Ed Leahy has a new favourite.

The drive to the sleepy coastal village of Bushmills is less than an hour from Belfast. First impressions are akin to a boutique-style hotel, boasting an immediate rustic charm from the exterior courtyard.

Expecting space to be at a premium inside, I was pleasantly surprised to be proved immediately wrong as the receptionist took me on a short tour of the main amenities before arriving at the Royal Irish suite, my abode throughout my stay.

A luxurious four-poster bed beckoned me inside, along with fine furniture, an exposed beamed ceiling and a bathroom fit for a king, decked out in therapeutic tones and a free-standing bathtub.

The accommodation consists of 41 sumptuous guest rooms and suites, many with views extending over the adjacent River Bush. The original coach house and stables date back to 1608, the same year that Bushmills was granted the first ever licence to distil whiskey.

One of the hotel's biggest assets is the location; it really proves ideal for anyone exploring the north coast and the surrounding hills and valleys.

With over 80 miles of coastline to explore, your days will be easily filled as you set out east along the Antrim coast or west towards Derry.

The contrasting coastline should be enjoyed, whether walking the strand at Castlerock, Portrush or Portstewart or braving the waters of the European Blue Flag-winning beaches at Downhill and Benone.

One of Ireland's most iconic tourist attractions, the world heritage site Giant's Causeway, is located three kilometres from Bushmills Inn.

So if you're feeling energetic, you can walk the scenic path that runs along the Bushmills railway, which takes you through the countryside and along the coast to the visitors centre at the Causeway.

A slightly longer, although equally enjoyable, walk in the opposite direction from the hotel takes you out the coast road from Bushmills to Dunluce Castle near Portrush.

The route is less than five kilometres and you can enjoy a well-earned break on arrival and magnificent vistas of the stunning coastline.

Other options for the active adventurer are to hire bikes and cycle around the North Antrim Coast, which is very bike friendly with miles of cycle lanes to choose from.

And no visit to these parts is complete until you have edged your way across the breathtaking Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which passes over a 20-metre wide and 23-metre deep chasm to Carrick Island.

The ferry to Rathlin Island is another great day out, weather permitting, as you can learn about island life past and present in the 'boathouse' situated in the harbour, which is also home to a colony of seals. And while you are there you can discover the cave where Robert the Bruce took refuge in 1306.

On your way back to the hotel, make sure to take a tour of the old Bushmills Distillery and learn about the world famous whiskey's 400-year history.

Back at the hotel, the welcome is warm and the fire is always lit, which makes for the ideal environment to enjoy a great night of hospitality.

If you can lure yourself away from the luxury of your bedroom, the hotel's nooks and crannies or secret library can provide a haven of tranquillity as you enjoy a drink or some afternoon tea. Or if you have time before dinner, indulge in a relaxing massage at the St Columb's Rill treatment room.

The hotel also houses a private 30-seater cinema, while a fine evening can be enjoyed on the patio and around the acre of private lawns sweeping down to the River Bush.

While the body might be tired and the limbs aching from your outdoor activities, your palate will get its own workout at the hotel's top class restaurant.

The extensive menu is inspired and crafted from traditional roots, but with a Bushmills twist. The signature dish is the Dalriada Cullen Skink, while the Ulster Sirloin of Beef is just as memorable.

Dinner is a major event in these parts and the friendly and attentive staff really add to the entire experience, set in the most homely of environments.

After dinner, you can put all that new whiskey-based knowledge into practice at the hotel's traditional bar, which is still lit by gaslight.

Try a glass of malt from the hotel's private cask and if you hang around long enough, a sing-song is bound to break out.

Golfing the North Antrim Coast
Many visitors to Bushmills Inn are using the hotel as a base, while taking on some of the finest golf links on the planet. Portrush is renowned throughout the world and recently hosted the Irish Open, while Portstewart Strand Links is about 15 kilometres away on the outskirts of Coleraine.

Castlerock Links is often overlooked, yet this fine track, just on the other side of Coleraine, is a majestic links course and every effort should be made to play it when visiting the north coast.

For more information on The Bushmills Inn and Antrim's North Coast, visit: www.bushmillsinn.com or www.discovernorthernireland.com.

Ed Leahy

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