Beech Hill Country House – a Review Peace & Tranquility on the Edge of the City

We recently had the pleasure of being invited to spend Easter Weekend at Beech Hill Country House, just outside Derry.

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The beautiful Beech Hill Country House

Nestled in the hillside of Ardmore, Beech Hill is a hidden haven of peace and tranquillity, despite being only a stone’s throw from the main Derry to Belfast road.  It is quite literally on the cusp of the city and only a 20 minute drive from our home.

Recently taken over by Sam Harding, Barry Kemp and Adam Kemp, the new owners of country house have vowed to turn it into Northern Ireland’s best four-star hotel.

The 32-acre estate has a rich history which is beautifully catalogued and shown both inside the hotel and on plaques throughout the forests; it was taken over by US Marines during WWII as a base for soldiers, before being transformed into a hotel in 1989.

What is a grand and stately building, filled with history and character, is being gently moulded into a modern hotel to compete with any of its contemporaries.  The natural beauty of the grounds combined with the quaint decor is indeed stately and classic, and yet the restaurant and bedrooms are modern and fresh.     What is also traditional and classic, is the staff and how they interact with the guest; polite, helpful and professional.

We brought the two girls along for a family switch-off and catch-up weekend!

Check in was easy and friendly.  Our family room brought us on a trek through the many little corridors and rooms, all well signposted and filled with history and photographs.  A lift brought us to the first floor and then a small flight of stairs brought us to the room.  If you had a buggy however, there is plenty space to safely leave it if you don’t want to carry it to the room.

The family room was huge!  A massive double bed, with a single bed and a fold-out bed for the toddler, these beds were incredibly comfortable.  There was a sofa and resting chairs in front of the TV and lots of space for a family of 4. 

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The bathroom, gleamingly clean, had a bath which is so essential when travelling with kiddies.

The forests provided a beautiful playground for the four of us.  We spent over two hours running and playing on the grounds before dinner and another hour on Sunday morning in a completely different part of the forest.

We had booked dinner for 6.30pm.  The restaurant is bright and has gorgeous views over the little lake and gardens.  Again, the staff were incredibly pleasant and efficient.

The food was beautiful.  I had mussels to start; a subtle portion as opposed to the unnecessarily huge bowl that is so often served.  I then had pork belly, which was served with a perfect balance of flavours and again, was a perfect size.  Himself had a meat terrine to start, and then the steak, perfectly cooked and seasoned.  Both were served with potato and veg.   Dessert was sorbet for Him and a cheeseboard (yes, as usual) for me.  It didn’t disappoint.

I was particularly impressed by the kids’ menu and the freshness of the food served to them.  No beige frozen or processed food for the kiddies at Beech Hill.  The chicken tenders were obviously freshly battered in breadcrumbs and the burger would have been acceptable on any adult menu!  The hand-cut chips still had skin and the girls devoured their meals.

I would love to see some crayons and colours for kids next time we visit.  In fairness, we managed over two hours with the girls, with no crayons or books or screens! They were quite happy to sit and chat and eat with us.  Mini-Me loved feeling grown up when her food was served on proper plates, the same as ours.

They were full of stories from the forest and were so suspiciously well behaved that we even ventured into the gorgeous bar for a drink before bed.  Special shout out to Aaron, the lovely barman who really knew his stuff.  He was able to recommend a beer to Himself and proceeded to explain the difference between different types of draft.  When I asked for an Espresso Martini, he asked if I’d like it bitter or sweet and was able to tell me the history of where the instapopular cocktail originated.

My favourite meal as always was breakfast; I get very excited about breakfast!

I love the selection and variety of fruit and cereal and baked treats, but what particularly excites me is when there is a menu and someone brings you a lovely plate of cooked joy!  I am not a fan of having to plate up and serve myself.  Maybe it comes from working as a waitress for many years, but when I am out for any meal, I truly appreciate it being brought to me at the table. This is unusual in hotels nowadays, but a definite tick in my book.

