When I check into the five-star Culloden Estate & Spa, once the official palace for the Bishops of Down set in twelve acres of secluded gardens and woodland to the north of Belfast, I am told there are two weddings and a funeral tea taking place that afternoon. Many would say that was not an auspicious start – the noise, the bustle are not the usual backdrop to a restorative spa visit – but it’s all in a day’s work for this grande dame of hotels.
For a start there is a separate entrance and venue for events, the weddings taking place in the iconic Stuart and Robinson suites so while I wanted to check the guests’ attire over an Afternoon Tea in the Lough Bar, it was not to be. As for the funeral tea, it was held in the Vespers, a perfectly alcoved spot which is both respectful and comfortable at the same time.
Having grown up in Northern Ireland, I was quite ashamed I’d never been to “The Culloden” (always referred to in reverend, apostrophised terms) though it was a regular haunt of my aunt who loved the mix of art and antiques matched with service and serene views over Belfast Lough. My aunt would perhaps not have recognised the new configuration of the ground floor – unveiled after a £750,000 investment – with a new Lough Bar and Vespers restaurant as mentioned.
The purpose of my visit was to check out the sumptuous spa, which is situated to the side of the main hotel. A new wing of suites facilities a seamless exit from your room (in bathrobe) to the state-of-the-art gym and leisure facilities via a discreet lift, which includes an indoor swimming pool, infinity pool and a soothing sea view. Pale tiling, stone walls and huge candles in lanterns line the way to treatment rooms which are spacious and feature Japanese shoji screens.
I tried the ESPA Natural Face lift, an 80-minute treatment, (£135), and an holistic approach to ageing combining pre- and probiotic technology. Skin analysis with a SkinVision lamp allows the therapist to reveal the real state of my skin (sun damage and pigmentation) and is followed by a triple cleanse, including exfoliation, steam and extraction, if required. A jade roller is used for massaging the skin in conjunction with an intensive serum, which at the same time helps to detoxify, invigorate and sculpt the contours. Lastly, a lifting and smoothing mask is applied and while it is on, a scalp massage further relaxes. The treatment finishes with the application of a tinted moisturiser from the ESPA Probiome range. After reclining in the luxurious ESPA Spa lounge, I return to my room, overlooking the lough, and look in the mirror. Yes, some of the lines and wrinkles are plumped and reduced and my skin looks rejuvenated. I’d also say that the overnight stay in such comfortable surroundings added to my glowing complexion. Combining great food, friendly, unobtrusive service, an inspiring art collection to investigate, with plenty of reading nooks and open fires, this is a spa stay that is most definitely holistic.
Need to Know: Culloden Estate & Spa, Bangor Road, Holywood. Rates from £125 per person on a bed and breakfast basis; To book a treatment at the spa, telephone + 44 2890 421135; www.hastingshotels.com