Midlands Magic: Whiskey, water and a hotel worth noting in Athlone
Short breaks in Ireland
Karen Birney checks into the Radisson Blu Athlone for a taste of the Midlands and stonking views over the River Shannon.
Set the Mood
The sun always shines on Athlone.
Or at least that seemed to be the case when, on my second trip to the maritime town this summer, the sun broke through the cracks of a cloudy grey sky that followed me from the capital as soon as I pulled into the hotel carpark.
This visit was an altogether more subdued one to 'Ireland's Ancient East' however, as I' was swapping the rather cramped cruiser I'd shared with old college friends on the River Shannon weeks previously for the far plusher setting of a river-front suite in the newly refurbished Radisson Hotel.
The Radisson has undergone a stylish revamp since I last stopped in for a look; the new interiors are clean, cool, slick and unfussy and a newly decked terrace overlooks a glistening marina just begging to be enjoyed with a crisp G&T in hand.
That would have to wait, however. First, our group was wetting whistles with a tour of the famous Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery... a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
Putting My Fitness Pal to sleep, I stepped into the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland and geared up for a tasting of a drink I'm admittedly a long way from appreciating myself.
The scent of old oak wood greeted us, and following a full tour (and weighing up the possibility of hiring the bar streaming with natural light on the first floor as an intimate wedding venue - watch this space), we tasted three whiskeys from the Kilbeggan Distillery Range.
I decided whiskey #2 was most palatable, but that I would be limiting my purchases to stationery instead of a bottle from the adjoining gift shop.
The panoramic views of the Shannon on a sunny morning will draw you out of your room and into Athlone no matter how long you promised yourself you'd lie in.
A short and quiet run through the town is a pleasure awarded to the early risers. The only trouble is trying not to stop to take photos of the beautifully still, colourful pubs and shop fronts that really showcase their personality when there's nobody else around.
Runners and cyclists should ask about the #BluRoutes trails which have been carefully planned by the hotel's fitness staff.
If you find you often suffer a case of diner's envy at mealtime, go for the steak in Elements Restaurant - mine was cooked to perfection.
And don't pass on dessert. I did and the sounds my fellow diners made as they savoured their's will haunt me for many nights to come.
Hens and stags will enjoy the evening atmosphere of one of the oldest pubs in the world, Seán's Bar on the Left Bank (seansbar.ie), which can trace its official routes back to 900AD. And while you can relax over a pint in the main bar at Seán's, the hustle and bustle of the outdoor area is never far from earshot.
For some peace and quiet try out the less touristy Gertie Browne's on Costume Lane which serves a creamy pint and is a treasure trove of old world knick-knacks that'll keep your eyes busy for hours.
The Nespresso machine in the suite is a welcome addition for some. But for those unfamiliar with the concept of capsule coffee it sits like a infuriating puzzle until you find yourself in a Crystal Maze style conundrum of your own making.
I may be one of the only civilised coffee drinkers left still enjoying my morning instant, but a little 'how to' wouldn't have gone amiss. I'm sure I could have picked up the phone to just ask at reception, but I found myself 'locked-in'.
Get me there
Athlone is less than an hour-and-a-half from Dublin by car and the Radisson (radissonblu.ie/hotel-athlone) is ten minutes walk from the train station. Summer packages are available from €119.
Kilbeggan Distillery (killbeggandistillery.com) is about 15 minutes away from the hotel by car. Tours start from €14pp and run seven days a week.
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