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Castle and Lodgings on Lough Erne in Northern Ireland

Fishing on Lough Erne Belle Island bridge photoDucks paddling on the quiet still waters, the cast of a fishing line into the lake. The Belle Isle Estate seems like another world. Intellectually you know you’re in Northern Ireland, but crossing the bridge from the mainland onto one of the eight flat and lush picturesque islands among gentle hills on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne, the delta like river system which surrounds Enniskillen in County Fermanagh (see Enniskillen Castle), feels as if lost in time. The name, meaning beautiful island well suits.

Belle Isle Castle Manor House photoAt the heart of the estate is Belle Isle Castle, a 17th Century manor currently owned by the Duke of Abercorn who took pride in creating his oasis in such an unspoilt landscape. Belle Isle was for centuries only reachable by boat, which kept it pristine and remote. After the establishment of the plantations in Ulster, the lands of Belle Isle were granted to an English soldier, Sir Ralph Gore, following what was known as the "Flight of the Earls" in 1607. The oldest part of the house, the Hamilton Wing was built in 1680 withBell Isel Banquet Great Hall photo the rest of the castle expanded in the 1700's with addition of the walled gardens and added to again in what is experienced today in 1850. The bridge to the island was finally built in 1880. The entrance to the castle is through a impressive double-vaulted chamber leading to the elegant drawing room with a marble fireplace and, English antiques and Russian paintings from St Petersburg. From the other end of the entrance hall one finds the Grand Hall, an imposing banqueting room with a Minstrel's Gallery above and rich color scheme to compliment the Victoria art.

Courtyard Apartments Belle Isle photoA variety of accommodations are available at Belle Isle. Visitors to the estate can stay in one of the eight bedrooms in the manor house, each with antique furnishings, some with oak beams and four poster beds. The castle can accommodate up to fourteen guests for the weddings for which the estate is well known. If castle lodging is not in the scheme, Belle Isle Estate offers eight self catering apartments in the Courtyard, a listed former stables complex added to the property in 1860. Each apartment has its own character and sleeping options ranging from singles to family apartments for up to six. Coach House Appartment Weekly Lodgins Bell Isle photoThe courtyard apartments are at ground level, with some outfitted for the disabled and some with children’s lofts. The 150 year old Coach House has been converted into two substantial home-like apartments with living room, kitchen, dining area and log stove and bedrooms for up to four. Set away from the main mansion, the Bridge House sits at the edge of the water surrounded by woodlands with its own boat mooring, while Cathcart’s Lodge is a two bedroom bungalow on the opposite side of the water close to the fishing stands.

Bele Isle Irish Cooking School photoBelle Isle is the perfect spot if all you want to do is sit all day with a fishing line in the reeds and forget the stress of the world, but for those who need activity, the environs of surrounding Fermanagh offers lots to discover. Located at the castle is the Belle Isle School of Cookery, offering cooking classes from one day courses to a full week of gourmet cuisine lessons and experimentation in a fully outfitted kitchen. But beware, you’ll be forced to eat your own cooking at the end of the course, so learn well. There are a number of walks and rambles through the islands and country side surrounding the Bell Isle Estate. Boat cruises exploring Lough Erne are Irish Lord in Hat statue photoavailable at Enniskillen. Eight golf courses lie within 30 miles, including the stunning Lough Erne Golf Resort with its new Nick Faldo course. The National Trust Houses of Florence Court and Castle Coole are within 15 minutes (see Castle Coole and Florence Court), or explore the underground deep caverns of the Marble Arch Caves Geopark. The Ulster American Folk Park nearby in Omagh is definitely worth a visit for Scots-Irish heritage and history (see Ulster American Heritage Folk Park). In late autumn, the weather can turn to a bit of a chill and gloom, but from the end of October to January its hunting season at Belle Isle with packages for Woodcock and Snipe available in the Hamilton Wing for groups. Non-UK Residents require a £12 license.

Lodgings at Belle Isle in the cottages, house and courtyard apartments are on a weekend or full week basis with High Mid and Low season rates ranging from £150 to £490 for 3 nights on weekends or mid-week, or £300 to £655 for a week. Rates for the Belle Isle Castle are for groups of up to 8 or 14 people ranging from £1,650 to £4,420, depending on the two available options and season. Belle Isle is about a 20 minute drive from Enniskillen, 2 hours from Belfast and three hours from Dublin. © Bargain Travel Europe

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Belle Isle Castle Estate

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