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We had the most relaxed 24 hours.  And to only have to drive a short distance to find such a beautiful escape, means that we will certainly be back.  Beech Hill House is wonderful for a family switch-off.  The TV in the room didn’t get switched on and the girls were so happy exploring the forests and the corridors.

It would also be perfect for a romantic sneakaway or a girly break.  I’m looking forward to visiting again many times and to seeing how the new owners develop and grow this beautiful estate.

 

Mammy and her family were invited to review the hotel.  As always however, Mammy was under no obligation to write anything, maintains her honesty and all views and comments are my own.  

 

Festive Tea at Harvey’s Point

Last Saturday, I was invited to join a handful of Donegal Bloggers at the official launch of the Festive Afternoon Tea at Harvey’s Point.

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It is available there from Saturday 1st of December, right through to January 6th and Oh My WORD guys, it is beautiful.

We were met with a Prosecco reception by an open fire.  From the first moment, the staff were friendly and attentive.  We then met the formidable lady behind this incredible gem, Deirdre McGlone,  whose passion for the hotel is infectious.   She is a lady and the love story which brought her to Harvey’s is deserving of its own book.  (Let me know if you’d like it written Deirdre!)

Carina and Sheila gave us an informative and fun history of the hotel, before taking us on a tour of it.

Ladies.  The Him and I have been lucky to stay in some of the loveliest and most celebrated hotels, both at home, and abroad. We do like our luxury every so often. We’ve done most of the 4 & 5 star “must sees” of London and paid the extra for some luxury in NYC.  But nowhere, have I seen the spacious luxury of Harvey’s Point.  Even the corridors are huge.

And the rooms? We saw both the basic suite and the Premium…each of which are approximately the same size as the downstairs of most houses.  They are beautiful. Massive mahogany framed beds and plush carpets, with the most spectacular bathrooms.

I can see myself sipping bubbles in one of the giant bathtubs very very soon. (And there are robes, which if you know me, you’ll know how important that is!)

The Festive Tea was then served to us in the main dining room.  The table was beautifully laid out and injected the first little flourish of Christmas Spirit into us.  We were greeted by the waiters who were looking after us, our napkins were flourished individually onto our knees (I love things like this!) and then they brought us our mulled wine.

It was divine; not too sweet and very mild. Then we had little cups of soup, before the main tea displays were carried to us.  I’ve never seen such a beautiful bundle of happiness inducing delights.  Sandwiches; egg and watercress and turkey, stuffing and cranberry – and I’m not talking a finger of one sandwich each.  Scones with clotted cream and fresh jam, Christmas pudding, Mince pies, Santa mousse bites, little cupcakes, smoked salmon bites, duck paté… Each bite nicer than the last.

Tea or coffee was topped up frequently.  The coffee was superb, unlike most hotel coffees which leave me longing for an Americano on the way home. This was smooth and perfectly roasted.

As bloggers most of us know the others from our online presence.  Some of us had met briefly at different events or launches, but had never really had the chance to speak properly.  I being of the geriatric blogger/Mammy variety, who invariably has to rush off from everything to collect kids, was delighted to meet and actually have time to sit and chat with these ladies.  It was a wonderfully unexpected perk to the day. The ladies were lovely; all ages, all styles of creator and yet all genuinely delighted to get to share a lovely afternoon tea.

The tea is €26 per person (€36 with Bubbles) but as Afternoon Teas go, I have never experienced one as beautiful as this.  The most impressive thing for me was the amount of food and the array of flavours; from sweet to savoury, but all delicious.

Carina and Sheila really did look after us and every member of staff that we met, seemed genuinely happy to be there.  Harvey’s Point might be constantly expanding and growing, but I can predict that the ideas of family and home which formed the hotel in the first place, will never be far from its heart.

Now, off I go to pencil in a Roseymantic Mammy and Daddy time with my Him.  I’m sure I have a weekend free in 2019.

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Mammy was an invited guest to tea in Harvey’s Point.  As always, my review is honest and my own.  I was under no obligation to post or write about the event or the hotel.  My views as my own. 

I am Sun & Fun in Salou Mum

Well we ventured abroad for a week with the girls, and despite my fears and worries, it was fantastic. (So fantastic in fact that we are probably going to book the exact same hotel again for next summer!)

