Montalto Estate Turns 5!

To celebrate Montalto Estate being open to the public for 5 years, we have asked Keith Reilly, our Operations Director, 5 questions about the journey so far:

How has the estate grown/developed over the past 5 years?

5 years have seen enormous changes across almost all aspects of the estate. What was once a private family home-turned venue hire business, is now a leading visitor attraction in Northern Ireland. Our private hire, weddings and corporate business has increased significantly over the last number of years. On top of that though we have thankfully welcomed 100s of 1000s of visitors – many more than we expected – through our gates, as they have enjoyed time exploring our public offering. Our Trails and Gardens have increased in number and size, we have added a Christmas Shop to our retail offering, and our food and drink outlets continue to expand. We have a substantial events program now which also incorporates large scale Easter, Halloween, and Christmas experiences. We’re delighted to employ a lot more people than when we first opened in 2018, and it is the strength and depth of this team that has allowed us to repeatedly achieve a five star grading with Tourism NI, continued Food and Drink NI inspection successes, and many other awards we’ve proudly received.


What is your favourite memory over the last 5 years?

Thankfully there have been plenty of special moments during the previous five years since we opened to the public. Although very much a cliché, it is difficult to pick a favourite. We’ve been acknowledged with some very prestigious awards, passed a number of Food NI inspections, and of course our five star grading from Tourism NI is a wonderful achievement, and testament to the hard work and dedication from the team right across the estate. It is always fantastic to have those one-to-one interactions with people whilst they are here visiting. To listen to how their experience has gone, what they enjoyed, and the feeling it has given them makes us all very proud, knowing that in some way we have contributed to their memories with family and friends. Our ‘1st birthday’ back in 2019 was certainly a highlight. The year leading up to the ‘birthday’ was a steep learning curve that was made easier by strong support from the public, but involved a tremendous amount of hard work behind the scenes. It’s wonderful to now be at the stage of acknowledging another milestone with five years under our belt, and we hope as many people as possible can come along to join in the celebrations with us.


What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome since opening?

Running a business under any circumstances has many challenges, and its no secret that the hospitality industry in recent times has had significant difficulties to navigate. As 2020 began, having not long completed our first full calendar year of operation, it was time to take stock of the previous twelve months, and assess what changes needed made; what worked and what didn’t. Just as we were going through that process however, the pandemic began and caused stresses and strains that no one expected, nor could’ve planned for. Off the back of that there have been staffing difficulties, rising food and energy costs, and the general public are dealing with the overall ‘cost-of-living’ crisis. That means its up to us to show people why they should visit, and spend their hard earned money here at Montalto. Thankfully, as we are a private family business, we have the ability to make decisions quickly and aren’t restricted by the bureaucracy other businesses face. Our team have been tremendously loyal and committed through the difficult periods, and this has allowed us to adapt well to the challenges when they do come along.


 What are 5 ‘must-sees’ across our Trails & Gardens?

I’m only allowed five?! I’d have to go straight in with one of the newest openings on the estate, and choose The Lost Garden Trail. Fewer places make it as easy to imagine what things were like decades ago, here at Montalto. The setting is incredible, and the warmth and serenity make this a special place. Our Witches Cottage has to be seen for its detail, charm, and uniqueness. Built in-situ using local craftsmen, it captures the imagination of children and adults alike. For a picture perfect view then take yourself to the side of the lake furthest from Montalto House. Here, by some steps, a bench awaits where you can sit and gaze out over the lake framed by wonderful planting either side, its reflections, all punctuated with the Georgian mansion in the distance. A bit more of a trek this one, but if you don’t mind the steep climb up ‘History Hill’ then our History Trail is well worth taking all the way to the top. The highest point in the town of Ballynahinch provides a fantastic overview, and on a clear day the ability to see for many miles. Lastly, if you have the time to spend, I’d encourage a walk along the Woodland Trail where it runs parallel to the river. There are a couple of seating areas along here that make for a tranquil, and secluded way to while away the time, and perhaps spot some less usual wildlife.


Where do you see Montalto Estate in 5 years’ time?

If the last few years have taught us anything then it is knowing that with little notice you may have to change plans, and adapt quickly to certain situations. On that basis, thoughts for the future must have that in mind. We certainly have many aims for the estate between now and our next milestone. We are constantly on a mission to strengthen the Montalto brand, and share the name and our offering with as many people as possible. We want people to think of Montalto in the same vein as many of the other great visitor attractions NI, and RoI have to offer. There are opportunities for us to create more trails on the estate and to enlarge existing gardens, as well as create new gardens. Our large scale events have developed really well in the last 18 months, but this will be something we’ll give even more focus to in the next year. It has always been important to us to keep improving where we can, and to always look to offer people something new and exciting. Repeat custom, and our memberships are so important to us, and we’ve got to look after the people who are very loyal to the estate, and give them every opportunity to make special memories on each and every visit.


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