Sieve Donard Resort & Spa
County Down‘s rolling hills, majestic mountains and island-dotted loughs were practically invented for relaxing weekends.
Spa hotels, golf courses and Michelin-rated restaurants make this the place to indulge in sheer luxury.
The county is dripping with history and heritage too, with picturesque towns and villages that will surprise you with their stories and delight you with their charms.
1. Potter down the peninsula
A drive down the lough side of the Ards Peninsula is a great start to the weekend. Enjoy gorgeous views over the water and make impressive Mount Stewart House and Gardens your first stop. Take a tour of the stately home and a stroll around the award-winning gardens.
2. Architecture and antiques
Head on down the peninsula to the village of Greyabbey, named for its abbey and considered to be the best example of Anglo-Norman Cistercian architecture in Ulster. Explore the visitor centre and abbey church or browse through the village’s antique shops. Enjoy lunch in the Wildfowler Inn before hitting the road again.
3. A whiskey story
Book a tour and tasting experience in advance to visit Echlinville Distillery, where you can see the whole distillation process from field to glass, from the barley growing in the surrounding fields to the age-old tradition of distillery floor malting.
4. Seafood at Strangford
The peninsula ends at Portaferry, from where you can take the ferry for the short hop over to picturesque Strangford. Here there are several great dining options including The Cuan, which is renowned for its local seafood.
5. Captivating Castle Ward
A morning spent strolling in the beautiful grounds of Castle Ward is a chance to enjoy stunning scenery and glimpse some wildlife, while Game of Thrones fans can follow a Winterfell trail. Follow up with a guided tour of the 18th-century mansion, which explains how the house came to be built unusually in two contrasting architectural styles, Classical and Gothic.
6. Get the lay of the land
Keen golfers should tee off at Ardglass Golf Course, a unique links that hugs the coastline and offers many challenges. Alternatively, the Mourne Foods & Film Cycle Tour is ideal for movie lovers and foodies. Starting at Spelga Dam in the heart of the Mournes it’s downhill all the way through the meandering Shimna Valley and Tollymore forest, taking in the filming locations of Philomena, Game of Thrones, The Fall and Dracula Untold and visiting local food producers along the route. Electric bikes are available too, so it’s suitable for everyone.
7. Slieve Donard spa
After all that fresh air, indulge in a bit of pampering at the luxurious Slieve Donard Spa. Part of the magnificent Slieve Donard Hotel sitting at the foot of the Mournes, the spa has stunning views across the mountains and the Irish Sea. Choose from a range of relaxing treatments including hot stone therapies, facials, massage, pedicures and manicures.
8. Dine in Dundrum
End the evening with a delicious meal at the Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum, considered one of Northern Ireland’s best restaurants. As the name implies, fresh, locally caught fish dominate the menu and the restaurant sources all its shellfish from its very own shellfish beds.
9. Castlewellan Lake
Begin the day with a stroll around beautiful Castlewellan Lake. Covering around 2.5 miles along relatively flat terrain it’s an easy and delightful walk. The trail provides great views of Slievnaslat and the Scottish baronial Castlewellan Castle, built in 1856.
10. Saint Patrick Centre
From Castlewellan head to Downpatrick to visit the excellent Saint Patrick Centre. The modern exhibition combines narration, sculpture, cinema and audio techniques to relate the adventures of Patrick's life and the major impact of Irish Missionaries on Dark Age Europe. Its open on Sundays only in July and August, but visitors to Downpatrick at other times of the year can still explore the saint’s legacy with a visit to Down Cathedral where he is buried.
11. Drinks at Daft Eddy’s
From Downpatrick take the road to Killyleagh to enjoy some final views of Strangford Lough, which is particularly captivating at sunset on a fine day. This side of the lough is dotted with tiny islands and on Sketrick Island you’ll find Daft Eddy’s, a great place for a pre-dinner drink.
12. Wind up the weekend
Finish the weekend in style with a meal in the Michelin Bib Gourmand accredited Old Schoolhouse Inn. Award-winning chef Will Brown conjures up imaginative meals from the finest Northern Irish produce and Strangford Lough seafood.