Situated in Ballymena, just a half-hour’s drive from Belfast, the Galgorm management team clearly know that it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. It’s been almost a decade since my last trip to this converted 18th century manor house, and it’s seen a lot of changes – but thankfully, all are for the better. And it was pretty damn good the first time round.
The River Maine serves as a gorgeously dramatic natural backdrop to the hotel, which is set on 163 acres of parkland. The jewel in the resort’s crown was the outdoor hot tub, with spectacular views of the river, but with a maximum capacity of 6-8 (incredibly smug) people. The solution? Add on a large, outdoor Jacuzzi pool, which can hold three times as many as the tub. It’s a genius move.
The spa – designed with local stone and wood – is also bigger than remembered. The chic and feminine reception area, all sparkle and glitz, is new, and can be hired out for events. Elsewhere, there are various treatment rooms, a relaxation lounge and some excellent spa facilities which include a pool, numerous sauna and steam rooms, heated stone-loungers and an ice fountain.
The attention to detail is impressive. Never before have I been asked if I like conversing with my therapist (I don’t), or to choose a musical preference (I opt, unimaginatively, for ‘spa music’ from the offered list.) The same care is evident throughout the hotel: the robes in the room are enveloping and comfy (I hate a skimpy bathrobe!) and the products in the bathrooms are from Aromatherapy Associates. Score!
Speaking of which, I’d been invited to try out the Sleep Deeply treatment, a 55 minute Aromatherapy Associates massage designed – you guessed it – to promote a good night’s kip. Using the brand’s award-winning Deep Relax Oil, a soothing combination of vetivert, camomile and sandalwood, my therapist kneaded away the stresses and strains of the week to leave me in a state of complete calm and contentment. The post-treatment sorbet further added to my mood, and set me up for a good hour or so of soaking in the Jacuzzi pool outside.
The resort also features several restaurants including the fine dining River Room, Gillie’s Bar and Grill and the Italian-themed Fratelli, where we stuffed our faces with delicious pasta and prosecco. To our dismay, we only clock the two-for-one cocktail special as we’re leaving. But it says a lot for Galgorm that this is the only time we're disappointed in an otherwise pretty perfect girl’s weekend away. It won't be another decade till I'm back.
Even further expansion plans are afoot, with a Spa Village and opulent Signature Suite set to launch in September 2015. Current specials include the Jewel package (£85 pp), with one hour’s thermal spa experience and a spring reviver body scrub and massage, followed by lunch. Check out the website for more. Fluff and Fripperies was a guest of the hotel.