Ed Leahy makes the most of some good January weather and treats himself to more five-star luxury.

A sunny day in January and no jacket required as I set off on the Collop Walk, which takes you out and around the grounds of the Lough Erne Resort.

While not one of the most strenuous of walking tracks, the loop around the resort is certainly one of the prettiest as you encounter both Castle Hume Lough and the breathtaking Lower Lough Erne, while the higher ground will afford some spectacular panoramics en route.

Lough Erne Resort is set on a 600-acre peninsula just outside Enniskillen and is an ideal base for a walking holiday around the Fermanagh Lakelands. In fact, Fermanagh offers a vast array of terrains, mountains, forest and castle walks to suit all abilities and interests, with 25 unique walks throughout the Erne County.

And it's no coincidence that a pair of binoculars are left in your room at the resort as you are likely to encounter cygnets, swan nests, red squirrels and birds of prey, while the resort is also a haven for indigenous flora and fauna including, rare mosses and lichens.

The Collop Walk was invigorating as I took advantage of the very unseasonal weather, and while a power walk will get you back to the comfort of the old world-style resort within the hour, a leisurely pace is advised as you can take time out to ponder by the waterside and enjoy the natural beauty of this very scenic southern Ulster location.

A beautiful sunny day outside, it might have been, but nevertheless, it was still January and the chill factor eventually sent me scurrying back indoors - in this case for my first encounter with some of the resort's culinary delights.

So a seat by the fire was procured as I paused for a late but well-deserved lunch in the homely hotel bar, where the velvet covered couches encourage a lazy afternoon. I duly obliged.

Despite Lough Erne Resort's tender years, the old world theme is certainly captured as you wander about lobby and corridors enjoying the five-star attention to detail throughout.

The bedrooms maintain the traditional style and, while not the most spacious of rooms, the views from my second floor window were incredible, with the furnishings and bathroom of the highest comfort and quality.

Dinner was served in the Catalina restaurant, where head chef Noel McMeel visited every table to discuss the menu and offer suggestions and information about the fine-dining menu. Local produce accounted for the vast majority of the dishes on offer, although there did appear to be a bit of healthy debate about whether the lamb was from Fermanagh or just over the border in neighbouring Tyrone.

McMeel's enthusiasm for food, local ingredients and the dining experience is truly infectious and provides reason alone to go visit the resort.

As for the food, of course, it didn't disappoint. A mushroom soup amuse-bouche started proceedings, followed by a prawn starter selection and a tower of quail meat.

Opting for the chef's recommendation, the house speciality mixed grill arrived for the main course, including a lamb cutlet, beef with a fried kidney that was nearly mistaken for a mushroom (and a taste that I cannot ever see myself getting accustomed to), pork belly and a poached egg in béarnaise sauce sitting on a stack of chips, all served with root vegetables and the most amazing roast potatoes.

An orange-infused semi-fredo with chocolate filled mini doughnuts arrived for dessert, just edging the white chocolate option with chocolate mousse and raspberry sorbet. Coffee was served with white chocolate fudge and a selection of other chocolates - the bottle of French red just about lasting the duration - while a special mention must go to the curry flavoured bread that was enjoyed throughout my stay at the resort.

Golf
Golfers are spoilt for choice at the resort thanks to the spectacular Faldo Championship Course that hugs the banks of Lough Erne and Castle Hume Lough. As the name suggests, the course was designed by six-time major winner Nick Faldo and is already proving to be one of the best courses in Ireland with amazing views throughout the 18 holes.

The Faldo course is without doubt one of the most memorable courses that I have played – the visuals of almost every hole stay with you long after you finish your round. And while water is in play on 11 holes, it is a very fair test with some great holes on either side of the peninsula. Golfers and those enjoying the Collop Walk can enjoy a light bite at The Halfway House situated behind the ninth green, with more stunning views over Lough Erne to be enjoyed.

The Faldo Golf Academy is also located at the resort and a lesson or two with club professional Lynn McCool will certainly help you enjoy the course even further.

Wellness
Your levels of activity around the resort might vary, but one great reason to push the boundaries a bit more is by rewarding yourself with a visit to the Thai Spa. The therapists employ traditional Thai therapies and Thai-made Ytsara products and following your treatment, the massage room, complete with a specialist massage couch, Royal Thai Ritual Room and Thai Steam Room, is available to enjoy and relax.

Fishing
Experienced fishermen and budding enthusiasts can utilise the resort's surrounding lakes and rivers, which offer excellent angling for roach, pike, perch, bream and eel. Residents can also navigate the waters with Game Angling Instructor, Packie Trotter, on the private Castle Hume Lough. Fly fishing tours can be for a half-day or full day with a choice of fly-fishing for pike on Castle Hume Lough or for trout on Lower Lough Erne or local rivers and hill loughs. Gourmet Picnic Hampers are provided by chef Noel McMeel and your 'catch of the day' can be cooked by a personal chef in the privacy and comfort of your Luxury Loughside Lodges.

Lodge Rental
Loughside Lodge Suites are ideal for holiday rental (3, 5 and 7-night stays) and each five-star lodge comes complete with ensuite bathrooms and a shared lounge area, and reflects the same attention to detail as the luxury hotel accommodation.

For more information about Lough Erne Resort, visit: www.lougherneresort.com.

Ed Leahy


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