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Spa review: Slieve Donard in County Down

by Tamsin Burnett-Hall
Spa review: Slieve Donard in County Down
Slieve Donard with the Mourne Mountains behind

Tamsin-Burnett-Hall and partner Pam take a relaxing spa break in gothic splendour, in Newcastle, Northern Ireland...

The northern Irish seaside town of Newcastle lies a mere 30 miles south of Belfast; the resort’s success in Victorian times resulted in the Slieve Donard being built as an end-of-the-railway-line destination, complete with innovative spa treatments such as seawater baths, douche, spray, needle and Turkish baths provided by an electric pump straight from the sea. Thankfully, the spa now tends more towards pampering than ‘invigorating’!

The romance of the railway era is retained however, and the striking Victorian red-stone hotel, perched by the sea, was immortalised on film as the Hotel Splendide, after having been pronounced to have ‘a fairy-tale element and a hint of gothic’ by the film’s producer. The hotel is grand in scale (with 180 bedrooms), and well-equipped with friendly staff in soft green and pink tartan. We arrive on a sunny afternoon, and after indulging in sweet ‘tea cakes’, head out down along the Irish Sea shore.

Tamsin and Pam
Tamsin and Pam

Irish singer Percy French described Newcastle as ‘where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea’ – a suitably dramatic depiction. It’s true: the panoramic views are spectacular, and the area offers great walking and climbing opportunities. With the famous Royal County Down Golf Course (home to the Irish Open in 2015) just a stone’s throw away, it’s also a mecca for keen golfers.

Several times during our stay, helicopters arrive and land on the front lawn, disgorging colourfully clad Americans and their clubs, though it’s equally popular with couples celebrating anniversaries and groups of women on a ‘girls’ weekend.

We head for dinner in the resort’s traditional Oak Restaurant and almost spoil our appetites by diving into the homemade wheaten bread. Executive head chef Hazel Magill has cultivated a range of artisan suppliers – the tender Mourne lamb is not to be missed, and neither is the local Begney Hill pork. Rounding off our meal with an Irish cheese slate, we feel we’ve experienced the cream of Irish ingredients.

A room with a view
A room with a view

We retire to our bedroom and its vast, luxurious ‘cloud bed’. All the rooms are finished in tasteful, traditional styles with every modern comfort, and each guest is given a costumed rubber duck to take home – fittingly, mine wears a chef’s hat. Next morning the sun has entirely disappeared – as have the mountains, which are now shrouded in mist and cloud – so we don’t feel at all guilty at forgoing outdoor activity for relaxing in the spa.

I indulge in an ESPA personalised facial and scalp massage, then we make the most of the jacuzzi and pool while still looking out to the hills and stormy sea through the floor-to-ceiling windows – bliss!

How to book

The Slieve Donard Resort & Spa offers rooms from £65 per person on a B&B basis. Visit

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