Finding Bliss in Ballymena

A short hop from Belfast; luxury, fine food and a warm welcome await at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort.

The best kind of mini-break involves a short journey and the feeling that time stretches in a different way. Belfast is just an hour’s flight from London and it takes literally minutes from stepping off the plane to us jumping into our rental car (Avis – friendliest service ever). We just want a couple of nights away from the stress of, well, everyday life, and we are heading to Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort, less than an hour’s drive from Belfast.

We stop on the way in Antrim to eat a huge meal at the welcoming Top of the Town pub and then drive on through the rain to the warmest of welcomes at the hotel. The moment the door opens, Maurice the concierge shakes us by the hand and we smell the wood-burning fire, we feel like we’ve come home. If we lived in a beautiful hotel that is.

We spot two different brides while we wait to check in (there are up to three weddings at a time here and the scenery is so beautiful you can see why). Apparently, the wedding planners are adept at keeping the brides apart, as that’s the one day you do not want to be upstaged by another bride!

Au naturel

We head to our room which has a view of the stunning River Maine rushing past. We can also see the Thermal Village and Spa and smoke drifting from the private hot tubs (more of which later). With the biggest of beds and swishest of bathrooms we are soon comfortable and changed into our swimsuits to head to the spa. The Spa and Thermal Village are a big draw here (it’s the first of its kind in Northern Ireland) and there are bath-robed couples and groups as far as the eye can see. It doesn’t feel over-busy though as we are led down the path to our hot tub by the river. Very private and heated by a wood burner it’s basically a perfectly warm and deep bath with the most picturesque view. We sip on chilled Prosecco whilst marvelling that the sun has decided to make a rare appearance (it’s been raining non-stop for days, so we are told). Half an hour is enough for us to decompress from the journey and feel ready for dinner.

Galgorm hotel and spa


The hotel has recently taken over a restaurant by the local golf course called The Castle Kitchen and Bar and the hotel runs guests the five minutes down the road to it in one of their fleet of BMWs. We tuck into enormous burgers and enjoy the golf course views and the eclectic décor. It’s buzzy and friendly and we don’t want the night to end when we get back to the hotel. Luckily there are no early nights in this hotel as tucked away is their very own pub, Gillies, and performing is an Irish and Scottish line up of fiddlers and singers playing a mixture of traditional folk and pop and rock covers thrown in too. I’ve never heard Pink Floyd in such a way before!  We peruse the enormous gin list and try some new ones. Shortcross becomes a firm favourite (it’s a Northern Irish gin) and we buy a bottle to take home from Duty Free at the airport.

Location hunters

The next day sees more sunshine and after a delicious Irish breakfast we set off on a Game of Thrones pilgrimage. Many scenes were filmed around here and we use the location map that we picked up from the airport along with Google Maps to guide us. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and we take endless photographs. We dive off down quiet country roads and it really is just us and the sheep. Word to the wise though; don’t entirely trust Google Maps to take you down actual roads.  We confidently set off up a road that just peters out to nothing and have a worrying moment when we think we can’t turn around to get back out. Fortunately, and down to some good driving skills from my other half, we made it back to civilisation!

For those in the know, we recommend Dark Hedges (although be prepared to have a lot of company as coach-loads were arriving as we left). We drive up to the Giants Causeway too but you need a good half a day to do it justice really, which we don’t have. Just another reason to plan a return visit.

Northern Ireland

Join the library

We drive back in time for a gin-tasting session with expert Ryan in the gin library.  These take place every day and cost £25 per person. Sitting back and getting comfortable with a French 75 in hand we listen as Ryan takes us through some of the gins in the huge gin library (over 400 and increasing all the time). We learn about the history of gin in a fun and very interactive way. Well-oiled by this experience we make our way through to the River Room for our dinner. One of four restaurants in Northern Ireland to be awarded 3 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence. Head Chef Chris Rees creates dishes that are true to the ingredients, showcasing local artisan producers with menus that change daily. We eat like kings and head back to Gillies Pub for a nightcap. Considering we’ve come away for a relaxing break we’ve had a pretty full itinerary!

Galgorm hotel and spa

The cosy factor

The next morning the drizzle is back but we really don’t mind. After another fine breakfast we head back to the Spa and detox in the beautiful sauna with a floor to ceiling window on one side over-looking the river. A very quick and cold visit to the snow room follows and then it’s time to reluctantly check out of our room. We could have driven into Belfast City for a spot of sight-seeing, but actually all we want to do is sit in the cosy lobby area, read our books and edit our Instagram photos. It’s been the best kind of mini-break as we feel like we’ve been away for much longer than we have and we determine to come back and visit again.

Galgorm BT42 1EA, Co. Antrim, N.Ireland – Tel: +44 (0)28 2588 1001 –