The otherworldly Giant’s Causeway. The Mourne Mountains and Monastic Islands. The Wicklow Way with its mystical waterfalls and misty lakes. The Emerald Isle is home to some of Europe’s most epic road trip routes, which SLH’s Head of Social & Brand Content, Abi Tottenham-Smith, along with photographer Claire Menary, set out to discover while staying in some of Ireland and Northern Ireland’s most beautiful boutique hotels.
We began our journey in Northern Ireland at the grand Culloden Estate & Spa, perfectly positioned just 10 minutes outside of Belfast city centre and right on the coast. Surrounded by gardens and woodland and with a breath-taking view over the water, Culloden really is traditional luxury at its best. Days here start with a full Irish breakfast, before taking a leisurely stroll or bike ride through the gardens and nearby coastal path.
Afternoon tea is also a highlight at this hotel – with the freshest finger sandwiches and delicious warm scones. Or for the ultimate relaxation, the spa, complete with large circular swimming and brand new sauna overlooking the greenery outside – is a most relaxing spot to while away the afternoon.
From Culloden, we spent a day exploring the stunning Northern Ireland coast. We began by driving up to the famous Giant’s Causeway to see the ethereal natural rock formations. Only a one-and-a-half hour’s drive from Belfast, make sure you get here early to avoid the tourists! After this, we made our way along the coast to a few other beauty spots including Blackhead Coastal Path, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, White Park Bay Beach, Dunseverick Castle and Portcoon Jetty before rounding off the perfect day of sightseeing with a delicious three-course dinner at Vespers Restaurant at Culloden.
The next day we made our way down to the Republic of Ireland and to its lively capital, Dublin. Just over two hours’ drive from Belfast, brought us across the border and into Dublin where we settled in to two SLH hotels in the city – Brooks Hotel and The Wilder Townhouse.
Brooks commands prime positioning, right in the centre of town. Walk out the doors and you are right on Drury Street, surrounded by cool restaurants, cafés and bars and only a couple of minutes’ walk from the famous Grafton Street. Conor, the wonderful concierge, who has been welcoming guests at Brooks for 17 years and knows you by name as soon as you enter the hotel, is the true gem of Brooks. As well as all the staff members, you really feel the true spirit of Irish hospitality when you stay here.
Our other member hotel in Dublin is The Wilder, a beautifully decorated townhouse, just a short stroll from the centre of town. This place has one of the best hotel breakfasts you will ever experience. With an afternoon-tea inspired selection of goodies – from smoothie shots to homemade banana bread (and of course scones) – you can then accompany it with your choice of hot plates – think poached eggs and avocado on toast and fresh pancakes.
We crammed as many of the must-see sights into our stay in Dublin – from the peaceful St Stephen’s Green to the beautiful architecture of the National Gallery and the IMMA, the buzzing Temple Bar to the complete serenity of the library at Trinity College. Dublin also makes a great base if you’re planning to travel out to craggy Blarney Castle, where you can kiss the famed Blarney Stone, or wander along the 79-mile Wicklow Way.
Our final stop was Galway and to SLH’s newest member hotel in the Republic of Ireland – Glenlo Abbey Hotel & Estate. This majestic five-star hotel is set in 138 acres of land and gives the true feeling of luxury as soon as you arrive. The hotel’s nine-hole golf course is a favourite with locals and there is plenty to keep you entertained during your stay. From falconry to fishing to horse-riding there really is something for everyone.
We were lucky enough to spend some time on the water with local fisherman, Jim, who takes guests on an adventure along the Lough. An absolute character, Jim will share his knowledge and history of this area whilst you enjoy the natural beauty and try your hand at fishing.
A real highlight and must-do for every guest at Glenlo is dining in the Pullman Restaurant, which is made up of two restored Orient Express carriages where you can come aboard for the evening for a lavish meal and feel like you have stepped back into the golden age of travel. A real treat and an unforgettable experience.
During our stay here we explored the surrounding area of Galway – the rolling countryside and sweeping landscapes here are not to be missed. From the rugged Connemara to the blue sea and white sand of Dogs Bay and Gurteen Bay. Make sure you hire a car and drive around all these spectacular spots to experience the true heart of Ireland.
We hired a car with SIXT who provided us with a modern Audi A4 to explore all Ireland had to offer. We experienced fantastic service by the team in Ireland who made sure the car hire process was as smooth and seamless as possible. SIXT have a presence in 110 countries around the globe and are characterised by their excellent customer experience, so we knew we were in good hands.
Feeling inspired? Browse more boutique hotel itineraries here.