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River of dreams Hugging the River Maine, luxurious Galgorm Resort in Co Antrim is the perfect treat after months of restrictions

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Galgorm Resort

Galgorm Resort

Deirdre enjoying afternoon tea

Deirdre enjoying afternoon tea

The extensive gin library

The extensive gin library

An indoor pool

An indoor pool

The main reception building

The main reception building

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Galgorm Resort

Red or white, still or sparkling, cash or card? Dining out anywhere these days affords little room for indecision. Dining out at Galgorm must be sheer hell for ‘I don’t mind’ types.

First there’s the question of room service or restaurant; then which of the hotel’s four diners you fancy; tasting menu or à la carte; meat eater or vegan? And that’s before retreating to a gin library stocked with 450 different gins for a nightcap.

Blanketing 163 acres of lush parkland, spoiling guests for choice on everything from booze to beauty treatments is the County Antrim resort’s calling card.

Since opening in 1998, it’s grown into one of the country’s must-visit destinations, leapfrogging Monart and Muckross straight to the top of my wish list.

Afternoon tea, spa treatments, overnight stay: my sister and I finally had it in our diaries when lockdown number two forced us to cancel the trip in October 2020.

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Deirdre enjoying afternoon tea

Deirdre enjoying afternoon tea

Deirdre enjoying afternoon tea

Good things come to those who wait though, when last week, we packed our swimsuits and prayed to the antigen test Gods before setting off on the two hour journey from Meath to Ballymena. As our first post-pandemic girls’ trip, every pixel of the property’s website had been pored over leading up to the escape, but not even the panoramic photos on its home page could live up to the riverside view flooding the car window as we swept up the long driveway to the main building.

The River Maine gurgles through the golfer’s paradise, and from riverside strolls to breakfast with a view and private bathing on its banks, every drop of the natural resource is used, without being abused.

Complimentary prosecco on arrival will never not make me warm to a place, while the option to access the huge thermal village from noon before check-in at 3pm, is another small but thoughtful nod to guests who’ve been waiting months or even years to get away from it all at Galgorm.

Simmering in one of several outdoor hot tubs, we meet a mother and daughter on a well-deserved break, a young couple cashing in on a Christmas gift and group of pals reunited for the first time since the world was thrown into crisis. Groups of all types are catered for with 125 bedrooms (from £205 for two), as well as lodges and log cabins (from £100 per guest), to choose from. We got lucky with our deluxe fifth floor twin right by the lift for whizzing up and down to the spa, with a well stocked mini bar and snacks included in the room rate.

For now, masks are still required in common areas; once ensconced in the thermal village however, it’s masks off, out of office on. Over £60m has been pumped into the resort since 2010, and you don’t have to look any further than the award-winning spa, which runs the gamut from a ice-cold snow cabin to a toasty sanarium.

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An indoor pool

An indoor pool

An indoor pool

Despite, or perhaps because of its size, the sprawling spa – also home to three pools, a scatter of saunas and walled garden – still manages to feel cosy, and we succeeded in getting the salt cave and aroma grotto all to ourselves more than once. If the pandemic savings stretch, it’s worth splashing out for an hour in a private wood-fired tub by the river (£60 per couple) or treating yourself to a massage or facial. But – and bosses probably don’t want you to know this – you really don’t need anything apart from a good book and your bathers to make the most of the luxury getaway.

Afternoon tea in the elegant River Room conservatory (from £35.50) eventually lured us out of our robes. Dainty sandwiches, fluffy scones, delicate cakes – whatever we couldn’t manage made the 185km journey home in a box. A deceptively delicious oat milk porridge breakfast and spicy Linguine Puttanesca at Fratelli ristorante were never going to last that long.

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To avoid menu indecision, before arriving, I downloaded the Galgorm app. Sadly, even on roaming, I struggled to pick up reception so it was back to scrolling the in-house iPads. Technology is great and all, but give me an old-fashioned menu anyday – even if there are 450 gins to peruse.

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The extensive gin library

The extensive gin library

The extensive gin library

If you’ve been totting up some of the other figures in this review, by now you’ll know it’s not necessarily going to be a budget break. But putting it top of your travel wish list in 2022 is one decision you won’t regret.

TRAVEL FACTFILE
GALGORM SPA & GOLF RESORT, ANTRIM
See galgorm.com

■ Galgorm offers a range of deluxe and superior rooms and suites, as well as a variety of lodges, starting from £100 per person.
■ A one-night ‘Valentine’s Escape’ package, including B&B, dinner, arrival champagne and chocolates, starts from £395 for two.
■ Turn over for the chance to win a fabulous four-night getaway to Northern Ireland.

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