The girls in Atlantic Travel in Letterkenny were brilliant when I went in. I wanted short flights, short transfer, central location and good food. Within a few minutes, I was looking at Family Life Avenida Suites in Costa Dorada in Salou.

Atlantic were able to recommend it, having visited it and from customer reviews, so we booked it, trusting their recommendation.

And it was everything they said it would be.

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We flew from Belfast which is only 80 minutes from our home. Flights were 2.5 hours and transfer was only 20 minutes. We were the first stop for the bus and everything was so easy.

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Arriving at the hotel at 10am meant that rooms were not quite ready for most of the families in front of us. There was no problem with this as they were simply invited to leave cases and the hotel phoned them once their rooms were available. Now, here is where Atlantic Travel impressed me most. When I went to check in, at the end of the queue, our room was ready! Emma had requested “early check-in” on our booking. Ingrid at reception was so lovely and we were delighted to get in to our suite. We were at the poolside by 11am.

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The main foyer

This resort is beautiful. It’s clean, it’s well organised and it’s fully geared towards families. The suites are incredible. A double bed, kitchenette, wardrobe spaces and shelves. (Not one square inch is wasted…shelves everywhere!).

Then a huge bathroom with bath and shower and massive mirror area AND a separate twin bedroom for the girls. We had a double balcony and were on the first floor. Room service made beds and did a quick clean of bathroom each day and on 2 mornings, they changed full beds for us where a nappy incident had occurred. No problem at all.

Now, our room was directly above the bar and while it was noisy at night, the suites are quite well soundproofed. My girls sleep through anything, however if your kids are light sleepers, it might be an idea to request a quieter room, but you might lose the pool view. For us, it was perfect. And everything was quiet by midnight anyway.

Family Life Avenida has everything you could imagine for the kids. There are 2 kids’ clubs, a creche facility, just inside the pool door there was a huge baby changing room, a room with chairs for feeding and cots for napping babies with chairs next to each for parents. Mini-Me joined the @611 club which ran from 10-12 and from 2-4pm each day. She went for 3 of our 7 days and LOVED it.

The resort is exclusive to English and Irish families, and while I missed the lilt of different accents around me, it did mean that Mini-Me and Princess had no problem making friends. There is a huge pool area with a separate baby pool, a bar, a cafe terrace and loads of play areas for the kids. It was only a 5 minute walk from the centre of Salou, where the pier and the fountain are a must see.

The food was exceptional; The breakfast buffet was so impressive, fresh and varied each day. Fruit, breads, cereals, full fry-up, porridge… anything you wanted. (Even bubbles for Buck’s Fizz for Mammy!)

The dinner buffet was also impressive. Again, unlike some resorts I’ve stayed in where Tuesday night’s dinner was a mash up of Monday’s left overs, the spread here was brilliant. So fresh and very tasty. We had the option of booking the a la carte restaurant for one of our nights, but the food was so good in the buffet and the girls were so happy that we didn’t bother. There was a little mini hot plate area for children to get their own food, which the girls just loved.

We were half board so we bought lunch each day. 2 pizzas, 2 chips and some drinks and beers was usually around €32. Ice-creams and drinks were all we had to buy, but with a pint and a wine costing less than €5, we weren’t too badly hit. All inclusive however, would be cost effective if your kids are a bit older. Then, the soft drinks and icecreams are unlimited.

What really makes this hotel however, is the staff.

From the room maintenance, to the front desk, to the restaurant staff, they were second to none. A special mention must go to Ana, the lady who met us at the desk morning and night. She was an absolute lady and gave the girls a coloured straw every time we entered, Might sound silly, but it was one of the little touches which made our girls feel special.

But the TUI staff themselves, what can I say?

Those guys work, work, work, but at no point did we see any one of them without a smile. They remembered names. They high-fived. They stopped to have conversations and their energy was contagious. And their talent? Now, I am not easily starstruck. My ‘theatre’ background means I am critical enough of “talent”, but these guys were phenomenal.

