Twenty five minutes west of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, the stately Newforge Country House offers an elegant escape in the Irish countryside. This family-run, historic country guest house is ideal for the business traveler or the hopeless romantics looking to explore the bustling city of Belfast or the hidden treasures of Ireland’s north coast.
With only six bedrooms, you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon a wonderful hidden treasure at this Georgian country house. In fact, I viewed my two night stay here through the eyes of a first-time visitor to Northern Ireland. I was charmed by the friendliness of owners John and Louise Mathers, a young, professional couple from County Armagh, near the village of Magheralin in Northern Ireland.
This historic home, built in 1785, was the family home where John and his siblings spent their childhood days. Now a professional chef and innkeeper, John, along with his wife Lou, are the lucky ones, able to watch their children run through the apple orchard behind their house or wait patiently for fresh baked bread to come out of the oven in the kitchen. I can easily imagine John experiencing the same activities in his youth. That’s because not a lot has changed in this house. Certainly all the rooms have been remodeled, but the old world charm still oozes from this historic boutique hotel.
We were fortunate to stay in the Hanna Room; all bedrooms are named after mothers’ from the family lineage. Our room featured plenty of antiques, a fireplace and a wonderful four-poster bed. As is customary throughout Ireland, all rooms included equipment for tea and coffee making. Special touches like locally-sourced Suki Tea from Belfast and homemade heart-shaped shortbread cookies – they call them biscuits in Ireland – waiting for us in our room.
If you are wondering if a historic home, built in 1785, offers modern amenities, the answer is yes. The country house features modern bathrooms – with heated towel racks – high speed internet, flat screen tv and dvd, as well as high-end bath products.
As I enjoyed the berry tea so much, the staff arranged tea and coffee for us in the parlor, along with fresh baked scones, hand-churned butter and jam that Lou made from the garden. When’s the last time you had hand-churned Irish butter? This was my first time, but truthfully, I enjoyed this velvety butter with breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner throughout my stay. If I could have brought it back with me to northern California, I would have! Instead, I settled for Suki Tea in my carry-on luggage to remind me of my time in Northern Ireland.
Since we’re on the topic of food, I should emphasize that both John and Lou’s culinary skills are superb. That’s saying quite a lot, as I consider myself a bit of a San Francisco, California food snob and wasn’t expecting to be blown away with the caliber of cooking that we experienced. Dinner at Newforge House is an additional fee, 45 euro per person during our stay – as always check the website for current pricing.
You’ll need to make an advance reservation if you plan to dine at Newforge House, but you will not be disappointed. The wait staff is professional, the setting romantic, but the locally-sourced food was the big surprise for me. Absolutely save room for dessert. I would have loved to have ordered the Irish cheese plate, but I couldn’t pass up Lou’s homemade sticky toffee apple pudding with homemade ice cream. The Bramley apples are a specialty in this region and should not be passed up when offered in the form of house made fruit and granola dip in the morning or in caramel apple ice cream at night. Needless to say, I did not loose any weight on this trip.
After a restful night’s sleep in the country, we looked forward to John’s famous Ulster Fry breakfast. You’ll have to see for yourself the difference between an Ulster Fry and full Irish breakfast! As this was our first time visiting Belfast and Northern Ireland in general, John recommended we take in the Titanic Experience and arranged for us to try Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Black Cab Tours, both very worthwhile excursions.
If you are planning a trip to Northern Ireland, I give Newforge House a five star rating. Rates range from $175 – $275 per room, including breakfast – as noted, dinner is an additional charge. Newforge Country House is a member of Ireland’s Blue Book, a collection of country houses, historic hotels and castles throughout Ireland.
Hotel review by San Francisco-based Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. Photos © Nancy D. Brown. Newforge Country House, along with Ireland’s Blue Book, arranged my stay for review purposes.