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Northern Ireland’s Tranquil Lake District

Two hours from Belfast, the county of Fermanagh offers a tranquil landscape of bucolic scenery.

Two hours from Belfast, the county of Fermanagh offers a tranquil landscape of bucolic scenery. By Sandra Eagle, July/August 2009

Just two hours away from the bustle of Belfast, the county of Fermanagh is tranquility writ large. It’s hard not to fall for the bucolic scenery that combines a lush quilt of land and water into a playground for those lucky enough to know it and for those who have yet to discover it.

“Northern Ireland is so much more than the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmill’s Distillery, but that is what people have heard about and so we take them there,” says Maurice Dowle, president of Ireland Luxury Tours, as we head out on the open road from Belfast. “But there’s so much more to discover.”

Indeed. Fermanagh has long been known as Ireland’s lake district, and any Canadian familiar with the term “cottage country” would get it. Only there are no mosquitoes. And it stays light until about 11:00 p.m.

It’s not hard to see why great country manor houses dot the landscape. Who wouldn’t want a part of this paradise? And now there is a new reason for group travel to the “Gateway to North West Ireland.”

The genesis of the Lough Erne Golf Resort belongs to the vision and passion of Jim Treacy, born and raised in Fermanagh. Treacy, an avid golfer and successful businessman, has, in four short years, brought the first AA five-star golf resort to Northern Ireland, where an empty peninsula once overlooked the lough. His attention to detail shines through thoughtful touches in his dealings with staff, guests and his passion for nearly every blade of grass on his gem of a golf course, designed by Sir Nick Faldo. The majestic resort fringes the Castle Hume Lough, and the course snugly surrounds it on either side. Although relatively new, the hotel and the 25 lodges look like they have been part of the landscape forever. The bright, luxuriously appointed lodges are two stories high and feature a common living area with gas fireplace, full kitchen, a dining area and ensuite marble bathrooms and deep soaker tubs. Accommodation in the hotel consists of 120 rooms with a view, including six suites, and features the Catalina fine dining room and the Blaney Bar, showcasing the talents of acclaimed chef Noel McMeel, who’s passion for local artisan food suppliers is
represented in his menus.

The hotel is best suited to small to medium-sized groups. The Ross Suite can accommodate up to 400 people and features built in A/V equipment, complimentary WiFi access, a separate entrance and an adjoining area for registration or pre-function reception. The executive boardroom also overlooks the lough and seats up to 12. The Fermanagh Suite holds up to 60 people theatre style. Other amenities at the resort include a fitness centre and an authentic Thai Spa, with an assortment of treatments.

The beauty of the golf course needs to be seen to be believed. Although water plays a part in a third of the holes, the open links style of the course dictates an accurate aim. Magnificent views greet players at every turn, should the golf game go south. Even Faldo commented on the scenery. “I’ve played golf on every continent and I can honestly say that I am overwhelmed by the location and beauty of the Lough Erne project.” Rising golf star Rory McIlroy has signed on as the course tournament professional.

And even though the resort is grand, visitors will still have plenty to see in the surrounding countryside.

Group activities in the area range from visiting historic castles and manor houses, sport fishing for pike, cooking classes, helicopter or seaplane tours and exploring the Marble Arch limestone caves. The historic town of Enniskillen is just 10 minutes away, by taxi, from the resort. Without a doubt, a waterways tour of the district is imperative, and the Lady of the Lake boat cruises are available for private hire to view the Fermanagh Lakes from the best perspective — on the water, with the aid of a guide. The vessel can accommodate up to 56 people with on-board bar and dining facilities. One stop on the lake tour would have to be Devenish Island, situated in Lower Lough Erne. It is considered to be one of the finest monastic sites in Northern Ireland. It has been a holy site since the sixth century and includes the ruins of a Romanesque church. Visitors can climb the island’s 98-ft. round tower using internal ladders, and on nearby Boa Island, carved stone figures stand sentinel at Cladragh Cemetary. If tastes run to more modern fare, the world famous Belleek Pottery works is only an hour away. Visitors can take a guided tour to watch the techniques developed by potters 150 years ago — still used to this day — often by third- or fourth-generation descendants of the same family to work at the factory.

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