Categories: Luxury Weekends

Less than two hours from Dublin and less than 30 minutes from Belfast, County Down with its rolling hills, majestic loughs and attractive towns and villages is the place to come to when you want to shake off the working week, unwind, relax and indulge in some of the finer things in life. 

Begin with a promenade down the peninsula 

A drive down the lough side of the Ards Peninsula makes for a great start to the weekend. Enjoy gorgeous views over the water and make impressive Mount Stewart House and Gardens your first stop. Take a tour of the stately home and a stroll around the award-winning gardens. 

Head on down the peninsula to the village of Greyabbey, named for its abbey and considered to be the best example of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Northern Ireland. Explore the visitor centre and abbey church or browse through the village’s antique shops. Enjoy lunch in the Wildfowler Inn before hitting the road again. 

Book a Taste and Tour and tasting experience to visit Echlinville Distillery, where you can see the whole distillation process from field to glass, from the barley growing in the surrounding fields to the age-old tradition of distillery floor malting. 

The peninsula ends at Portaferry, from where you can take the ferry for the short hop over to picturesque Strangford. Here there are several great dining options including The Cuan (4*), which is renowned for its local seafood. What’s more it’s a really good place to stay the night as well. As a bonus, it’s got a coveted Door of Thrones in the bar. 

Saturday starts with breakfast and then to the castle 

After a hearty breakfast, you could easily spend the whole morning strolling in the beautiful grounds of Castle Ward. This is a chance to enjoy stunning scenery and glimpse some wildlife, while Game of Thrones fans can follow a Winterfell trail because it is here that most of the Winterfell scenes were filmed. 

Follow up with a guided tour of the 18th-century mansion, which explains how the house came to be built unusually in two contrasting architectural styles, Classical and Gothic. There is much to explore an learn here, from wildlife to working tools and practices of times gone past. 

Tee off or take to the mountains for the afternoon 

Keen golfers should tee off at Ardglass Golf Course, a unique links that hugs the coastline and offers many challenges. 

Alternatively, the Mourne Foods & Film Cycle Tour is ideal for movie lovers and foodies. Starting at Spelga Dam in the heart of the Mournes it’s downhill all the way through the meandering Shimna Valley and Tollymore Forest, taking in the filming locations of Philomena, Game of Thrones, The Fall and Dracula Untold and visiting local food producers along the route. Electric bikes are available too, so it’s suitable for everyone. 

Soothe those muscles at the spa in Slieve Donard 

After all that fresh air, indulge in a bit of pampering at the luxurious Slieve Donard Spa. Part of the magnificent Slieve Donard Resort and Spa sitting at the foot of the Mournes, the spa has stunning views across the mountains and the Irish Sea. Choose from a range of relaxing treatments including hot stone therapies, facials, massage, pedicures and manicures.  

From muscles to mussels – seafood platters in Dundrum 

What better way to end the day than with a delicious meal at the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum, considered one of Northern Ireland’s best restaurants. As the name implies, fresh, locally caught fish dominate the menu and the restaurant sources all its shellfish from its very own shellfish beds. 

When it comes to spending the night, if luxury is what’re you’re here for, look no further than the afore-mentioned and renowned Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle (4*). This is a substantial hotel set on 6-acres of private grounds, but with an intimate, welcoming feel to it. It’s nestled right between the strand on one side and the famous Royal County Down golf course on the other. 

The Burrendale Country Club and Spa (4*) is another great option just 10 minutes’ walk from Newcastle, with plenty of on-site facilities including spa, gymnasium, bar and fine dining room. 

Sunday sees a walk around the lake 

Begin the day with a stroll around beautiful Castlewellan Lake. Covering around 2.5 miles along relatively flat terrain it’s an easy and delightful walk. The trail provides great views of Slievnaslat and the Scottish baronial Castlewellan Castle, built in 1856, and is also home to the Peace Maze which is an interesting and inspiring walks in all sorts of ways. 

As it’s a Sunday – traditionally a day of worship – why not head for Downpatrick to visit the excellent Saint Patrick Centre. (Winner of Most Innovative Business (Small) at the Giant Spirit Awards 2022). The modern exhibition combines narration, sculpture, cinema and audio techniques to relate the adventures of Patrick's life and the major impact of Irish Missionaries on Dark Age Europe. Its opens on Sundays only in July and August, but visitors to Downpatrick at other times of the year can still explore the saint’s legacy with a visit to Down Cathedral where he is buried. 

From a patron saint to a patron of food and drink at Daft Eddy’s 

From Downpatrick take the road to Killyleagh to enjoy some final views of Strangford Lough, which is particularly captivating at sunset on a fine day. This side of the lough is dotted with tiny islands and on Sketrick Island you’ll find Daft Eddy’s, a great place for a pre-dinner drink. The views are spectacular, and there might be no better place to savour a pint of local or international beer or an exquisite cocktail while taking in that expansive view as the sun sinks below the distant horizon. 

Finish in fine style 

Finish the weekend in style with a meal in the Michelin Bib Gourmand accredited Old Schoolhouse Inn. Award-winning chef Will Brown conjures up imaginative meals from the finest Northern Irish produce and Strangford Lough seafood. 

By now you’ll want to eke out every little moment of your time here, and there are few better places to turn in for the night than The Shoreline at Mount Stewart (5*), a B&B with panoramic views over Strangford Lough.