I might have been sitting in the back of a limousine on the previous occasion I arrived at the Galgorm Resort near Ballymena 13 years ago, but I was anything but relaxed.
It was December 2004 and as best man at my brother’s wedding, I was a bag of nerves, looking forward to my speech with all the enthusiasm of a turkey anticipating Christmas.
That was my abiding memory of Galgorm. My nails bitten to the quick, unable to think of anything but fluffing my lines - even a quick bottle of beer or three didn’t do anything to ease the nerves.
Once my ordeal (OK so it wasn’t nearly that bad) was over, it turned into a wonderful day but amidst the frenetic nature of a wedding day, I didn’t have the time to fully appreciate my surroundings.
Fast forward more than a decade and the contrast could not have been greater as I drove my wife Kelly and I into the stunning 163-acre complex on an almost ridiculously mild October afternoon.
In the years since that wedding day Galgorm has changed beyond all recognition.
The gorgeous rural setting remains, from the lush parkland to the soothing sounds of the River Maine, but the changes undertaken since my previous visit have moved the resort onto a totally different level.
It’s hard to know where to begin the platitudes because this (too short!) break ticked every single box.
Of course, a break from the children is, let’s be honest, is what every parent craves every now and then, but this was 24 hours of pure relaxation, where all your cares and worries melted away.
The Galgorm resort is home to 122 luxurious bedrooms, including 48 deluxe rooms, junior and signature suites, and a Thermal Village that was the first of its kind in Ireland when it was built.
Just before 3pm, we headed straight to our deluxe room complete with a gorgeous view of the Thermal Village and the River Maine. The rooms are superb, complete with comfortable king sized bed, a lounge area, huge flatscreen television and a large marble bathroom complete with separate bath and shower.
Getting our priorities straight, it was time to get our swim wear and robes on and head to the Thermal Village, a mixture of indoor and outside facilities that I have never encountered before in any hotel on this island.
It almost seems absurd to be sitting outside in a hot tub on an October afternoon, but it worked, not least with the warm air blowing a couple of days ahead of Storm Ophelia.
There are so many choices, both indoors and out. While Kelly lay back and read magazines on a heated chair, I enjoyed around 20 leisurely lengths of the swimming pool and tried both the sanarium and the snow cabin, a room where temperatures plummet to between -7 and -15 degrees. It’s altogether more pleasurable than it sounds, particularly if you’ve just come from the sauna. Don’t forget your footwear though, there is powder snow on the floor and I lasted little more than a minute or so in my bare feet.
The outdoor Jacuzzi pool was busy throughout and from there we retreated to the ‘Elements’, a cosy room on edge of the Village, overlooking the river. Its offering is decadent, from cakes to cocktails and prosecco.
For those who don’t mind dipping into their pocket a little further, you can try one of the private log-fired riverside tubs. We looked on a little enviously as glasses of champagne were delivered to couples toasting the start of their weekend on the banks of the Maine.
We were booked for a table at 7pm in Gillies Bar and Grill, the fantastic restaurant within the hotel.
The three-course meal was wonderful, and continuing the theme of our entire stay, the service was warm, friendly and punctual.
Shattered after a week of work and children, we retreated back to our room for an early night.
The next morning was a delightful breakfast in the River Room and 20 more lengths. My goodness I could get used to this every weekend.
For more information or to book a stay at the Galgorm go to www.galgorm.com or ring 028 2588 1001.