You’ve taken the plunge, you’ve got engaged and are announcing to your family and friends that there’s a shindig on the cards, but where? We checked out Fermanagh’s Lusty Beg Island.
All your main concerns in organizing a formal family do that touches on your needs such as budget, accommodation, fun and a blend of excitement and relaxation are happily catered to in this luxury island resort. The top five elements that make Lusty Beg a winner for me are:
5 Romance and adventure When you’d like your wedding to give your family and friends something memorable, the setting here couldn’t be more romantic because all roads radiating out of the island are along lush, scenic countryside taking in rivers, lakes, gently rolling hills with sheep and cattle grazing. You’re driving through tunnels of trees, or past glimpses of roadside sculptures that keep bored kids focused on the novelties outside the car rather than Chinese burning each other for the fun of it. Okay, so far this could be any county in Ireland but Lusty Beg’s unique claim to fame is its quirky novelties, which will tick ‘satisfied’ boxes in the minds of the whole age range of a wedding’s guest list.
Even your single friends or older relatives will get a kick out of island hopping as you’ve to cross one island (Boa) and get a quick ferry across to Lusty Beg and the short wait gives views along Lough Erne that are fittingly spectacular. For me the pause before getting on the ferry was two-fold: all the shorelines are beautiful so you get a chance to soak in the views and shake off the world of work ever before setting foot on the grounds of the hotel, and secondly whether you’ve small kids with you or not, hooshing a car across water on a pontoon is a bit of a novelty that’s just as fun for grown ups as it is for kids.
Outside of mid-winter when the lakes can be choppy (October normally ends the boating season) the setting that is the magnificent backdrop to your wedding photos is also one of the reasons your guests will want to make a family break out of your wedding celebration.
For spring to autumn nuptials there are kayaks for teen kids and a couple of giant wooden canoes if there are enough adults and smaller kids who want to pile in together and splash about a bit during your stay there. Personally I prefer my splashing about to be the hot-tub in the beauty salon or, I have to admit, I got another giddy flash of excitement when we tore into the lake in a jeep during the off-roading session we tried (it was a bit like the Viking tours of Dublin that trundle into the sea, but with the added bonus that I didn’t have to change clothes afterwards).
Gentler versions of attuning with nature for couples with kids include Lusty Beg’s other on-site attractions: forest walks or a serious climbers’ wall near the more familiar kids’ climbing frame that you take them to in public parks, and a games room with ping pong tables for rainy spells.
According to the hotel’s wedding co-ordinator Caroline Smith many couples organize their own kids entertainer for a couple of hours that keeps the smaller ones happily amused in some area of the hotel while the adults gather themselves between various ceremonies of the day. “There’s a free activity pack for residents during the summer,” she explains, adding that they can use the swimming pool, have a kickabout or a bouncy castle on the mini-soccer pitch or play tennis with their parents’ permission (and their foresight in bringing their rackets, balls, togs, wetsuits etc or booking the bouncy castle as an extra).
4 Beauty and health Yes, needing a team of experts dedicated to the task of rehabilitating my face, hair, nails and dancing feet is a first world problem I probably shouldn’t be bandying about during these straitened times, but a quick glance at me without any of the above is enough justification for having at least a half-day in the on-site beauty salon. To be fair, I wasn’t the only one. A heffalump butted in before me at the breakfast buffet and when I spotted her a couple of hours later, she was transformed into full make-up, intricately compiled long hair and a sexily-tailored dress that would come into its own later in the day. The island spa does group rates for your guests that include a welcome fix-it fast package for a group party of at least six people. For £25pp you get four mini treatments: the express facial using Donegal’s Voya beauty products, a mini-back massage, mini-manicure and mini-pedicure which includes use of the steam room, pool, hot tub and relaxation room. And the bridal party can pre-arrange to have the hairdresser and make-up people on hand on the wedding day through the health spa: “We put the bride in contact with our hairdresser/makeup artist. A trial is usually scheduled, where they discuss styles for the wedding day and times, how many will be in the bridal party and so on. Trials are standard prices and wedding day prices are slightly higher.”
Other incidentals that define your wedding day include the floral arrangements, cake and specific decorative theme for the function room and the hotel’s wedding coordinator Caroline outlined the popular options.
“We use Sarah Jane based in Enniskillen when clients ask for a cake,” she said. “Other popular choices are a cheeseboard instead, or [when it’s just a prop for the photos] some clients just bring along their favourite M&S cake.”
“We do the linings for the function room ourselves,” she added about the accessories such as chair covers, table runners or even adding white drapes throughout the room. “And we use Clare Flower for the fresh blooms.”
As an example of the wedding-specific flowers (they supply the blossoms in the rooms and the health spa during the rest of the year) the buttonholes were sturdy enough to last through the day and pretty enough to be kept as mementoes with a neat carnation secured with a pearl-headed straight pin. The centre piece for the top table comprised long-lasting flowers that your mum or any other of your flower-loving rellies can enjoy for about a week after you’ve jetted off to your honeymoon.
As for transport, we got first-hand knowledge of local company Diamond Cabs, who bussed guests from Dublin and provided an immaculate limo as a sample of the bridal car.
3 Glamour and comfort There’s classy style in every element of staying here: the accommodation ranges from self-catering to full-board and both food and the rooms during our recent stay were lovely. We stayed in an ensuite double room that offered a blend of comfort and contemporary glamour in the soft furnishings and fittings. When you need somewhere to bring your best shoes, bling and banging hair do, the sophisticated high-spec design of the resort’s décor is the second thing that lifts you out of the everyday. For those who love elegance there were subtle and relaxing colour schemes with glitzy accents (like lustrous headboards or up-market chrome and glass fittings in the double shower), which contrasts with the more energizing vibe from the hot colours in the cabins, or the American ranch feel to the Lodge’s comfy sitting room. Cabins sleep two and are open-plan studios of bed, sitting room and kitchen, while Lodges sleep six in three bedrooms with two bathrooms, a sitting room and kitchen. There are 10 Lodges, and six Cabins for those who want self-catering, and the usual range of normal hotel accommodation for those looking for full-board.
2 Delicious dishes The banquet was exactly that: a luxurious feast that included a taste of so much gloriously presented Irish food that the whole group was happily tucking in. Depending on how many you’re planning on inviting as full-board guests (like your parents, groomsmen and bridesmaids) and the rest of your party just for the wedding banquet, and the remainder as supper guests, you could plan your food budget knowing that all tiers of hospitality will be content with the service. We tasted everything from the canapés and snacks, through the lunch and supper menu to various main dinner courses. Tasty, filling and presented like miniature artworks, all MasterChef and Bake Off fans will be rating the dishes with the same approving nods we did. At the top end you’ve a starter of say crispy duck leg followed by a fillet steak main, but even with old faithfuls like battered fish and chips, the presentation with tartar sauce and mushy peas in a jug gave the food a ritzy edge.
1 Catering to your budget No matter what you do this part (spending money) is going to hurt. But keeping a tight rein on what you want Lusty Beg to take care of gets the core ingredients together at a guaranteed standard, and you can see how you go with the extra options you can offer your friends and family as features they can decide on for themselves.