The Culloden Hotel has long been considered one of the finest hotels in Northern Ireland. Built in 1876 as a private residence, it became the local bishop’s palace at the end of that century. In the early 1960s it was converted into a hotel and was purchased by William Hastings in 1967. The Hastings Hotel Group now owns six luxury hotels across the province. The Culloden has been updated and expanded but retains the aspects on which its reputation was built – comfort, good service, and excellent food.
Located near the coast at Cultra, a short drive from the centre of Belfast, the hotel stands in extensive grounds with views over Belfast Lough towards Cave Hill. The immaculately maintained gardens contain an interesting collection of statues that may be admired by strolling the winding paths around the estate.
Also within the grounds is the Cultra Inn, a small pub with a beer garden that offers a more basic bar style menu. Beyond this is the local train station, with an impressively regular service into the centre of the city.
We stayed at The Culloden for four nights in mid September, booking into one of their Deluxe King rooms. This was located in the latest extension to the hotel, with a view over the terrace. It proved comfortable and spacious. The bathroom was also a good size with separate walk-in shower. As has become an issue at hotels recently, the water jet was not as powerful as first seemed due to air injection for eco reasons. I had to run a bath – which took ages – in order to wash my long, thick hair. The plug then had to be fully unscrewed in order to drain the water as the pop up mechanism did not work as intended. This is perhaps as well given sliding down into the water popped the centred plug each time – an interesting design feature…
There was no two pin shaver socket in the bathroom. We asked for a plug adaptor at reception but they couldn’t help. Husband had to wet shave with the little safety razor provided until we met up with my brother-in-law who was happy to lend the adaptor needed for the duration of our stay.
Bathrobes and slippers were provided, although we had to ask for these and ended up collecting them ourselves when they were not delivered when needed. We also had to ask for various replenishments to the hospitality tray over the coming days as the daily room service did not always notice what we had used. I require a morning cuppa on waking and basic breakfast tea at this time is a necessity. We also noted that the coffee provision was lower quality – instant coffee sachets and a kettle – than on the overnight car ferry where a pod machine had been available in our cabin.
The hotel also provided a daily turndown service, not something we expected and would not have missed until they failed to visit on our final evening.
The robes and slippers were useful when we used the excellent spa facilities. The gym is one of the best equipped I have come across in a hotel. I particularly appreciated the squat rack with full sized plates from 5kg. There was also a separate studio room for those important post workout stretches. The swimming pool was small but not postage stamp sized. The rectangular hot tub had a pleasant view over the gardens. A window was also a feature in the spacious sauna – I have never been in one with this before. A word of warning though, slippers are needed here as the floor is too hot to walk across comfortably barefoot. There is also a large steam room, and feature showers. A small café is available for healthy meals and snacks, or for complementary lemon water and fruit.
On the first morning of our stay we booked breakfast at the hotel. This was served buffet style and offered everything one would expect for such a feed. Due to its cost – it is very expensive – we expected more variety. I cannot fault the quality of ingredients and preparation but there was little I haven’t had elsewhere for half the price.
We therefore opted to eat breakfast elsewhere on subsequent mornings. It proved rather pleasant to walk along the coast path into neighbouring Holywood and try a new café each morning. We ate at Joxer, Suitor & Co, and Homebird, enjoying what was on offer – fewer courses than at The Culloden but still more food than we needed. The walk back aided digestion as we gazed in awe at the opulent housing, prevalent in this area.
We also enjoyed walking along the coast path in the other direction, going as far as Crawfordsburn Country Park where we would have taken part in their Parkrun had we been staying on a Saturday.
The Culloden serves breakfast in what becomes its Vespers Restaurant in the evening. Although curious about this we had already planned meals with family and friends during our stay. Once again, the cost made us think twice about eating together at the hotel on our final evening, as we had considered. Instead we caught the train into the city and enjoyed a fine feast at Six by Nico who serve an excellent taster menu with accompanying wine flight for a fraction of the cost of Vespers.
To be clear, we were well aware that The Culloden was never going to be a value range option. We paid a great deal for our room and staying there was an experience I will long remember. The staff were unfailingly friendly and eager to be helpful. The place was kept clean and welcoming, even when busy with day guests and conference parties.
One thing I would have liked improved was access to WiFi. In our room this was slow and sporadic – a source of irritation. I also kept taking the wrong exit from the warren of staircases. Guests are obviously expected to use the lifts, something I only do if encumbered with heavy luggage.
I was eager to explore the original building where those staying in certain suites are accommodated. The stairways here are impressive, as is the stained glass in some of the windows.
A fun little touch that Hastings Hotels offer is a bath duck to take away. Our smartly attired ducky has now joined the one we acquired when staying at The Europa several years ago.
Having known of The Culloden since I was a child as the epitome of luxury, it was worth staying to satisfy my curiosity. The coastal location with easy access to the city is as close to perfect as one could wish. The ambience is peaceful with an aura of grandeur. The cost will likely make it a once in a lifetime stay for us. For all that, if you have the means and opportunity, it is worth a visit.
That wolfhound sculpture, alone, is worth the trip!