I wrote about my surprising adventures in Northumberland, England for My Itchy Travel Feet, a blog for Boomer travelers. Please use this link to read about this wonderful location:
A Castle Hotel Review
Cross over a bridge from the mainland of Country Fermanagh and enter a 470-acre, lakefront estate with rolling hills, dense woodlands and lowland fields. Belle Isle, so aptly named, sits on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. The Duke of Abercorn’s family property includes a busy working estate with a fully functioning farm, manor house, self-catering cottages and cookery school.
The idyllic stone castle, inhabited since the 12 century, presides over a serene glade. English, Irish and Russian paintings are scattered throughout the manse. The main floor and eight upstairs bedrooms have been meticulous refurnished and updated through the use of antiques, reproductions and dramatic bold colors that deftly accentuate the old-world charm and heritage. The luxurious accommodations include complimentary Wi-Fi, and all guests have access to the walking trails, walled gardens, tennis court, coquet lawn and game shooting. There’s also a children’s play area, numerous lakeside fishing spots and golf at eleven nearby courses.
A stroll about the tranquil setting puts one instantly at ease, and tempts one to extend their stay. Even though an aristocratic aura permeates the air, Belle Isle doesn’t demand fancy dress nor do liveried servants await. Rather, guests receive the warmest of welcomes and diligent attention to every need and desire.
An overflowing English garden colorfully accents the main entrance. Beyond, the grassy fields lead to a reed-edged lake. Stone statues, with a patina of age, gracefully adorn the terrace, adding a touch of class. Near the forest edge, a swing beckons to release your inner child. No wonder the enchanted setting is frequently chosen by brides for civil ceremonies and receptions.
A Cookery School (read my food blog post here) was added in 2003 using an existing building reconfigured with the latest stainless steel and enamel appliances. Ample uncluttered workspace and bountiful natural light make a cheerful classroom for up to fourteen students. Classes range from one day, weekend to a four-week diploma course, each culminating in a sit-down meal. Some students choose to stay in the self-catering cottages- think girlfriend getaway. Liz Moore, the passionate director, leads the school with her extensive culinary skills and promotes the use of local ingredients, some grown on the premises.
I had the opportunity to spend a night in the castle’s Lotus Room. A grand four poster bed dominated the oversized room while Jacobean wallpaper accented in mossy brown and grenadine granted a stately feel. The presence of a fireplace completed the heavenly retreat. An ingenious renovation of the en-suite bath featured smart white fixtures against vibrant poppy red walls.
My group assembled in the Grand Hall, a banqueting haven including a table set with a noble array of cutlery and crystal. A salad of baby spinach with crispy bacon, toasted pinenuts, and creamy Roquefort dressing started the meal. The entree featured a gorgeous lamb chop with red currant jelly and rosemary jus surrounded by roasted carrots, perfectly crunchy sugar snap peas and velvety mashed potatoes. Chocolate roulade with fresh raspberries and brandy cream concluded the occasion.
Following the scrumptious meal, I needed a late night promenade, choosing to meander down the long lane. When I turned back toward the castle my mind began envisioning knights on horseback, carriages and queens. I reentered the entrance chamber, a world apart from my everyday life. I then escaped to indulge the tranquility of my elegant bedroom, feeling myself, like a princess.
If You Go
Lodgings at Belle Isle in the cottages, Coach House and courtyard apartments are on a weekend or full week basis. Belle Isle Castle is reserved for groups of up to 8-16 people. Belle Isle is about a 20 minute drive from Enniskillen, 2 hours from Belfast and three hours from Dublin.
Belle Isle Estate Ltd.
Lisbellaw, Enniskillen, County Fermangh
Telephone: +44 (0)28 6638 7231
Sometimes you look forward to visiting a place to the point that you’re disappointed when you finally arrive. Not so with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I entered Universal’s Islands of Adventure around 4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon which turned out to be advantageous timing. Hoards of hot, dreary guests were leaving as I walked in. I headed straight back through the theme park, past colorful Seuss Landing, to the 20-acre complex of Hogsmeade.
The snow capped Victorian village feels exactly like stepping into the pages of J.K. Rowling’s famous books. The place is enchanting, even with throngs of tourists; you feel the author’s dreams and imagination come to life. HoneyDukes candy shoppe is a luscious allure of sweets, the florists shop window contains screaming mandrake plants and the owl post office sends mail with Hogsmeade stamps.
I didn’t tarry in town, rather high-tailed it to Hogswarts Castle for “the ride.” Signage noted a waiting time of 75 minutes, but I entered the singles line which cut the queue to about 35 minutes. (Hint- families can save time using this approach as long as they don’t mind splitting up for the ride.) While waiting within the castle, visitors are entertained by talking portraits, holograms and the profound sorting hat.
I spoke with Amy from Pennsylvania and her two daughters Elizabeth and Karen. They were repeating their third ride of the day. They’d also visited the park the day before and plan to return for spring break. Needless of say this family of experts cherish all things Harry Potter.
Finally, I was ready to sit down and ride my broomstick on the Forbidden Journey. Off I flew, up and down swooping to great heights and through narrow alley ways and castle towers. I followed Harry on his adventures, playing Quidditch, escaping from the Whomping Willow tree and immense spiders dangling down to my knees. A fire-spewing dragon roared hot breath at my face, I was squirted by plants, and saw eerie apparitions. The fast moving thrill was the best amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden: a mix of Disney’s Space Mountain, Haunted House and 3-D Star Wars effects. Just lovely.
I exited and stopped for a Butterbeer– a frozen drink to cool down from the overwhelming heat. Yum- tastes like a cream soda, sweet butterscotch, with a frothy head of a Guinness.
I spent about 25 minutes standing outside Ollivander’s wand shop. Upon entering, the costumed shop owner selects one lucky lad to find a wand from the vast collection. The first two offerings were failures, certainly not meant for him, but the third attempt united the wizard and spell caster. Very well done.
I ate dinner at The Three Boomsticks Restaurant, choosing the combo plate of chicken, ribs, roasted potatoes and corn on the cob instead of the more English fish and chips. Far better than anticipated for theme park food. I completed the meal with a Hogs Head brew, a Sam Adam’s like beer. Total cost of the meal and drink –$19.95. The quantity proved way more than I could eat.
I had a delightful ride on the Hippogriff, a roller coaster which passes by Hagrid’s cottage. Perfect for youngsters or those who wish a tamer experience. When I was nearing The Dragon Challenge, lightening crackled and the outdoor attractions closed. I meandered through the village, stopping to shop on my way out of the park. The young couple in front of me said they were visiting for the tenth time. The endearing place, built at the cost of $265 million, seems to put a spell on some folk.
In three and a half hours I had pretty well covered the Wizarding World but must confess I saw nothing else in Universal’s huge arena. That’s okay with me, this muggle wanted to step into Hermione’s shoes and couldn’t have danced through a happier eve.
While I received a free ticket to Universal as a paid attendee at The Travel Bloggers Show in Orlando, the pass in no way encouraged this blog. As was previously mentioned in an earlier post, I had planned to visit the park this fall. I do want to thank Universal for the special opportunity and will definitely return.