A ghostly figure, the Game of Thrones and its glorious coastal location ensure Ballygally Castle's position as one of Northern Ireland's best known hotels.
Just 26 miles from Belfast and 50 miles from the Giant's Causeway, this beachside landmark has long attracted holidaymakers happy to extend their coastal sojourn. It is also perfectly poised for GoT fans seeking out authentic filming locations of the fantasy epic.
In fact, between filming scenes in the surrounding landscape, cast and crew would often avail of Ballygally's hospitality. You, too, can follow their footsteps and take a selfie at Stormlands, Iron Islands and the Kings Road, aka Larrybane, Ballintoy and the Dark Hedges... hotel staff will guide you in the right direction.
Meanwhile, real-life drama is encased in the 17th century fortress which was built by Scottish settlers James Shaw and his wife Isabella, whose ghost is said to haunt the castle. Venture up the turret's stone steps to view The Ghost Room, austere sleeping quarters of the hotel's friendly spectre. Read up on the apparition and dare to don the Ghost Cloak for a truly phantasmic photo op.
Several generations of Shaw's later, and following a brief stint as a coastguard station, the castle was turned into a hotel in the 1950s by carpet tycoon Cyril Lord. Local hotelier Sir William Hastings acquired Ballygally from Lord in 1966, and today it is regarded as 'the hidden jewel in the Hastings crown'.
Ballygally's pleasing meld of traditional castle and contemporary wing is reflected in its 54 stylishly revamped bedrooms. Choose from the Superior Rooms overlooking the walled gardens, Coastal Deluxe Rooms - two with mesmeric wall murals of Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and the majestic Glens - Junior Suites and Tower Rooms whose showers are niftily secreted within their turrets.
Ballygally's Scottish origins are further represented by the recently renovated Kintyre Ballroom where floor-to-ceiling windows afford uninterrupted views to the eponymous Mull. Wedding guests and corporate clients can also cast their collective gaze north towards the nine glorious Glens of Antrim.
The Garden Restaurant's verdant views, vaulted ceiling and resident knight in shining armour retains the 17th century vibe. From cooked breakfasts to a la carte evening meals, each menu celebrates the food's local provenance... we're talking Organic Salmon and Shorthorn Daube of Beef from neighbouring Glenarm estate. Sunday Buffets and Afternoon Teas are served in the Lounge, making the most of those spectacular panoramas and providing a welcome stop along the Causeway Coastal Route.
Just across the road, the golden sands of Ballygally Bay provide the ideal spot to skim stones and stretch the legs. A couple of miles south lies Carnfunnock Country Park with its NI-shaped maze and myriad children's activities. History buffs will relish medieval Carrickfergus Castle less than 30mins drive beyond Carnfunnock. And a 10min coastal drive north takes you to the Glenarm Castle and Walled Garden which, together with its Tea Room and Gift Shop, is always worth a seasonal detour.
Beautiful gardens, bounteous food and stylish rooms, coupled with world-renowned scenery and historic landmarks right on its doorstep, make Ballygally Castle Hotel the ideal coastal escape. Even the ghost feels right at home...