The notorious west of Ireland weather lived up to its temperamental reputation on our recent trip to the area where mountains, loughs and drama develop at every turn.
Wicked winds and savage rain provided the backdrop for our journey from Belfast to Galway, as our defenceless jalopy was buffeted about bumpy roads – with more optimism than sense we had opted for the scenic route bypassing Sligo, rather than the lovely straight from Dublin. Don’t ask.
So after more than four hours travelling it was a relief to finally arrive at our destination, Glenlo Abbey Hotel, situated just two kilometres outside Galway city centre on the road to Clifden.
From the moment we drove through the magnificent cast iron gates we were captivated by the beauty of this fairytale 140-acre lakeside estate. Built in the 18th century, Glenlo is an impressive, dapper building, which rises majestically from the still waters of Lough Corrib.
Walking into the reception area was like walking into a welcoming embrace. With all the country house essentials, a crackling fire, gentle lighting, rugs on warm parquet flooring, rich fabrics and a cosy, homely vibe, we soon forgot the trials of our trip.
The welcome from receptionist Moira was as warm as the roaring fire in the grate and after finding out (and impressively remembering all our names for the duration of our stay) we were taken to our room, down a dark corridor with a creaky timeworn atmosphere and up shallow, carpeted stairs
Our suite, a veritable half-acre of luxuriousness, was decorated in golds, beiges and browns, with Picasso prints on the walls. With an adjoining living room complete with comfy sofas and an old-style fireplace, there was plenty of room for our family of four to spread out.
My children were impressed by the two 47-inch flat screen televisions and DVD players, whilst the Italian marble en suite bathroom with power shower and Jacuzzi also received ‘wows’ of approval.
Glenlo Abbey, a five-star Failte Ireland Rated hotel, was constructed by a well-known Galway banker, a member of the Ffrench family in 1740. The stone built Gothic abbey, adjacent to the house was constructed for the use of his invalid wife, who sadly died before it was consecrated. Today the abbey provides an intimate venue for weddings or other events.
Glenlo opened as a hotel in 1992 and has 46 bedrooms and suites and boasts one of Ireland’s truly unique dining experiences – The Pullman Restaurant, a 100 per cent authentic Orient Express carriage which is situated in its grounds.
Comprising two dining carriages, it dates back to 1927 and was part of the original Orient Express which carried VIPs all over Europe and the UK during its lifespan. Indeed The Pullman not only transported stars, such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud, it was itself a star. In 1974 it was used in the Agatha Christie film, Murder on the Orient Express. Sadly, the restaurant was closed for restoration when we were there in January, but it is due to re-open in the spring.
But you definitely won’t go hungry here. We enjoyed a memorable dinner in the magnificent River Room restaurant, where top class gastronomy was served up in a grand fin de siecle style dining room, all white table cloths and candlelight.
With tall windows on all five exterior walls, guests are afforded the pleasure of breath-taking views of Lough Corrib and the estate grounds wherever they are seated in the restaurant.
But, no matter how lovely the surroundings, the star of the show here is the food. The hotel’s award-winning kitchen is renowned for its creative flair and takes pride in using the finest of local and indigenous produce.
My meal of aubergine and cream cheese roulades on a bed of seasonal leaves for starter, Cajun crusted hake on a bed of Mediterranean vegetables in orange burre blanc and Tiaramisu with pistachio ice cream and Tia Maria Anglaise sauce, was simply sublime.
Breakfast is also served in the River Room restaurant, a sumptuous affair where guests can tuck into homemade buttermilk pancakes, grilled kippers, Aran Islands smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and much more
For less formal dining there’s the Oak Cellar Bar and Lounge, originally the kitchen in bygone days, a subterranean haven with thick exposed stone walls.
Glenlo Abbey is the ideal location for exploring the west of Ireland. We took a trip to Spiddal, passing bogs and turf stacks, and not much else. It’s a charming village, home to a fine sandy blue-flag beach, a little pier and a smattering of fishing boats.
But if you would rather stay put at the hotel, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Glenlo Abbey’s nine-hole golf course is adjacent to the hotel and archery and clay pigeon shooting are also available.
And after your exertions, what better way to relax than to bask in the old-fashioned ease of the hotel’s drawing room and the simple pleasure of sitting by a smouldering fire. The Victorian inspired decor, ornate ceilings, crystal chandeliers, gilt mirrors, standard lamps and grand piano, are unaffectedly magnificent.
In fact it is this unaffectedness which is the most impressive aspect of Glenlo. There’s no stuffiness or pretension in this special place, we were really made to feel at home. All the staff are likeable and attentive, looking after people with genuine warmth and making you feel like you are the only guest here.
There is a feeling of utter comfort and quiet elegance. It’s an exceptional experience.