Our first night was a Magic of the Musicals night. We could have been sitting in the West End for some of the scenes. Francis in particular was exceptional. This guy could transform from clown, to chimney sweep to Jean Valjean in the blink of an eye. His voice, his acting and his dancing were superb. Izzy and Taylor were equally as talented. They did the Musicals show, a cabaret show of all TUI staff, and a Disney night which was fantastic.

The schedule of entertainment was varied and fun. At 7.20pm, a few episodes of Paw Patrol are shown on the screen. (Cue every parent sighing as they sup on a glass and breath!) Then the team entertainment starts with ‘Download’, a virtual interactive gameshow where the kids and parents get competitive. Other various pieces were mixed up throughout the week, with outside acts coming in on alternate nights; acrobats, Michael Jackson tributes etc.

The hotel was full of young families, with most kids seemingly under 12. We travelled at the end of June. The hotel was comfortably busy for the first 4 days, but it did become very busy on our last 2 days. The pool and restaurants were much more crowded by the end of the week with the UK hoildays beginning, and there was suddenly a queue for loungers at 8am, which hadn’t been the case on our first days. This is not a complaint by any means, but an observation which has convinced us to travel earlier next year if we can.

We spent most of the holiday in the resort, visiting the main town and promenade a few times, venturing to the beach once, and going to PortAventura World on the Tuesday. This was great, but expensive and tiring for our little kids. They’ll enjoy it more as they get older, but it’s a great day out.

And then, it was suddenly time to start packing up to come home.

Our journey home was as easy as our journey there. Bus pick-up was at 8am for our 10.30am flight. Check in at Ruess airport was incredibly slow and we were worried we’d be late for the flight, but with very little to do and limited seating in the airport, it was fine. Again TUI staff were on hand to assist.

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We’ll be back

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable week of amazing family time. Our fear of sun holidays with the kids has been dispelled forever and I’m going to book our return trip to Avenida Suites as soon as I can.

5 stars from Mammy… a great spot for young families

The S-Mum is an Irish Mammy Blogger and writer. No compensation was received for this review. I write it simply because I was impressed by the Family Life Avenida Suites and the whole TUI experience. These are my own thoughts and I am obliged to nobody.

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I am Sleepover Club Mum – a Review

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The Sleepover Club is a new company set up by Letterkenny Mammy, Stevie Kleine. She brought her beautiful sleepover service to my girls recently and what a fablis service it is.

 

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How beautiful!?

Stevie arrives at your home and creates a stunning sleepover set-up; Handmade teepees, personalised with the names of the kids who are staying, trays, fairy lights and goodie bags for each child.

Everything is thought about and then she returns the next day to take everything away again.

The teepees are beautiful. Cath Kitsonesque patchwork with beautiful material and detailed stitching. They come with mattresses, pillows, sheets and little cushions. The teepees are joined with pretty bunting and fairy lights and each teepee has a little chalk board with names on.

Stevie has thought of everything. Trays, lanterns, LED candles, bottles and straws for their drinks, little colouring books with stickers and pencils, sweeties, a face cloth, a toothbrush and gorgeous eye masks. She even includes little boxes of cereal with a pink spoon tied to them for next morning.

 

 

 

On a serious note, the admin of The Sleepover Club is so professional. She arrives with a detailed legal contract for the hirer to read and sign. And her Child Safety guidelines and social media permissions are thorough and up to date. It’s clear where both parties stand before Stevie leaves the home. And obviously, it is up to the Hirer to inform the company about special requirements and to return the equipment in perfect condition.

 

 

Is it worth it? Well it’s not free obviously, but the magic that your little ones will experience is hard to explain. The Teepees are exquisite and there is a lot of work put into making your experience as perfect as it can be.  However, she can’t guarantee that the kids will sleep, but she can guarantee that they’ll feel like the most special princesses in the world.

My two LOVED the whole experience. Princess is still very little but she was beyond excited when they discovered the teepees set up. She’s been looking for them since Stevie collected them!

 

 

 

For a group of kids, aged 5 or 6 and up, this is a special and memorable way to celebrate a birthday, or even create memories. I would have had her cousins down for the night but it didn’t suit them, but it’s definitely a service I shall be using in the future.

