Travel

Discover Northern Ireland: The Causeway Coast

26th February 2016

Last November I spent a long weekend in stunning Northern Ireland. After two days of eating and drinking in Belfast, we checked out of our hotel in the early morning and set off for a day tour of the Causeway Coast. The Causeway Coastal Route has been rated one of the Top Five Road Trips worldwide and when you drive it, you’ll see why.

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

There are three designated “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” in Northern Ireland: the Causeway Coast, the Antrim Coast & Glens and Binevenagh with its dramatic cliffs. I would recommend a week to explore the country, but if you are short of time as we did, then you should at least get a glimpse of this beautiful destination with a day tour of the Causeway.

The Causeway Coastal Route stretches for 120 miles from Belfast Lough to Lough Foyle. The principal route links the pretty little coastal villages of Glenarm, Carnlough, Cushendall and Cushendun. Other routes take the visitors inland to explore the famous Glens of Antrim. You can find many suggested itineraries for one day or more on the Discover Northern Ireland website.

Some of the unmissable attractions along the coast include Carrickfergus Castle, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Dunluce Castle.

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

The ever-changing tapestry of scenery and colours, set against a dramatic coastal backdrop will take your breath away. [Discover Northern Ireland]

Day Trip to the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland

We travelled in a mini-bus on a private tour organised by the tourism board in collaboration with Dee of Dee Tours.

The road hugs the narrow strip of coastline between the sea and high cliffs. The scenery along the way is breath-taking everywhere you look: from the picturesque villages to the rugged cliffs, from the green hills to the stormy waves crashing into the pebble beaches.

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Causeway Coastal Route

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Caves of Cushendun

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Limestone Quarry at Larrybane

The weather was one of the most unpredictable I’ve ever seen: one minute it was cloudy, the next minute it was hailing or the wind was so strong that we couldn’t get off the bus. Five minutes later we would drive around a cliff and the sun would be shining or a rainbow would pop up over the clouds. That’s Northern Irish weather apparently!

Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

Cushendun

The morning’s drive up north from Belfast took a couple of hours as we stopped along the way to take photos of the landscape. We didn’t manage to stop for too long in each spot because of the weather and also because we had a table booking for lunch we didn’t want to miss.

We had lunch at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart which was probably the highlight of the whole trip. Not just because the food was fantastic and I finally had my appetite back after two days of illness, but because the location was absolutely stunning.

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern IrelandHarry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Harry’s Shack is a small restaurant / cafe inside a modern shed (owned by the National Trust) right on the beach. The building is fully heated, very cozy and with large windows to admire the panorama as you eat a delicious meal prepared with fresh and local ingredients.

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

It’s well worth a visit, especially when you combine the trip with all the sights along the coastal route. We tasted a selection of dishes from the starters and mains menu, including:

Lunch at Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Abernethy butter with sea salt & dulse (seaweed), sourdough bread

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Mulroy Bay Mussels with irish Cider, Barley & Sourdough

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Greencastle Prawn Tails in Shell with garlic & lemon butter, parsley and pickled garlic

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Malin Head Crab with gem lettuce, creme fraiche & sourdough

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

Fish & Chips (haddock, buttermilk batter, mushy peas, tartar sauce) / Greencastle Hake with spiced tomato, chorizo and baby potato stew / Whole fish with smoked bacon butter, fennel, cockles, bacon and mash

Harry's Shack in Portstewart, Northern Ireland

After lunch we visited the main attraction for any visitor to Northern Ireland: the world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.

world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.

The Giant’s Causeway is an awe-inspiring landscape of mostly hexagonal basalt columns, formed over 60 million years ago when molten lava from a volcanic eruption suddenly cooled down on contact with water and retained this unique shape.

The world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.

The Giant’s Causeway is also steeped in myth and legend. Some say it was carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool.

world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.  world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.

There are four trails at the Giant’s Causeway suited to every ability, from a challenging coastal hike to a more accessible cliff top walk. It’s a great spot for country walks and even picnics when the weather is nice. On the day we visited the weather was a bit crazy, as I mentioned already, and later we found out it was because of Storm Clodagh.

The Met office recorded gusts of more than 70 mph that afternoon and we certainly felt the powerful force of the wind as we tried (and failed) to walk from the Giant’s Causeway back to the Visitor Centre. I literally couldn’t move forward and had to hide behind the rocks by the “Windy Gap” until the wind slowed down a bit.

The world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. The world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. The world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site. The world famous Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s first World Heritage Site.

We hopped on the visitors shuttle bus and went back to the Giant’s Causeway centre, a brand new facility with shop, cafe and toilets.

We were exhausted after our encounter with Storm Clodagh, so a visit to the spa at Galgorm Resort and Spa was a blessing. In less than an hour from the Giant’s Causeway (or 30 minutes from Belfast) we arrived at the hotel in the Antrim countryside and checked into our beautiful and spacious Deluxe rooms.

Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland

My room featured country views, a King Size bed, lounge area with Rolf Benz furniture and even a Christmas tree! The marble bathroom was large and beautiful, with Aromatherapy amenities, a separate bath and shower.

Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland

I quickly changed into my swimsuit, put slippers and bathrobe on and took the lift down to the lower ground were the spa is located. The resort overlooks the River Maine and is surrounded by 163 acres of green parkland. Some of the outdoor pools, jacuzzi and sauna rooms (there are several!) overlook the river, which is both relaxing and energising.

Being in the water is really healing for me so spending two hours at the Galgorm Spa was the best cure to get over the illness I had been dragging with me since my trip to India. I felt great afterwards and would love to re-visit the Galgorm Spa one day.

Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Pre-dinner cocktail at the Gin bar of Galgorm Resort

After the spa experience I was ready for the dinner tasting menu at The River Room, the restaurant of the Galgorm Hotel.

The River Room embodies the ethos of Galgorm in its menu and dishes offering a unique and memorable dining experience.
It is one of four restuarants in Northern Ireland to be awarded 3 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence. Chef Jonnie Boyd creates dishes that are true to the ingredients, showcasing local artisan producers with menus that change daily. The menus are packed with seasonal ingredients sourced from carefully selected local suppliers and the Resorts very own kitchen garden, all imaginatively served to complement an extensive wine list.

Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena, Northern Ireland

We were treated to a 5-course menu with matching wines and delicious petit-fours at the end of the dinner. The food and service were great throughout the evening.

Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Oyster vichyssoise, sea trout, apple cucumber / Pheasant, black truffle, chantarelles

Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Venison, smoked beetroot, cocoa

Galgorm Resort & Spa in Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Dark chocolate, citrus, pistachio

The next morning I woke up feeling relaxed, but wishing I could stay at Galgorm a little longer to really unwind and rest. Sadly it was time to go back to London already. Before taking a cab to Belfast Airport I enjoyed a Full Irish Breakfast at the The River Room restaurant. Guests staying in Deluxe Rooms have access to the A La Carte menu in the restaurants, while guests staying in Standard Rooms have a buffet breakfast in another area of the hotel.

Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland

It was a pleasure to discover Northern Ireland and I can’t wait to go back to explore more of this stunning country.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Tourism Ireland and Discover Northern Ireland. All opinions are my own.

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