Day 1: Monday, 26th June
Depart London Heathrow on a late morning British Airways flight to Belfast George Best airport. Transfer to the 5-star luxury Merchant Hotel, housed in a former bank, a grand Victorian art-deco style hotel located in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter, where four nights are spent. Afternoon transfer to visit Palm House in the Botanic Gardens dating from 1839, an elegant structure of curved glass and cast iron, as well as the Rose Garden in Dixon Park. Evening welcome drinks followed by dinner at the hotel.
Day 2: Tuesday, 27th June
Morning visit to the recently renovated Mount Stewart. Exclusive tour of the house before it opens to the public with historian Peter Lauritzen. Continue for a guided tour with Dr Neil Watt, the House and Collections manager, to see the Athenian Stuart’s Temple of Winds, which has been described as the finest Neo Classical folly in all of Ireland. Visit the formal gardens with the head gardener, Neil Porteous.
Private pre-lunch drinks at Mount Stewart (by kind arrangement with Lady Rose Lauritzen) followed by lunch. Transfer to Rowallane Garden famous for its extensive collection of azaleas and rhododendrons. It is also home to the National Collection of penstemons. The Garden was laid out from the mid-1860s by the Reverend John Moore, who built a walled garden, created the Pleasure Grounds and planted many trees. In 1903 the garden passed to his nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, who established and developed connections with seedsmen and botanic gardens throughout the world and further developed the Garden. As a result, it features plants and trees from North and South America, Japan, China, Tibet and New Zealand among other places.
Return to Belfast via the Seaforde Gardens and Tropical Butterfly House, which were built by the Forde family in 1816-1820 in an extraordinary setting, with the Mourne mountains in the background, and surrounded by lakes and fine parkland, which has been transformed into a wild rhododendron garden. Drinks and dinner at Grey Abbey (by kind arrangement with the Montgomerys).
Day 3: Wednesday, 28th June
Depart for Hillsborough Castle, the former Government House of Northern Ireland from 1925–1973. Mostly built in the late 18th century, its interior was remodelled after a fire in 1934. The garden has recently been restored. Continue to Glenarm Castle, originally a hunting lodge dating from 1603 which became the principal seat of the Earl of Antrim after Dunluce Castle on the northern coast was abandoned. It was rebuilt in 1825 by William Vitruvius Morrison in the Tudor-Revival style. He also designed the Barbican gatelodge. The castle was also gutted by a fire in 1929 and redecorated thereafter. The award-winning gardens have been restored recently.
Lunch at the house. Continue to the recently restored Antrim Castle Gardens which features a historic parkland with a number of notable restored, new and ornamental gardens. Transfer to Grey Abbey which has been in the possession of the Montgomery family since 1607 and where the micro climate provided by Strangford Lough means that a widespread variety of trees, shrubs and plants flourish in the gardens. There are two orchards containing unusual varieties of apple trees, a working walled vegetable garden, herbaceous and shrub rose borders, and a southern hemisphere garden. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 4: Thursday, 29th June
Depart for Castle Coole, a National Trust estate, which is surrounded by 700 acres of stunning parkland and extensive woodland which slopes down to Lough Coole. The estate also features a magnificent 18th century mansion house with a sumptuous Regency interior.
Lunch at the nearby Killyreagh house which has a fine garden with rhododendrons, azaleas and daffodils.
Afternoon visit to Tempo Manor, an interesting house remodelled in 1863 in Victorian-Jacobean style. It contains an outstanding collection of family portraits and has a beautiful garden. Drinks privately (with kind arrangement with Mr and Mrs Cairns subject to confirmation) at Guincho, an unusual Portuguese style house, surrounded by a 12 acre garden with rare trees, plants and shrubs and famous for its gorgeous hydrangea ‘Sea Foam’. Farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 5: Friday, 30th June
Transfer to Belfast George Best airport for a morning flight to London Heathrow.