. We had booked dinner for 8, but were ready an hour early, so we decided to head down to the restaurant early for a few pre-dinner drinks. There was a lovely buzz around the restaurant, with a mix of families and couples in having some food. We had a couple of cocktails each before dinner – a margarita for both of us, and then an whiskey sour for Iain, and an espresso martini for Brianna –  all of them delicious.

Margaritas

By then it was time for us to order our food. Both of us opted for the scallop starter, and for our mains Iain went for the Moroccan lamb, while Brianna had the fillet steak. We wrapped up our delicious meal with a chocolate brownie and a crème brulee. The whole dining experience was one of the best we’ve had in a long time. The food and drink were wonderful, and the serving staff were friendly and attentive. The great experience continued with breakfast the next day, where we had an Irish breakfast and avocado toast. We even received a glass of prosecco with it, which was a nice touch.

Scallop starters

Our stay in Shipquay was a wonderful. We had a lovely time from start to finish, from the warm and welcoming staff, the great food and drink, and the comfortable room, it was all great. We’re glad Bishop’s Gate were kind enough to arrange for us to stay. We left feeling refreshed and ready for the next stop – The Bushmills Inn.

Keep an eye out for our blog post about our night in The Bushmills Inn.

Until then, stay safe and keep planning the next adventure!

Brianna and Iain