Northern Ireland. Somehow it still seems a bit off the grid. Lots of people visit the Republic of Ireland and go to Dublin etc. but I still feel like Northern Ireland is a bit of a hidden gem. In fact, I hadn’t even considered visiting until I saw pictures of the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa which is situated on the Irish Sea coast, overlooking a windswept shore with the Mourne Mountains in the distance. It all looked a bit mystical and magical and seeing as I had never visited Northern Ireland I thought why not? So, I quickly packed my bags and headed there right after getting back from my Africa trip.
And let me tell you Africa to Northern Ireland is quite a switch up but when I arrived it was like the weather gods had smiled down because I was absolutely spoiled by the sunshine. It gets quite foggy in Northern Ireland along the coast and in the mountains and sometimes it’s rather hard to see the view but in this case, I was blessed with breathtaking views of mountains meeting the windswept sea, sunshine and fresh air.
To get to the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa I would recommend renting a car from Belfast International Airport and driving there which takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It’s a nice drive as well, through hilly, green countryside (so green it’s almost fluorescent) until you reach the coast and the beautiful and pleasant seaside town of Newcastle, where the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is located. If you don’t want to rent a car that’s also fine and you can take a bus there from Belfast but it takes a while – nearly 3 hours to be exact. The roads are narrow and winding and you don’t get anywhere terribly fast in Northern Ireland due to this.
Also, by renting a car you can explore a bit more around the area or do one of the coastal drives such as the Causeway Coast or the Mourne Mountains route. We wanted to do the Causeway Coast but spent a little too much time at Silent Valley in the Mourne Mountains on our free day so explored locally instead and did a little bit of the Mourne Mountains scenic route. A drive around Northern Ireland is a treat for the eyes however, that’s for sure. Green, hilly countryside dotted with bright yellow flowered heather, cows grazing and pleasant towns and villages are all a part of the scenery here. Everything looks particularly clean as well and the coastal views are really quite pretty.
The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is a great place to stay and I love the town of Newcastle as well. It’s perfectly situated by mountains and seaside so if you are looking to escape the city and get a bit of fresh air then this is an absolutely perfect getaway. The hotel is really sprawling as well – it’s huge so you never feel like its crowded. There is space to breathe and room to roam which makes it a great peaceful getaway.
The rooms are really lovely and we got a room that faced the sea which was great waking up to. The beds are so comfortable as well – I slept so deeply!
The food at the Oak Restaurant in the hotel is superb – we were lucky enough to enjoy a 3-course dinner to the sounds of a pianist and views of the sea. I had the rocket and goat’s cheese salad to start, the organic salmon as a main and the rice pudding for dessert. The ingredients are all locally-sourced where possible which I really love to see. And also, did you know that the bread in Northern Ireland is the BOMB? Soda bread, wheaten bread, potato bread – there are so many kinds of homemade bread in this country!
The breakfast at the hotel was really good as well with lots of goodies to choose from including smoothies and freshly pressed apple juice sourced from a local farm. And don’t forget to try the bread!
There are plenty of ways to relax if you are staying at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa and one of those ways is to use the spa facilities. There is a lovely heated pool, hot tub that overlooks the seaside view as well as a steam room and sauna that will make your muscles melt (in a good way). If you feel up for getting a massage you can book this in as well – the spa offers all sorts of treatments using ESPA products (which are really lovely by the way).
If you want to explore outside the hotel there are coastal walks you can do and just up the coast from the hotel is the Murlough Nature Reserve which is a beautiful nature reserve where you can walk through 6,000-year old sand dunes and get great views of the Irish Sea. The fog came in while we were there so it added to the mystical feeling. And although we were shivering at that point, the locals were swimming in the sea and wearing shorts so it’s all about perspective here!
And Newcastle itself is a lovely little town sitting by the sea. We had the BEST fish and chips at Doc’s in town and picked up a loaf of wheaten bread from the local bakery to take home. And if you do rent a car it’s worth a trip into the Mourne Mountains which are nestled beside Newcastle and a trip to Silent Valley where you can see mountains and a huge reservoir lake. The air is fresh and it’s quiet so its nice to have a hike or follow one of the several trails there.
And if you are a Game of Thrones fan then head to the Tollymore Forest which is also right next to Newcastle. We did part of the Mourne Mountain scenic drive and it was absolutely stunning. If you can make it to Edgewater you will get the BEST views on a clear day.
So, if you are looking for a bit of an escape that’s easy to get to (Belfast is only an hour flight from London) then I would highly recommend visiting Northern Ireland and heading to the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle. It’s a truly lovely place with some stunning scenery!
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @beautyrocksblog to see all my pictures from the trip!