Gourmand Worthy Hotels – Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
As if you couldn’t tell from my previous hotel reviews, I like to be spoiled. Even in my beercation itineraries, I tend to recommend higher end hotels. Sometimes, my readers give me pushback. “I prefer Airbnb. Much cheaper.”
That’s true. However, when I travel, I want to be spoiled. I want the finest linens available to grace my skin, beds that I can sink into, and staff that bends over backwards to meet my every need. Why? Because I believe we all work hard and deserve a little pampering every once in a while.
And pampering is just what you’ll get at Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s a resort fit for a president as the resort played host to the 39th G8 Summit. Lough Erne Resort will also host the 2017 Irish Golf Open. Neither is a bad pedigree to follow.
Lough Erne is located in the lake region of Country Fermanagh, about a two-hour drive west of Belfast and a ten-minute drive outside the town of Enniskillen. The mystic setting of 154 islands spread out amongst two connecting lakes carries enough folklore to fill novel. The three eras of ruins that dot the islands and craggy shores help add to that mystique and create one of many reasons to visit the region. Toss in a little fog, and it’s a setting right out of a movie.
Several boating companies, like Erne Water Taxi (whom I recommend from experience), provide tours that will get you up close and personal with the legends of the region. Erne Water Taxi even leads a food tour, which I’ll cover next week.
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There are also plenty of water sports on the lakes for those looking for a little more adventure than an afternoon cruise can offer. TripAdvisor lists plenty of activities ranging from fishing to waterskiing, rowing, wakeboarding, and sailing.
Beyond the waterways, the quaint streets of Enniskillen also offer plenty to explore with shops, restaurants, and artisan food producers. Do stop into Pat O’Doherty’s Fine Meats for a delicious sandwich prepared with his famous black bacon – some of the best I’ve ever sampled. If Pat is there, be sure to say hello. He is well traveled and loves to spin tales of his many journeys. The region also boasts area castles, caves, and stately manors.
Of course, most who stay at Lough Erne Resort find very little reason to leave the comfy confines of the 400-acre grounds. The sandstone, castle-like towers of the main hotel and individual lodges entraps guests with luxurious spells fitting for the magical water views of Lough Erne that can be viewed from any spot on the peninsula that the resort calls home.
Everything guests could possibly want is at their fingertips within the property itself. Lough Erne Resort offers two championship golf courses, a Thai spa, infinity pool, and rolling trails along the lakeshores. The golf course was designed by Nick Faldo and is complete wih a state-of-the-art training facility. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to experience any the above while I stayed at the hotel. Trust me though that my golf game could have used more than a day or two of professional coaching and my body needed to have the kinks worked out after an overnight coach flight.
What I did experience was the rooms and the pleasant nature of the staff. Let’s start with the rooms. Lough Erne Resort has 120 rooms that range from traditional rooms to three-bedroom lodges, which make it ideal for everyone from couples seeking a romantic wedding to families traveling together. The lodges are also popular with wedding parties.
I stayed in a three-bedroom lodge. Each of the bedrooms was laid out like an individual hotel room with a locking door, desk, TV, on suite bathroom, and seating area. The rooms all connected through a living space that looked like a country club lounge meets a boardroom. Hotel staff is happy to stock the fridge in the kitchenette with your breakfast needs. But why would you want them to when a hearty Irish breakfast awaits guests in Catalina Restaurant?
The best word to describe the rooms is plush. I slept like a baby, waking up refreshed and ready for the rest of my Northern Ireland adventure.
Lough Erne Resort offers three distinct dining options – The Loughside Bar and Grill, Blaney Bar, and Catalina Restaurant. Each is led by Irish culinary master, Chef Noel McNeel. Chef McNeel has a storied history as chef, including stops at some of Northern Ireland’s top restaurants, a scholarship to Johnson and Wales culinary university, and many television appearances. Recently, he published his first book, the Irish Pantry. After tasting his cuisine and sitting through a chef demonstration, I had to add it to my collection.
Catalina Restaurant is the main dining option and is reasonably priced for an upscale dining experience. Guests can enjoy a 3-course dinner for £52. The thoughtful wine list showed similar prices. You wouldn’t find an equivalent culinary experience for the same price anywhere in the United States. Chef McNeel takes great pride in using only local resources and enjoys boasting about local food purveyors like Thornhill Duck, Cavanagh Eggs, Keenan Seafood, Baronscourt Venison, O’Doherty’s Meat, Tedfords Pork, Abernathy Butter, and Limavady Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil.
For my starter, I ordered the Irish Rabbit. It was as gorgeous as it was tasty. The pulled rabbit was served on a bed of sautéed Irish cabbage, flecked with O’Doherty’s black bacon, and topped with a puff pastry. Each textured bite was packed with a salt and gaminess that I still crave. My main entrée was rump of lamb served with potatoes, grape and red wine mustard, heritage carrots, and red wine jus. It’s what a Sunday roast should be – succulent, moist meat with a slight game character balanced out by a mildly spiced mustard and thick jus.
I like that the wait staff allowed our party to linger for hours over our meal. After dinner, we sauntered over to Blaney Bar where some in our party selected from the over 100 Irish whiskeys available. I, of course, perused their selection of local beers.
Breakfast was a hearty as the previous night’s dinner. There is a full buffet, which is heavy on the continental side. I suggest ordering from the menu for a rounded Irish breakfast experience. My plate was stacked with black bacon, grilled mushroom, grilled tomato, two eggs, sausage, and black pudding.
The entire Lough Erne Resort experience felt very regal and presidential – from the elegant lodging quarter to the Gordon Wilson Library, where I caught up on reading to the sound of a crackling fire.
What do you think? Does Lough Erne Resort sound like your kind of retreat?
Disclosure – Muchas gracias to Discover Northern Ireland for hosting me. Regardless of their generosity, readers receive my honest feedback as my opinions are not for sale.