Key to the Lough

Claire Walker discovers luxury and landscape not far from Belfast.

You're going fishing, while staying at a top golf resort. And you're taking mum?" Normally my father would be glad to get rid of the pair of us for a weekend, but after discovering where we were going he began to realise he'd got the raw end of the deal.

"Well, it's kind of a foodie break, dad, we've got two of Ireland's top chefs cooking for us," I tried to reason with him. My mother used to work as a chef and would be more useful to me as we worked our way through two nights of six-course meals.

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After a 90-minute drive from Belfast to the beautiful Fermanagh lakelands in the west of the country, we were winding our way up the immaculate drive to the five-star Lough Erne Golf Resort. It was hard not to be impressed by its dramatic location. The hotel and 25 lakeside

lodges nestle on a stunning peninsula between Castle Hume Lough and Lower Lough Erne.

After settling in to our sumptuous loughside lodge we were taken for a casting lesson with the hotel's resident game angling instructor, Packie Trotter. "I think your dad would have been better at this bit," my mother whispered as we attempted to set up our rods. Well, he certainly wouldn't have been fishing with his back to the water – using woolly flies.

"It's probably safer not to use actual hooks, just with it being your first time," Packie had explained.

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The sight clearly entertained golfers roaming the greens surrounding the hotel. "Caught anything yet?" one called over, and you only had to look at his jumper to tell he was a comedian.

Our casting lesson was great fun, thanks to the personality – and patience – of our instructor, but after an hour freezing on the hotel lawn catching nothing more than a patio chair we were ready for an afternoon in the resort's Thai Spa. "Sawadee kaa," the therapist beamed, welcoming us to our "wholly Thai experience". And as the products, the therapists – even the wallpaper – all come straight from south-east Asia, there was no doubting she was telling the truth.

The most authentic thing, however, was to be the treatment itself. A good Thai massage is a memorable experience, balancing a fine line between pleasure and pain. The Soul Revival massage with hot stones got it just right, and the after-effects were impressive.

My shoulders felt as if they'd dropped inches down my back, and my skin looked better than it had done since my last run in with a Thai masseuse on a sun-kissed beach in Ko Pha Ngan.

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The Thai theme runs on into the infinity pool, a huge lotus flower mosaic covering one wall. Little touches, like the post-treatment green tea and fruit platter, with dragonfruit, completed the experience.

The resort offers a range of dining options, from the grazing menu and exclusive Irish whiskey collection in the traditional Blaney Bar, to the fantastic chocolate afternoon teas in the Garden Hall. We enjoyed elegant a la carte dining at the resort's Catalina restaurant, where the gourmet tasting menu is a must-do for any foodie.

We were greeted on arrival by head chef Noel McMeel whose passion for food is evident in every dish. Our dinner included a delicate crab salad with avocado mousse, pink grapefruit and ginger gazpacho dressing and McMeel's signature dish – the Lough Erne mixed grill, featuring a range of perfectly cooked cuts from a local Fermanagh herd.

The next evening, across the border at Blacklion, County Cavan, a 20-minute drive from Lough Erne, we arrived at MacNean House and Restaurant, owned by chef Neven Maguire. Both Maguire and McMeel represented Northern Ireland on the BBC's Great British Menu and both are passionate about local sources and Maguire's menu featured a mouth-watering plate of Irish beef, which included sauted fillet, braised blade, shin cassoulet and cheek pie.

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Choosing it from the selection of local lamb, rare-breed pork and freshly caught local fish on offer was no easy task. The menu was impressive, the food outstanding. It's so popular that diners were arriving for an 11pm sitting as we left.

The next morning it was time to get out and work off some of our over-indulgences. Lower Lough Erne spans 26 miles and is home to 365 islands. The fly-fishing season runs from March to September, and coarse fishing for pike, perch and bream is available all year round.

The resort can team you up with a ghillie for casting or angling lessons, and if your fishing proves more successful than ours, they can even cook your very own catch of the day in the hotel's restaurant.

Having had our fill of fishing, we opted for one of the many worthwhile walks in the area instead.

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The nearby Magho Cliffs and Cladach Glen are beautiful, and the drive to Lough Navar was rewarded with the most dramatic clifftop views. We also stopped off at the Belleek Pottery, home to Belleek Fine Parian china. It is Ireland's oldest, and one of the country's top tourist attractions, with guided tours on offer.

Where to stay and how to get there

Claire Walker was a guest of Lough Erne Resort, Co Fermanagh, where a two-night Thai Spa Retreat in a Lakeview Room starts at 135 per person per night including full Irish Breakfasts, one dinner in Catalina restaurant, one-hour Thai Spa treatment, 10% discount off additional treatments and at the Spa Boutique, use of thermal suite and infinity pool at the Thai Spa. Reservations: 0286 632 3230 and

Lough Erne is easily accessible from Belfast International, Belfast City and Dublin airports. Destination information from Northern Ireland Tourist Board ( and Tourism Ireland (

YP MAG 6/11/10