Travel: Timeless indulgence and a Bridgerton afternoon tea at luxury County Down resort

The grand reception at Slieve Donard Resort, County Down, provides a warm welcome

The grand reception at Slieve Donard Resort, County Down, provides a warm welcome - Credit: Slieve Donard Resort

A fairytale setting with the grandeur of a Victorian hotel and modern-day comforts of home – the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is the perfect post-lockdown escape.

Clare Butler at Slieve Donard Resort

Clare Butler at Slieve Donard Resort - Credit: Clare Butler

“The jewel in the crown of County Down” and “the hotel you don’t want to leave”, are the quotes I’m greeted with upon arrival. And they’re right – as in my mind I’m still there now.

Maybe it’s the unmistakable Irish elegance of yesteryear or the soaring views of the Mourne Mountains, but whatever it is, the Northern Ireland resort leaves a lasting impression.

What strikes me the most is how a hotel with 180 rooms, an award-winning spa and exquisite private grounds has staff who personally get to know guests so well.

Nothing is too much trouble and within a few days stay I had that déjà vu feeling of having been there before.

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But maybe that’s Slieve Donard’s magic spell you fall under.

It was originally built by the Belfast and County Down Railway, as an “end of line” luxury holiday destination.

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Construction started in 1896 and two years later it was open to the public – and plenty of VIPs.

Famous guests such as Charlie Chaplin, songwriter Percy French and King Leopold of Belgium have graced the hallways, while modern day stars such as Dame Judi Dench, Jack Charlton and Archbishop Tutu have enjoyed a stay at the resort.

Even Daniel Craig starred in a film that was set there in 2000.

One of the bedrooms at Slieve Donard Resort

One of the bedrooms at Slieve Donard Resort - Credit: Jack Hardy

Its timeless indulgence is mirrored in bars and lounges named after notable figures and hotel rooms tastefully decorated to high standards while keeping in character with its period charm.

And the views are something else.

When the mist descends over the coast there’s a nostalgic longing in the air.

But also, a reminder that there’s no time for regret – as there’s too much to enjoy in the here and now.

The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa is within pitching distance of several golf courses and sits next door to the globally acclaimed Royal County Down.

The Irish Open was held there in 2015 and golfing legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and local hero Rory McIlroy have spent a night at the resort.

The hotel, which is part of the Hastings group, boasts an extensive range of dining and socialising options including Chaplin’s Bar and the Lighthouse Lounge.

The Percy French Inn, complete with log fire, is a cosy informal bar and restaurant which lies within the grounds of the resort – perfect for a tasty lunch or pint by the fireside.

Breakfast choices range from a continental selection of fresh fruit, granola yoghurt pots, cheese and the resort’s very own yummy bakery muffins.

Breakfast at Slieve Donard Resort

Breakfast at Slieve Donard Resort - Credit: Clare Butler

The vegetarian Irish breakfast is truly tasty and comes with a choice of eggs, baked beans, meat free sausages and Irwin’s potato bread.

It really is the best start to the day.

The Oak Restaurant at Slieve Donard Resort

The Oak Restaurant at Slieve Donard Resort - Credit: Slieve Donard Resort

However, my favourite meal was The Oak restaurant’s Carnbrooke Free Range Chicken Supreme – it was just delicious.

The chicken supreme was Clare's favourite dish of her trip

The chicken supreme was Clare's favourite dish of her trip - Credit: Clare Butler

There’s always room for dessert too – and the warm chocolate brownie was presented beautifully and simply scrumptious.

Dessert was a warm chocolate brownie

Dessert was a warm chocolate brownie - Credit: Clare Butler

Waiters were on-point in making sure dishes were cooked to everyone’s taste and their disability friendly ethos was also lovely to witness.

They even offer an indulgent Bridgerton-inspired afternoon tea – and with Rége-Jean Page recently spotted filming in Belfast, how can you resist?

You can stimulate your tastebuds starting with Lady Whistledown’s starter, followed by Queen Charlotte’s delectable sandwiches, Lady Bridgerton’s finest scones and Lady Danbury’s desserts and dainty cakes.

