Where mag­i­cal Mournes sweep down to the sea

Stephanie Bell en­joys an E-bike ride through the for­est and time out in the Slieve Donard ho­tel’s lux­u­ri­ous spa

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - TRAVEL LATE -

It was one of the wettest days of the year, and as we drove into Castlewellan For­est Park, the vis­i­bil­ity was so bad that we couldn’t see any of its nat­u­ral beauty be­yond the road­side. I had booked a guided elec­tric moun­tain bike ride around the park’s lakes with Life Ad­ven­ture with my 12-year-old son, Matthew, en route to the Slieve Donard Re­sort and Spa for a one-night break.

With the re­lent­less down­pour mak­ing the morn­ing look more like night, I had ev­ery in­ten­tion of tak­ing a rain check on our ap­point­ment.

Thank­fully, over a warm­ing cup of cof­fee at the wel­com­ing Castlewellan Trail Cen­tre, our in­struc­tor was more en­thu­si­as­tic and per­suaded me to give it a go.

After get­ting kit­ted out in full wa­ter­proof gear, we set off fully pro­tected on our elec­tric bikes in the driv­ing rain.

What fol­lowed was an ex­hil­a­rat­ing hour. Thanks to the power of the E-bike help­ing to pro­pel up the steeper slopes, I soon for­got my fears about be­ing able to keep up with my son.

It was our first time try­ing E-bikes and, de­spite the down­pour, we en­joyed ev­ery minute. I can’t wait to re­turn in the sum­mer when, hope­fully, the sun will be shin­ing and we will be able to fully ap­pre­ci­ate the park’s beauty.

The ride in the open air worked up quite an ap­petite, so we were look­ing for­ward to lunch in New­cas­tle’s Brunel’s restau­rant after check­ing in to the stun­ning Slieve Donard Re­sort and Spa.

The beau­ti­ful Vic­to­rian ho­tel was as busy as ever when we ar­rived, but the friendly staff soon es­corted us to our room, where we were de­lighted to dis­cover we had sea views.

Even the re­lent­less rain couldn’t dampen the beauty of the view over New­cas­tle beach and the spec­tac­u­lar Mourne Moun­tains.

Armed with a large um­brella, cour­tesy of the ho­tel, we walked the short dis­tance to Brunel’s, on Down’s Road, over­look­ing the beach.

This mod­ern, bistro-style eatery of­fered a beau­ti­ful win­ter brunch menu. We were also pleased to see a good chil­dren’s menu that in­cluded steak — a favourite of Matthew’s.

The food was orig­i­nal and flavour­some, and it was two very sat­is­fied cus­tomers who hap­pily headed back to the Slieve Donard to re­lax and, for me at least, en­joy a bit of pam­per­ing in the ho­tel’s lux­ury spa.

Seen as a haven of es­capism, you can’t stay at the Slieve Donard with­out vis­it­ing its spa fa­cil­i­ties.

As well as a list of in­dul­gent treat­ments, it has lux­ury re­lax­ation rooms, a hot tub, sauna, a swim­ming pool and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows with loungers look­ing out over the sea, and you can lap up the tran­quil­lity of the re­ju­ve­nat­ing space for as long as you want.

I emerged feel­ing com­pletely re­laxed after a won­der­ful ESPA fa­cial fol­lowed by a lie-down in the calm­ing chill-out room.

Din­ner in the venue’s Oak Restau­rant was an­other treat. After en­joy­ing the most suc­cu­lent lamb I have ever tasted, we were happy to spend the rest of our evening re­lax­ing in our com­fort­able room.

The next day, un­for­tu­nately, was the last day of our lovely break. After treat­ing our­selves to a full break­fast de­liv­ered to our room, there was so much to ex­plore be­fore re­turn­ing home.

If you are plan­ning a break in New­cas­tle or along the Co Down coast, there are end­less ac­tiv­i­ties and beau­ti­ful sights to see.

You can scale the peaks of the high­est and most spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain range in North­ern Ire­land at the Mourne Moun­tains, or en­joy the spec­tac­u­lar scenery from the foothills along short and gen­tle trails with lots of stun­ning for­est parks, coastal views and im­pres­sive gar­dens.

Tol­ly­more For­est Park of­fers horse rid­ing, gen­tle strolls, cy­cling, na­ture trail­ing or pic- nick­ing by the Shimna River. Al­ter­na­tively, check out Mur­lough Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, a frag­ile 6,000-year-old sand dune sys­tem owned by the Na­tional Trust that is ex­cel­lent for walk­ing and bird­watch­ing be­cause of its spec­tac­u­lar lo­ca­tion at the edge of Dun­drum Bay and the Mourne Moun­tains.

If you are any­where near Rostrevor and Kil­broney For­est Park, you must climb to see the gi­ant Clough­more Stone as well as, of course, views of Car­ling­ford Lough that will take your breath away.

Kil­broney, too, is lovely for the CS Lewis-in­spired Nar­nia Trail. The au­thor spent boy­hood hol­i­days in the area and said it was his idea of Nar­nia.

An­other ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­one should try is rolling up the Magic Hill. There will al­ways be magic in the Mournes, but for a lit­tle ex­tra, stop your car on the en­chanted road at Spelga Dam and let the hand­brake off —it will mys­te­ri­ously roll up­hill in ap­par­ent de­fi­ance of the laws of grav­ity.

As our trip proved, you don’t need the sun to be shin­ing to en­joy a fab­u­lous stay­ca­tion in North­ern Ire­land.

TOP SPOT: the Slieve Donard Re­sort and Spa of­fers lux­ury in the shadow of the Mournes

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