The Rabbit Hotel review – a boutique burrow with an outdoor spa and Balearic buzz
“How do you feel now, and how would you like to feel afterwards?” »
This is a simple and very effective question. I’m sitting in a wood-clad treatment room at The Rabbit Hotel & Retreat, a new boutique offering from Galgorm Collection. The therapist, Orlagh, puts me at ease and explains the hot onyx stone massage that is about to zap away the worries of the week. Anyway, the ion rebalancing works in a way that I can describe: I relax.
It’s a sweet introduction to this ‘laid-back little sister’ to the hugely popular resort town of Galgorm, 30 minutes down the road. A £10m/€11.5m reboot of the former Templeton Hotel, The Rabbit is a smart, comfortable and eye-catching stay that’s thought of everything – from the boho-meets-Balearic vibe to its spa outside at The Loft, an attic wedding hall-style banquet.
And the AA just named it Hotel of the Year in Northern Ireland.
Arrival & location
Rewind about an hour and we arrived after a 2.5 hour drive from Dublin. The Rabbit is 15 minutes from Belfast, on the outskirts of Templeton, and looks like a mix of English inn and Swiss chalet. A tiled roof slopes down to the garden, the spa overlooks a small green lake, and we drag our wheeled suitcases over a rough surface past a black Land Rover Defender. His reg reads: ‘A Rabbit’.
Inside there is a charming and pleasant check-in and a chance to meet resident Cockapoo, Florence. But there is a confusing layout. An octagonal hall space is anything but empty. Another lounge appears off-limits, set up for weddings with a few staff working on laptops. A single receptionist sits around the corner in a hallway that becomes dry as the doors open and quickly fills with guests.
The reception layout is evolving, says manager Lynsey Gordon, and will soon move into this octagonal room to form a communal spa and hotel check-in. There are also future plans for a gym and cottage-style bedrooms. The hotel is learning and improving as it goes. 6.5/10
Service & style
Country inn, lakeside retreat, trendy spa hotel. The Rabbit mixes tracks from everything, and I’m not surprised to hear Gordon cite The Pig’s British escapades as influences. Cleverly mismatched rustic-chic furniture and antiques like a deer head and servant bells fit in perfectly with the naughty spa and funky art – a painting by Steve Martin and Michael Caine in Dirty rotten villains is just one example.
The spa (or ‘Relaxation Burrow’) is the big talking point. “We went for a slightly different feel,” smiles Gordon. “Maybe the two-meter disco ball betrays him.”
An outdoor pool with a glass wall, Roman columns, mood lighting and Ibiza-style chillout playlists clearly click with the couples and groups of women around us (“If we don’t think someone one is going to put a picture of her on Instagram, so we need to rethink,” she said).
Our treatments are first class, and I like the heated patio, the cabana-style bar, and the details like the yellow and white striped towels, but it’s chilly moving between the treatment rooms, the relaxation area , the tubs, the sauna and the salt chamber in the autumn air. The Relaxation Room has four double waterbeds, though they feel very close together, and there’s no lake view when lying or sitting on them. 7.5/10
The hotel’s thirty-three rooms range from ‘Snug’ to ‘Comfy’, with the upper offering outdoor baths and wood-burning stoves. We encounter several fire doors and short stairs to access it (there is currently an accessible room), which is a bit tricky with cases.
The design is punchy and warm, though, with iron-framed beds, printed wallpapers, a neon “Bar” sign, and gorgeous wood floors. Extras include a fabulous Dyson hairdryer, bathrobes and flip flops, and ‘Munchies’ trays with snacks like Keogh crisps (£2/€2.30) and cotton candy (£2.50/2 €.87).
Those quirks and mini Marshall speakers aren’t the only touches that remind me of Press-Up Group hotels like The Dean and Glasson Lakehouse. But all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I smiled as I opened the door. 7/10
Celiacs are in for a treat, with a full gluten-free menu, including rare gems like onion rings, apple crumble and its signature hunter’s pie. It (and the breakfast pancakes) got a thumbs up from my wife, who is celiac. Vegans and vegetarians also have their own menu.
“It’s food for everyone,” a server says when I compliment the menus later. If only more hotels thought that way.
The open kitchen anchors a surprisingly large 280-seat space (for locals and guests), and it’s busy throughout the Saturday we’re staying. The menu has an Italian-American twist, with dishes from £17/€19.50-£23/€27.40. The 8oz steak burger, scampi and house fries are a treat, as is a smoked mackerel salad to start. Live tunes begin Thursday through Saturday at Hunter’s Bar, creating a friendly and lively space after your spa adventures. 8/10
The bottom line
The bunny won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those whose cup of tea it is will love it. At this price, I felt some details were missing – the relaxation room, for example, and a few niggles like an annoying creaking bed frame in our room (when I tell the staff there are genuine apologies and a promise to watch it right away).
But overall, here’s a fresh and fun take on what a hotel can be, and one that never loses sight of creature comforts or guest experience.
A day spa package is available from 8am to 2pm, including lunch, a 60-minute treatment and full spa access (£135/€156 pp).
Ask at reception for hiking trails in the area or walk 10km to Antrim and Lough Neagh.
B&B from €213-€425 in a Snug room or from €357 to €570 in a Comfy room with outdoor baths. Pól was a hotel guest. rabbithotel.com