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