I can't believe the bad reviews the Culloden has attracted from some quarters! Myself and three friends have just spent an extremely enjoyable ladies weekend in Northern Ireland, courtesy of a cheap internet deal which allowed us to stay at the Culloden for a fraction of the usual price, including breakfast. From the moment our taxi pulled up outside the entrance, we were treated like royalty by polite and attentive staff.
There was a mistake with our booking as I had booked us two twin rooms and we were shown up to two doubles. We were whisked back down to reception by our charming porter and asked to accept complimentary drinks in the gorgeously appointed chancel bar. We were then upgraded to executive rooms which we found to be spotlessly clean, beautifully furnished with very comfortable beds and all the usual facilities, including a wall mounted plasma tv, quality toiletries, fluffy white robes and slippers.
It was possible to open the window in our room and get a lovely view of the lough and the Holywood Hills in one direction, and the terrace and frontage of the hotel itself in the other. The spa had to be seen to be believed! The changing rooms were clean, tidy and well managed with an excellent PIN system for the lockers. We took full advantage of the pool, the jacuzzi and the fabulous steam room which has eucalyptus fragrancing and ambient lighting which gently changes colour as you sit there soaking up the heat - sheer, unadulterated luxury!
The Culloden has several public rooms in which it is possible to lounge and read the papers or your book, or just sit and soak up the atmosphere. The interior is very Country House, with lovely furniture, chandeliers, mouldings, paintings, antiques and floral arrangements and there is a simply stunning staircase with a breathtaking stained glass window at the top of it. Our breakfast was included in our rate and was of the buffet type and served in the Mitre Restaurant which has fine views through picture windows of the grounds and the lough. The breakfast was superb and ranged from cereal, croissants, fresh fruit, toast, pastries, juices and yogurt to the famous Ulster fry which is basically the same as a full English except with potato cakes and an interesting looking concotion called whiskey and cream!
There is a very scenic and do-able walk from the Culloden into the small town of Holywood, which takes about half-an-hour and is all along the front of the lough and the beach, which is lined with very desirable houses, apparently this area is the local "Millionaires Row" and it certainly shows. Holywood itself has a busy and bustling main street and reminded me of what English towns were like 30 years ago, with very few chain stores and many more independent, family run businesses. Be sure to visit the Bay Tree cafe with its pottery studio and delicious cakes!
We didn't have dinner at the Culloden as we were keen to see Belfast city centre, so we ate there, but we did have a look at the Mitre's dinner menu which was £40 a head for two courses. Drinks from the bar were pretty pricey, for example a gin and tonic and a bacardi and coke cost £10.80, but the Cultra Inn, a short stroll through the hotel grounds, was more realistically priced and offered an excellent menu - we had our lunches here on both days and although the service was a little slow, the food was good quality and well presented.
We relied on taxis throughout our stay, starting with our journey from Belfast International airport to the Culloden which cost £35 including tip, one way from the hotel into Belfast was around £10 with a local firm and one way from Holywood back to the hotel was around £3. None of us had ever been to Ireland before, either the north or the south and we were so impressed by how friendly and welcoming everyone we met was. If you want to visit Northern Ireland and if you can get a decent deal on the internet as we did, then I can't recommend the Culloden Hotel enough - it gave us a great introduction to this wonderful country, which personally I can't wait to go back to and see more of.