Mini-Me and Princess had an evening of magic and memories. I’ll never forget their wee faces when they saw them set up… and THESE smiles the next morning are real.

 

 

You can get information on The Sleepover Club their Facebook page. They are also on Instagram and their email is thesleepoverclubdonegal@gmail.com

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My girls enjoyed this experience as a treat from The Sleepover Club, but as always, my reviews are honest and I am under no obligation to promote the service. 

I am So I’ve found my Marbles Mum

Marbles…

Just when I thought I was in danger of losing my last few, Himself whisked me off to the lovely Shandon Hotel & Spa in Dunfanaghy. We didn’t bother with the spa this time, just focused on some R&R… and finally got to try out their new restaurant, Marbles.

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I’ll keep this short and sweet.

It is Fablis.

Located upstairs from the bar, the restaurant is a lovely size. Tastefully decorated in silver and purple hues, it is fresh and comfortable. We gave our room number and were greeted by name. Simple but classy. And little touches like Cole & Mason table accessories and a traditional and classy cutlery setting let us know that this was a cut above before we’d even seen the menu.

The Menu is extensive without being overwhelming. A lovely variety of starters with all allergens and required info available. There is a choice of every meat for main which is something I find becoming rare in good restaurants.

We ordered a bottle of still water and a bottle of wine. Natalia was our server and when I asked for number 18, she instantly replied “The Malbec.” This is the kind of thing that makes Mammy happy. Having worked in restaurants for years, I always appreciate when staff not only do their job well, but show that they take it seriously. Instantly impressed.

We were offered the Shandon’s famous “Guinness Bread” and then served little prawn bites as Chef’s Amuse Bouche while we waited for our starters.

I opted for Pork Belly. Beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. I love the warmed grapes and puree on the plate. All flavours complimented. He had the fishcake and was equally impressed.

Then they served us a little passion fruit sorbet which was gorgeous.

I had the duck for my main course. It was very tasty and served with a little tarte tatin on top. Himself had the slow cooked beef which melted in the mouth. Sides were veg and creamed potatoes and the portions were plenty.

We asked if we could wait a while before ordering dessert and there was no problem at all. Is there anything worse than feeling rushed along in a restaurant? We weren’t at a window seat for our meal, but when one beside us became free, there was no issue in moving to it to enjoy the sunset. The pinks and purples inside suddenly made sense. The sky was the exact same colour and the whole effect was beautiful.

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My dress matched the decor perfectly!

The dessert menu posed a huge problem for me. I love a good cheese board when I’m eating out, and am rarely tempted by a sweet, but this menu was to die for. There is a trio of Creme Brulee which looked amazing. And yet, I always have cheese. Torn. Torn I tell you!

I stuck with the cheese and it was gorgeous. My one (and only) tiny criticism was that I asked for no nuts on the cheese board. (Sometimes walnuts etc are sprinkled on the plate.) The cheese board arrived, looking fab and with all of my favourites on it, but without crackers. The crackers served see, are homemade and have hazelnuts through them, and quite rightly, the chef couldn’t serve them to me.

Now, my intolerence is specific to coconut and almond, so I was able to have some sent out and I simply removed the hazelnuts. But I would suggest that even having some water biscuits or plain crackers on standby would be a clever move which would allow Nutty ones like myself to enjoy the cheese. The cheeseboard however was divine and I ate every bite of it (yes all by myself!). I shall be back for those Brulee!

Himself had the lemon tart, which I have on good authority was lovely. (Him doesn’t share desserts!) We then moved out to the adjoining bar to finish our drinks and relax some more.

The menu is simply priced at €40 per head. I LOVE THIS. Especially if out in a large group. No nit-picking at the splitting of the bill. It was worth every penny and I can’t wait to return.

Mammy gives Marbles a deserved 5 stars.

It books up quite quickly Ladybelles, so if you plan to visit over the summer months, it might do no harm to book in advance.

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(As always, my review is honest and true. We were paying guests in the Shandon and in Marbles and I am under no obligation to post this piece.)