Monday 21 May 2018

Athlone's Wineport wow-factor: Lakeside sanctuary from the storms

Short breaks in Ireland

One can't but be enthralled by the stunning views of Lough Ree, one of three major lakes on the river Shannon which is teeming with wildlife
One can't but be enthralled by the stunning views of Lough Ree, one of three major lakes on the river Shannon which is teeming with wildlife
Wineport Lodge boasts panoramic views over the lake
The new Champagne Suite at Wineport Lodge
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

After three days of snow and closed schools it was time to head for the hills. Well, to the lakes actually, in the midlands close to Athlone in County Westmeath.

I knew this more from the tone of her voice than anything else, really, what you might call that increasing irritability brought on by all things related to the Beast from the East.

And so it was on a Saturday evening, a few hours after the thaw had set in, that we found ourselves heading westwards to the Wineport Lodge on the shores of Lough Ree, a little in trepidation it must be said, what with all of those dire warnings not to make unnecessary journeys.

But this was a necessary journey, you see, to preserve mind and soul from the long since passed novelty of Storm Emma.

In that context, the little more than an hour-long journey to the pretty village of Glasson was no more than a casual sojourn to what we knew awaited, which was the comforting embrace of what has long since been a favourite relaxation destination.

Now, it must be said that I am not necessarily one for luxury destinations, having once spent an entire weekend elsewhere, trussed up in a bathrobe becoming more frustrated with the improbability of it all than anything else, which really runs contrary to the entire purpose.

The new Champagne Suite at Wineport Lodge
The new Champagne Suite at Wineport Lodge

The Wineport is not like that. Yes, there are spa facilities, which I imagine is a favourite for "girlie getaways", as the Wineport describes it.

But the Lodge is not so much a place to do 'things' or even to do 'nothing, which of course it also is. Rather, it is a feeling, maybe more a mood you get when you are there, which is why it appeals to me so much and, also, to us together.

This mood can be put down to several things, but if I were to put it down to one I would say that would have to be the lake.

As I have said, we have been here several times before, but mostly during the summer, and not always to stay overnight.

Even if we happen to be passing, we call for lunch or dinner at a table outside, facing westward, overlooking Lough Ree, the sun streaming down.

There are few more perfect locations at such moments.

Wineport Lodge boasts panoramic views over the lake
Wineport Lodge boasts panoramic views over the lake

This time, the weather was altogether different, although it eased significantly the more into the midlands we travelled.

That said, I was interested to see what the lake would offer in the dead of late winter.

We checked in to the Champagne Suite, which like almost every room offers a view of the lake. Ah, but what a view. Set over two floors, with a flickering fire stove, a cradle bath, and a wall of double-height windows with silk, motorised drapes, the view was uninterrupted.

In all, there are 29 spacious rooms, including 12 lake view suites, with not a number between them: all are named after famous wine regions on account of history.

The Wineport gets its name from its townland, Port an Fhiona, which dates back to 542 AD, when St Ciaran's monks chose the area as the perfect landing place for their cargo of wine barrels from France.

You may be familiar with the Wineport from the first seven series of The Restaurant, which was filmed here.

After we settled in, and when I had finished playing with the motorised drapes, we headed for a late dinner, followed by a nightcap or two.

The chef, as always, surpassed himself, as did staff members who have mastered that art of not being there, but being there a moment before the thought you may need them fully forms in your mind.

This I put down to the owners, husband and wife team, Ray Byrne and Jane English, with manager Norma Wilson, who have been at the Wineport since it opened in 1993 and who have, obviously, perfected the vocation of hospitality, so much so that - one of the staff told me - 80pc of Wineport guests are return visitors.

It was dark, however, and cold outside, though the stove fires blazed with a comfortable intensity. So, I did not get to see the lake until morning - really see it that is, other than to sense its brooding presence.

At first light I opened the drapes and there it all was, a grey mass stretching into the distance across to Connaught.

It takes the breath away. You stand there and take it all in, or as much as you can, in great gulps, your eyes peering into the distance to the fog; the mid-distance where the ripples are not so gentle, more foreboding; and to the shore where bird life, migratory waterfowl, bobble about on what I am not surprised to learn has been designated a special protection area.

This description does not do justice to Lough Ree: it is a vast expanse, one of three major lakes on the River Shannon, which not so much dominates but is the landscape.

This lake is all life. Around it, people live, work and play, and the village of Glasson sits. Without the lake none of this would be here. It is from this lake that the Wineport draws its inspiration, its mood. So, it must be a gentle lake, loving even, and tender.

At breakfast, this mood, of romance, is evident among our fellow guests. There are whispered conversations, intimate gestures, plans made for the day ahead.

The Wineport was among the TripAdvisor Travellers Choice Awards 2017 for Ireland's Top 25 Romantic Hotels. No surprise there either; and also a member of Ireland's Blue Book and a winner of the Georgina Campbell Hideaway of the Year.

It is also available for exclusive hire and weddings and corporate events. So you may need to book well in advance.

When you do, embrace it. Do not go looking for the mood, let it come to you instead, for it surely will, like a wisp of fog or darting bird in plumage, curling in along the lake towards the foreshore and into your heart. You will always go back.

Getting there

The Champagne Suite is luxury bolthole Wineport Lodge's premier suite, set over two floors and filled with opulence throughout, including a cradle bath, Roche Bobois furniture, cut crystal glassware, original artwork and a Nespresso machine. The balcony offers unrivalled views of Lough Ree.

Included in all bookings are a half bottle of Champagne, Wineport truffles, a fruit platter and bubble bath set. Optional extras include a bouquet of Champagne roses and scented Lovoto candles to suit every mood.

To book your stay contact 090 643 9010 or wineport.ie.

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