Straddling a tract of undulating wooded countryside, the 120-room, five-star Lough Erne Resort lies nestled on a 600-acre peninsula. Within a two-hour drive of Dublin, Belfast, Sligo and Derry airports, the hotel has five helipads, with St. Angelo, a private airport, also nearby. Alternatively, guests coming by water can arrive by seaplane on Castle Hume Lough, which the resort directly overlooks. Due to its easy access and quiet location, the resort was chosen as the site for the G8 world summit in 2013 attended by President Obama and other international leaders.
The resort was only built seven years ago for around $30 million, yet our first impression upon entering the spacious lobby was that it felt more like a stately home. It features thick carpeting, burgundy leather armchairs, ornate table lamps, damask curtains and elegant oak paneling. Inside the cozy library (children under 12 not permitted), traditional afternoon tea is served.
Our first-floor room granted us views to the wooden bridge leading across the lake to the forest as well as to the Faldo Golf Course, named after Nick Faldo. The course is one of two on the grounds in addition to a Golf Academy. All venues are under the guidance of friendly Lynn McCool, director of golf, who welcomes guests warmly and can advise visitors on the area’s best and most interesting places to visit. Using video technology to appraise clients’ skills and deficiencies, Lynn patiently demonstrated to me where my golf game was amiss, then took us on a driving tour of the course while supplying us with snippets of local history.
The Golf Academy offers beginner lessons as well as advanced classes for individuals and groups. So respected are the resort’s golf facilities, they have been selected as host of the 2017 Irish Open. In addition to golf, the resort also boasts lake boating trips, fishing and a Thai-style spa sauna, steam room and indoor pool.
Catalina restaurant, the hotel’s fine dining establishment, is a reflection of Antrim-born Executive Chef Noel McMeel’s fondness for Irish produce. Starters feature roasted quail from Dromoland, a delicate display of leg confit and crown with celeriac puree and spring cabbage; and local, thyme- infused rabbit meat pie with Fermanagh black bacon and creamed cabbage. For mains, the chef’s signature, Lough Erne Pork Dish comes generously laden with fillet, cheek, ham hock, palmier and pork belly with an apple sauce. The local lamb is also aromatically flavored with rosemary juice, parsnip purée and grilled shallots. The resort includes two other dining options, the Loughside Bar & Grill for all-day casual dining and the Halfway House, a log-cabin style café behind the ninth green of the Faldo Course, offering light bites.
Aside from the resort’s attractions, Fermanagh, known as Ireland’s Lakeland County, offers an area steeped in history and legend. Mysterious pagan Celtic idols dating back 3,000 years are carved in stone in nearby Caldragh graveyard on Boa Island. Devenish Island is home to a medieval monastic site and a 12th century round tower. A 20-minute drive from the hotel is the Magho Viewpoint, a UNESCO-designated geo-park which grants panoramic views over Lough Erne in a glacial valley created during the last Ice Age, some 18,000 years ago.
Further away, but great for a day trip, are the 2,000-foot high Slieve League cliffs and Bluestack Mountains of Donegal and the Sperrin Mountains in the nearby county of Tyrone. For something quirky and quaint, drive three miles outside the hotel’s gates and visit The Ceili House. The brainchild of owner Tom McGowan, it is one of the most idiosyncratic pubs we have ever seen, furnished in a strange and wonderful way.
Because Lough Erne Resort is in a rural location removed from the tourist-centric cities of Dublin and Galway, it’s a great option for those wanting a quieter, more intimate Ireland vacation. Yet, it is still chock-full of great activities and amenities so you’ll still have plenty to keep you occupied.