And get this – there’s even Bridgerton inspired music while you dine.

The award-winning spa underwent a £550,000 renovation last year too, so guests can escape to a cocoon of calm with over two floors of tranquillity, including a magnificent 20-metre swimming pool and vitality pool, amethyst steam room and high-tech fitness studio.

The spa is a cocoon of calm

The spa is a cocoon of calm - Credit: Slieve Donard Resort

On the doorstep of the hotel is the idyllic seaside resort of Newcastle that has sandy beaches, friendly locals and a mixture of shops.

The town aims to promote itself as the "activity resort" for Northern Ireland and has benefited from a multi-million-pound upgrade to the promenade and Main Street.

If you drive out on the Mourne Coastal Route then you’ll find some of Ireland's most spectacular scenery.

You're spoiled for fantastic views at Slieve Donard Resort

You're spoiled for fantastic views at Slieve Donard Resort - Credit: Slieve Donard Resort

Ten minutes away in the village of Annalong there is The Harbour Inn pub which sits beside a picturesque cornmill and has panoramic views of the mountains.

On a hot day it felt like I was in an Italian fishing village as I enjoyed a glass of wine in the sun.

There’s plenty to keep active as well, from a jog along the seaside front in Newcastle to great hiking trails, trail running trails, mountain biking trails and more.

Hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers, and nature lovers are dotted around the area and you'll also find some great local park options, like Tollymore Forest Park or Ravensdale Forest.

It was pure bliss to unwind at the Slieve Donard while overlooking the idyllic shores of the Irish Sea on Newcastle Bay.

In fact, the whole experience at the resort was like stepping into a movie scene and being charmed off your feet.

Wonderful staff, and manager Michael, were second to none in ensuring a sense of safety after leaving lockdown....and I can’t wait to be back “where the dark Mourne sweeps down to the sea”.

The Mourne Mountains

The Mourne Mountains - Credit: Clare Butler

Prices start from £110pp for a Sparkling Staycation or an Advance Purchase of £72pp which includes a full Irish breakfast. Visit: or search @Slievedonard on social media.

For more information on hygiene and social distancing protocols taking place at The Spa at Slieve Donard and Hastings Hotels’ ‘peace of mind’ policy, visit:

How to get there

Flights from London Stansted to Belfast start from as little as £20 with Ryanair, however, we flew from Birmingham International with Aer Lingus from around £60.

Newcastle, County Down, lies 30 miles south of Belfast on the A24 and 85 miles north from Dublin.

It is situated on the Irish Sea coast on the shores of Newcastle Bay.

George Best Belfast City Airport is situated three miles outside of Belfast and is around a one-hour drive.

Newry Station operates a direct service to Belfast and Dublin, which is also around 30 minutes by car.

Or there’s also the ferry, with Belfast Stenaline operating an HSS ferry from Stranraer to Belfast, with a journey time of one hour 45 minutes.

Three things not to miss

1. Making the most of the resort’s six-acre private grounds

A golden strand of beach borders one side while the mighty Royal County Down golf links frames the other.

Get snap happy and strike the perfect Insta pose with the Mourne Mountains as the backdrop, walk the dog or just enjoy a peaceful sunset sitting on a bench before retreating back to the bar.

2. Exploring the hotel and learning more of the history behind it

While you may be eager to get to the spa or grab a workout in the gym, make sure to also take some time at looking at the different rooms in the hotel.

There’s the glorious Drawing Room, The 1897 Room, Brunel Lounge and child-friendly boards that show the hotel through the years.

There’s even a gift shop!

Newcastle, County Down, is known for its beaches

Newcastle, County Down, is known for its beaches - Credit: Clare Butler

3. Spend time in Newcastle

The quaint little seaside resort is on the doorstep of the hotel and boasts plenty of fish and chip restaurants, the delightful Quinns Bar and an amusement arcade.

Newcastle is known for its sandy beach, forests and mountains, and its runners can also enjoy taking in the sea breeze on one of its many trails.

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