A WEEKEND away without any of our children was something we had spoken about in hushed tones for many years — never really daring to dream it would become a reality.
Athlone might not have featured in those day-dreamy moments, but when the chance came our way, we were more than happy to give it a go.
Apprehensive farewells on my behalf soon gave way to adult conversation on our two-hour road trip. We stopped off in a little village called Ballynahowen, Co Westmeath, for a spot of lunch in a quaint tea and craft house.
The ground floor housed bog oak sculptures, hand-crafted jewellery, quirky clocks and hand painted cards, while upstairs homemade baked goods tempted the taste buds and did not fail to disappoint.
Back on the road we were soon in Athlone and easily found the hotel.
Situated on a shimmering ribbon of azure water, the Radisson Blu is aptly named. Just a minute’s walk from the centre of town, the hotel is a hub of activity. The foyer is bright and airy and while the check-in desk has an informal style, the staff were nothing but efficient and helpful.
The hotel was particularly busy that night as it was hosting the Rehab People of the Year Awards and, despite the hustle and bustle that such an event brings, staff remained bright and cheerful.
The river Shannon was the room’s best feature and the room certainly made the most of its beauty. A large window dominated one wall of the room and the curtains that framed it picked up the blue and green colours of the river below. Just outside our window, a boardwalk/jetty services river tours, and with herons fishing nearby and the sun actually shining, you could be forgiven for momentarily thinking you were in a more exotic location than Athlone. The room was clean and spacious. The bathroom had complimentary shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, white, fluffy towels and a good power shower. The only negative was the poor quality of the hairdryer — a stiff breeze would have dried hair faster. Along with the view, the other ‘best feature’ of the room was its mattress — it’s obviously something the hotel has not scrimped on and it paid off with two very good nights’ sleep.
We booked into the hotel’s Elements restaurant for the Friday night and you would never have known the pressure the kitchen was obviously under with the People of the Year event in the adjoining function room. The two waiting staff were very friendly and made us feel at home. Warm bread platters greeted our arrival. Although there was not a huge selection on the menu, everything we chose was really good — and judging by the empty plates around us, we weren’t the only ones who thought so. A starter of chicken salad was fresh and had a generous amount of chicken and bacon.
Our steaks were nicely cooked and we had plenty of offers of extra vegetables and potatoes. There was no rush to push us from our table, and there was no problem with getting drinks from the bar as well as from the wine menu.
Breakfast is held in the same venue and has to be one of the best we have had in a hotel setting.
Everything was self-service, even the toast, but the quality of the food was really good. The two girls from the evening service also manned the breakfast service with smiles, pleasant chat and plenty of hot tea and coffee.
The hotel obviously has a reputation for good food as its bar food option was busy not just at lunch time, but throughout the evening and well into the night.
The hotel has a pool and a pretty well equipped gym in its lower depths. The dressing rooms were very clean with plenty of locker space and showers.
What to do
A quick stroll across the bridge found us in what can only be described as the historic quarter of Athlone. A weir spans half of the river and small yachts were tied up along the quayside with some even negotiating the locks. We pottered among second-hand book shops and antique stores, all in the shadow of Athlone Castle and the impressive St Peter and Paul’s church. We came across The Locke restaurant overlooking the river. It’s a refurbished old chapel complete with stained glass, arched shaped windows, which at night are decorated with candles. That night we dined in the Thai Kin Khao restaurant. Nice decor, great food, pleasant staff and reasonably priced, it was almost worth making the trek from Cork to Athlone just for this place.
The bottom line
Romance by the River at Radisson Blu Hotel Athlone includes one-night accommodation with upgrade to a Riverview room, super breakfast buffet, a plate of chocolate strawberries. a four-course candlelight dinner including a bottle of house wine. Late check-out is available. Available Sunday- Fri : €145. 090 644 2600, www.radissonblu.ie/hotel-athlone.
Anything to add
On the way home we stopped off at the ancient monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise, and it’s easy to see why these people wanted to call this place home given the stunning views. The visitor centre housing some of the most stunning examples of high crosses in the country has been constructed in the shape of mini beehive huts and sits comfortably among the ruins of round towers and stone chapels that dot around the site. Well worth a visit. We had never been to Athlone before, but we will certainly be back again.
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