There is nothing like wallowing in a lovely warm outdoor pool, watching birds fly overhead and generally letting time go by as a river thunders along beside you...
Now, I'm not talking about a balmy foreign clime..... I'm talking about the stunning new outdoor pool at the Galgorm Resort outside Ballymena.
The resort makes the most of the stunning natural beauty around it. The sweeping driveway through the trees takes you past the River Maine as it rushes through the grounds and some very clever night-time lighting allows for a "take your breath away" moment as you catch sight of the scene for the first time.
It's not just a hotel either. The 160 acre resort has log cabins, self-catering cottages, walking & cycle paths, stables and there are 3 restaurants, a bar and the spa to enjoy.
Despite being such a busy place, the main building has an automatic calming effect as soon as you walk through the door. After a painless check-in process, we made our way to our room on the 5th floor and found we had a fantastic view of the river and the nearby spa hot-tub.
The centre of the resort is the popular Gillies bar and restaurant. The residents menu is extensive and there is something there to suit all tastes. A word of warning though, the portions are massive. Our food was piping hot, really tasty and the service was excellent.
After dinner, we went exploring and discovered a new Italian restaurant and a stunning courtyard, which acts as a meeting point for the main restaurants and bars. There's also a pool table and a lovely open fire area which must be stunning on the one nice summer evening we get every year!
Gillies Bar seems to be very popular at the weekend with folk from the local area and it offers live entertainment on various nights too.
Breakfast the next morning was a delight. We grabbed a table overlooking the stables and made the most of the extensive buffet selection. I have to say the croissants are the best I have tasted outside of France!
Our next stop was the famous Spa, which is available to hotel residents and visitors over the age of 16. As a treat, and frankly as I had never tried a spa treatment before, we booked in for a mud serial - which is really where you cover yourself in a special mud and sit in a steam room to allow it to do whatever it does to your skin. First though, we luxuriated in the pool. The main pool has various different experiences, which are complemented by the excellent thermal spa facilities such as saunas, steam rooms and rain showers.
The highlight though has to be the new outdoor pool. Walking out into the rain on a cold November morning in Ballymena would normally involve an umbrella and a good waterproof coat, so it is quite a wake-up call to do so in your swimming kit. The pool though is worth the short cold dash outside. It is really warm and very roomy. I could have stayed there all day.
However, the mud serial awaited in the other part of the spa complex. The treatment rooms exude an air of total calmness and serenity. Often seen as a no-go area for men, it seems that the Galgorm has turned that attitude on the head. The rise of the metro-sexual male has seen them arrive in their droves at the door to enjoy the facials and other treatments on offer.
As for the mud serial, I found it quite an odd experience if I'm honest, but certainly felt refreshed after it!
You can see the resort for yourself at galgorm.com