Weekend Away: Bloomfield House Hotel, Co Westmeath
The receptionist has the smile and the eye contact.
I pull my wheelie case through the lobby. She welcomes me, talks me through the route to my room, and offers to call a porter to help with my luggage -- never a given in a four-star hotel. It's a nice check-in.
The hotel itself is a slower-burn. Entrance gates deliver guests to the side of a campus with previous lives as a manor house, military hospital and convent, meaning the first impression is made by its car park, delivery gates and smokers' corners.
The best is kept till last -- a long, parkland-framed façade with stunning views over Lough Ennell.
A rambling series of corridors leads me to Room 433, a standard double overlooking the lake.
It's a compact space with a small double and single, both dressed in warm, floral spreads.
The overall feeling I get is one of functional four-star comfort. Prints of lakeside scenes complement the waterside setting, and a spotless tiled bathroom comes with a marble sink, own-brand squeezy bath products and a powerful shower.
Free Wi-Fi is available in public areas and room service can be called 24/7.
I enjoy a sound sleep. Some of Bloomfield's 111 rooms are within earshot of the bar and event facilities so you might like to avoid these if there is a wedding or band in the house.
The pamper factor
The Bloomfield Spa & Laser Clinic opens from 10am to 6pm, offering a full and fancy range of facials, massage and hand and foot treatments.
The signature experience combines a gold wrap, heated seashell massage and facial therapy for Â¤120. It takes 105 minutes.
My check-in experience is echoed by a friendly breakfast waitress and leisure centre attendant, too.
Service is earthy and modest rather than polished or poised. When I ask directions to nearby Belvedere House, another staff-member fishes me out a free pass -- a nice touch.
Casual fare is served at the bar, and a three-course dinner costs Â¤25pp with tea or coffee in the Charles Brinsley restaurant. Both have lovely lake views; if you can, nab window seats.
I started dinner with a carpaccio of tasty beechwood-smoked salmon, followed by a generous serving of roast beef as a main.
Breakfast was dished up in an enclosed veranda off the restaurant, and I was able to stock up on fresh fruit salad and yogurt before tucking into a big fry. I loved the poached eggs, popping with yolky goo with the prod of a fork.
One other food idea I liked was the summer picnic basket, which includes wine, sambos, strawberries, cheese, fruit and Pringles for Â¤50.
You could bring it down the moseying path towards the swan-spotted lakeshore -- one of the estate highlights.
What to do
The highlights of Bloomfield's leisure centre are an impressive gym and 20m pool. I like long hotel pools, because they cater for swimmers as well as splashers, and there are free aqua aerobics, circuit training and 'hips, bums and tums' classes too.
Some of the gents' lockers are broken, with keys snapped off in the locks, but the attendant tells me a new set is on order.
Families are also part of the picture. A kids' club runs throughout the summer and a small playground sits in the shade of a big horse-chestnut tree outside.
Nearby, I took the opportunity to visit the brilliant Belvedere House and Gardens, but there's lots to do in this undersold part of the country besides -- not least an outing to Mullingar and a fishing trip to the local lakes.
Don't come expecting the glitz and the glamour of a five-star, but Bloomfield House is a reliable all-rounder with solid facilities and hardworking staff.
You're as likely to bump into canoodling couples here as a communion, conference, or concert by the likes of Crystal Swing, and that's no bad thing.
It's super-affordable, too.
Two nights' B&B plus one dinner are available from Â¤99pp midweek. A midweek break for a family of four bundling two nights' B&B and one dinner with the kids' club costs Â¤249.
Bloomfield House Hotel, Belvedere, Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
Tel: 044 934-0894; bloomfieldhouse.com.