In a photogenic paradise

DAVID WHITLEY
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2013
Ireland-Landscape

PICTURESQUE PARADISE: Lough Erne Resort in Northern Ireland hosted G8 leaders last month.

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The expensive sets of cameras, wrapped in camouflage netting and whirring with the sound of their own generators, have gone. If they stayed, they'd not have much to monitor anyway - just sheep munching on the grass and a wooden jetty slinking into the calm waters of the lake.

The new surveillance toys installed during the Lough Erne Resort's moment in the spotlight were there to protect something rather more important than the sheep. Last month, Obama, Putin, Merkel et al descended on this sleepy golf resort in the boggy backwaters of Northern Ireland for the G8 summit.

The stakes were a lot higher than a round of drinks after a round on the course - the usual bragging about tricky putts and textbook tee shots replaced with heavyweight political chinwagging.

Picking the resort to host the conference was partly a grand statement about Northern Ireland's troubled past being behind it, but the location was also a major factor.

The resort sits on a narrow peninsula between two lakes - Lower Lough Erne and Castle Hume Lough.

This makes it relatively easy to seal off, using a giant seven-kilometre fence and police patrol boats on the temporarily out-of-bounds lake.

But it also looks mighty good on TV. When the sun is out - something that is by no means guaranteed in this part of the world - the summit hotel is in a photogenic paradise of a position.

Outside of VIP visits, it's this setting that is the major drawcard. The championship golf course, designed by multiple major winner Nick Faldo, greedily hugs all the best vantage points.

But a walking track skirts around the edge; taking it on is 45 minutes of bliss.

Encircled by the greens and fairways, the resort is a curious grey stone hodgepodge. The main building hints at a stately home, albeit one with the occasional hint of a castle-like turret flourish.

To one side are round-towered lodges, and over a winding, reed-traversing wooden bridge are privately owned cottages that look more stoutly severe than quaint.

It seems like it should be a heritage-listed classic that has been gently ushered into the modern era, but it's a hubristic new-build.

It opened in 2007, wide-eyed and expecting to tap into a stream of business clients with more money than sense.

A year later the global financial crash came and potential conference guests had to be far less flamboyant in their cash-splashing.

While it's not quite a total white elephant, it's no secret that the resort is up for sale. Being asked to host the G8 came out of the blue - a thoroughly unexpected windfall.

Inside, there's something of a timewarp feel. It's the sort of place where you half-expect a portly, ruddy-faced man to walk in, put down his gun and hunting cap, then order a stiff single malt and defiantly say something politically incorrect.

An unflinching conservatism runs through the interior design - it's a place for grandmothers to call divine and granddaughters to call dowdy.

The carpets and wallpaper sport floral patterns that are never found in nature - just in carpets and wallpaper from distant decades.

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Cool it is not, although that's entirely in keeping with the target market. Golfers aren't generally known as hip-hunters.

Classic it has a decent stab at - the entrance is through a door that belongs at the end of a drawbridge; bags are taken by a charming silver-haired porter; the wood-panelled library is surrounded by cases of encyclopaedias and Reader's Digest anthologies.

It's a world of roaring fires, afternoon teas and excellent service that hits the sweet spot between friendly and unobtrusive.

The rooms inside the main building are spacious, but hover on that tricky borderline of timeless and just plain dated. The lodges - which come in two- and three-bedroom varieties - are a much better bet.

Essentially private houses, they've a more relaxing feel and have a more neutrally contemporary look.

Utterly incongruous with the rest of the resort is the Thai Spa, which feels like a genuine piece of 2013. The 14-metre pool, with water cascading down a giant lotus flower mosaic, is lovely.

The therapists have come from Thailand and among the traditional massages, facials and botanical body wraps are a significant number of the treatments designed for male guests.

One - the Golfer's Recovery - has been designed to work on muscles used on the golf course.

But for the real big swingers who stayed it was probably the scenery rather than the spa they were most impressed by.

The Lough Erne Resort may be more Eisenhower than Obama in places, but the lakes and stereotypical Irish greenery certainly have a power befitting such a big occasion.

The writer was a guest of Discover Northern Ireland.

TRIP NOTES

WHAT Lough Erne Resort

WHERE Belleek Road, Enniskillen, Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. lougherneresort.com.

HOW MUCH Rooms start at £120 ($230) a night, including breakfast. The lodges cost from £240 ($461.8) a night.

TOP MARKS The breakfast buffet is excellent - not necessarily for variety, but for quality. Prepare to gorge on meaty bacon and proper Irish sausages.

BLACK MARK Two beds strapped together and covered with a not-thick-enough sheet, pretending to be a proper king bed, is maddeningly shoddy for a supposed five-star resort.

DON'T MISS The wildlife spotting. Numerous birds call the 240-hectare grounds home.

MORE INFORMATION discovernorthernireland.com

- Sydney Morning Herald

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