Graceful seagulls and playful whiskered seals.
These are high on my list of fond memories after a short stay at the AC Hotel Belfast.
The prized location of this modern, riverside property means guests can enjoy Mother Nature up-close through floor-to-ceiling windows including creatures such as these which offered me amusing entertainment from my eighth-floor window (Room 808).
With Northern Ireland’s flourishing capital city receiving increasing plaudits from overseas visitors, this modern hotel is poised to benefit immensely. Bordering the River Lagan, which flows into Belfast harbor and the lough beyond, it is an easy walk to many of the city’s main tourism highlights including the SSE Arena, a sports and entertainment complex hosting a multipurpose arena, the W5 interactive discovery center with interactive science, climbing and robot attractions and a shopping arcade housing a movie theatre, bowling alley and selection of restaurants.
Ten minutes away is the city’s most sophisticated museum featuring nine interactive galleries dramatically commemorating the tragic sinking of the Titanic cruise ship; the Waterfront Hall, a performance venue; the historic Cathedral Quarter with its lively cafes, bars and restaurants; and Saint George’s market with diverse stalls selling items ranging from vinyl records to scarves and paintings.
Being close to the downtown area, the 188-room AC Hotel has become a popular social hub. On a recent Saturday evening, it was bustling with people enjoying exotic cocktails such as dark spice storm (rum, bitters and lime) and Tangueray gin and tonic with cucumber and anise at the ground-floor bar and dinner in the 112-seat riverside ‘Novelli at City Quays’ restaurant next to it.
AC Hotels founder Antonio Catalán being Spanish, the menu has a distinct Mediterranean slant to it, with an interesting choice of Spanish, French and Moroccan dishes. Executive Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, a multi-Michelin-starred French celebrity, has brainstormed with head chef Jim Mulholland to offer exotic dishes throughout the day at including scallops, bacon and pollen; goat’s cheese wrapped in jellied beetroot; and lamb’s rump on a bed of yogurt with candied almonds. A twist on the classic French Onion soup recipe is a pastry lid. Breakfast here is a matter of choice, either a Mediterranean cold buffet, or a traditional Irish one of sausages, bacon, black pudding and eggs cooked to order.
Much of the produce is purchased from local providers such as Abernethy Butter, Hannan Meats, Ewing’s Seafood, Yellow Door and North Down Group. The charcuterie board features home-grown chorizo and salami by Limavady-based Corndale Farm, 60 miles away.
Our room was contemporary in style with a king-size bed, Nespresso coffee maker, glass-enclosed double showers and 49- inch TV. A delightful bonus was the panoramic view it offered across the river to the harbor area and cityscape beyond, which we enjoyed on a wet and windy winter night dressed comfortably in robes and slippers sitting at a window-side table. The more athletic of guests can also enjoy the AC fitness room. Two special rooms are available for business meetings and the hotel offers a 24-hour room service.
For those visiting Belfast for pleasure or business, the AC Hotel offers a contemporary ambience with friendly service and easy walking access to the city’s thriving downtown area. And don’t forget to pick up your sleep-enhancing pouch of lavender from the reception desk.