Heidi Scrimgeour revisits the Galgorm Resort and Spa County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to try out its award-winning thermal spa village
The mere mention of the name “Galgorm” invokes a predictable response among my friends. It’s an involuntary thing; an expression of wistful bliss mixed with unbridled envy.
Mention that you’re off to the Gal for a spa weekend to write a travel review and don’t be surprised if you end up unfriended by green-eyed former pals.
Galgorm has unveiled a £10m expansion complete with indoor and outdoor Thermal Spa Village, the first of its kind in Ireland
But it’s a price well worth paying.
It’s not an overstatement to say that no other spa hotel – and I’ve tried a few – can hold a candle to this place.
I first reviewed this destination for Feet on the Ground a year ago. It has since unveiled a £10m expansion complete with the indoor and outdoor Galgorm thermal spa village – the first of its kind in Ireland – and they kindly asked if I’d like to go back and check it out. Is the Pope, etc?
Given the existing spa facilities were first-class, I wasn’t convinced that much could have changed. I was wrong. Turns out you can improve upon perfection.
Arriving at the Galgorm – nestled in 163 acres of parkland – feels like stumbling upon a little slice of heaven hidden away in County Antrim.
As we wound our way up the sweeping driveway to the charming country house hotel, it was as if my cares rolled down the riverbank, landing with a satisfying splosh in the River Maine. (Or maybe that was the resident salmon and trout.)
What Galgorm does especially well is blend the professionalism you’d expect from a luxury travel destination with the authentic charm of an Irish welcome. We were greeted like old friends and pointed in the direction of the VIP reception (I love my job) before being shown to our room on the fifth floor.
It was everything we could have asked for; spotlessly clean, spacious without feeling vast or soulless, and affording us spectacular views of the grounds, river and outdoor spa facilities. Speaking of which…I’ll never know how to do justice to the hour we spent soaking away our troubles in a private riverside hot tub with champagne and truffles on hand.
There. Just. Aren’t. Words.
From there we staggered, dizzy with bliss, to a glass and log cabin where we were indulged in a Celtic sauna ritual.
I appreciate the pointlessness of peppering a hotel review with the claim that words fail you but an hour with Jack – Galgorm’s sarong-clad Sauna Master – has to be experienced to be believed.
I could tell you that it entailed Jack dousing the coals with three different essential oils and then proceeding to wield towels in a gravity-defying and mesmerising manner until the heat and scents had completely overwhelmed us. Or that next we rubbed ice cubes all over ourselves before downing a glass of cold water and taking a quick shower, and then it was off to the River House where Jack led us in a meditation to detoxify our minds, too. But look, just trust me on this. Try the Celtic Sauna Ritual for yourself and then see if you can find words worthy of it.
On our previous visit we were accompanied by our 21-month-old daughter, who had broken her leg, so we had the chance to evaluate Galgorm’s approach to welcoming children – not something spa hotels are generally famed for – and found it to be faultless. But, I wondered, how would the child-free experience measure up? Let’s just say I’m in no rush to return with the children.
Last time we used the spa facilities in rotation, taking it in turns to mind our patient. But there’s something truly restorative about spending the afternoon in the thermal spa village as a couple.
From the pools and outdoor jacuzzi to the snow cabin and Beltane hot tub and fire, it seems to put back what life with three kids and two full-time careers takes out.
And dinner in Gillies Bar and Grill was excellent.
We ordered from the Resident’s Menu (I gorged on the surf n’ turf) and we couldn’t resist sampling what was billed as the best Chilean wine in the world. (My research is ongoing but early indications suggest they may be onto something.)
But, as a serious gin lover, it pains me to tell you we were so satiated by dinner that we didn’t make it to the Gin Library, home of Ireland’s largest gin collection. Oh, the regret.
The next day, breakfast was a pared-down affair in the River Room and I was treated to a full body massage (sublime) before lunch.
Hours hunched over my keyboard have wrought havoc with my shoulders, according to my therapist, and she prescribed another session in a month’s time…
…so, in the interests of my health and continued career, it looks like I’ll be losing a few more friends in the not-too-distant future.
How to get to the Galgorm Resort & Spa without flying:
The Stena Line ferry sails from Liverpool to Belfast and the Galgorm Resort and Spa is approximately 40 minutes away from Belfast by car.
The nearest train stations are Ballymena and Cullybackey.
Words: Heidi Scrimgeour for Feet on the Ground
Images: Galgorm Resort and Spa