“This is the closest I’ll ever get to doing a Grand Tour,” I sigh to my beau, resignation soon replaced with pure, unadulterated joy as our genial waiter Bart guides us to our private compartment. With “train noise” piped through speakers between the carriages, we are soon duped into thinking it is 1928, that we are bohemian gentry and cutting elegantly through the Levant …
Launched in 1927, this original Pullman train once serviced routes in Monaco, Istanbul, St Petersburg, Brighton and London. It also found fame alongside Albert Finney and Lauren Bacall in the Agatha Christie film Murder on the Orient Express (1974) – and carried the body of Winston Churchill to his ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, in 1965. These days it’s a respectfully restored fine-dining restaurant on the grounds of Glenlo Abbey, some three kilometres from Galway city.
Original features abound, from wood panelling to brass window fixtures (my favourite is the now-defunct call button in our cabin that would’ve once summoned staff: “Bring me another vodka martini, would you, old sport?”). Our four-course meal is as artfully presented as it is palate pleasing, their seasonal ingredients given quirky twists, such as honeyed popcorn encircling a spectacular chocolate bombe.
A romantic dinner at the Pullman is one of many USPs at Glenlo. While the hotel’s exterior won’t win any design awards, its interiors are elegant, and guest rooms are comfortable and well proportioned. Moreover, staff are fantastic, delivering helpful service with the lightest of touches.
Location-wise, it has the best of both worlds, being just a short cab-ride away from the craic of Galway – we had a superb meal and cocktails at Biteclub (36 Upper Abbeygate Street, 091 569 824; electricgalway.com) – and also slap-bang in the middle of an undulating nine-hole golf course; making for sedating vistas. While himself hits the green for a lesson with a local pro golfer – very informative, by all accounts – I saddle up at nearby Moycullen Riding Centre (Poulnaclough, 087 204 3944; moycullenriding.com), where owner Sandra is match-matching children and ponies for a group dressage lesson. Her husband Tom leads me out for a one-hour hack; Connemara’s tricolour topography – jolts of evergreen, burnished moor grass and dove-grey skies – before my eyes.
After enjoying the great outdoors I slob out in the bathtub with a cheeky glass of wine – which is something you definitely can’t do on the Orient Express. Who needs a Grand Tour when weekends get this good?
Check out our gallery for a glimpse of Glenlo Abbey and the surrounding garden.