Hodson Bay Hotel Review - Lake views, a killer carvery and a new 5km walk at an Irish classic
Set on the shores of Lough Ree, the Hodson Bay Hotel knows what its customers want and continues to evolve
The Hodson Bay Hotel has faced down its fair share of threats.
In 2019, Center Parcs opened across the lake in Co Longford. Two years later came the Press Up Group’s reboot of Glasson Lakehouse, with its al-fresco hot tubs and airstream food trailers.
Both have been game changers in Irish holiday accommodation, and you could have forgiven competitors (also facing the challenges of Covid-19, lest we forget) for retreating into their shells.
This family-owned four-star did the opposite. It refurbed bedrooms, leaned into local produce, bolstered its status as a community crossroads and added a 5km walking loop on Yew Point — a newly-acquired 140-acre peninsula next door.
All going well, dozens of A-frame cabins and a fresh eco-tourism offering will follow next year.
You’d never call the Hodson Bay Hotel hip, but it’s an Irish classic that knows what its customers want, continues to evolve, and turns threats into opportunities.
The rating: 7/10
Arrival & location
This lakeside hotel was once the childhood home of politicians Brian Lenihan Sr and Mary O’Rourke. Acquired by the O’Sullivan family in 1992, it has sprawled in stages over the years — adding bedrooms, a leisure centre, lounges and a ballroom.
Set about 10 minutes from Athlone, the old house has long since been swallowed up, but the Lough Ree setting remains — views over the harbour and Hodson’s Pillar are as evocative in sunny calm as winter winds.
When we arrive, it’s all go. There’s a convention in the Clonmacnoise suite, a minibus drops off dozens of Dubliners celebrating a 60th, families are enjoying the facilities for mid-term. And that’s not even starting on the steady procession of groups, carvery customers and other business.
It’s a “legs of the swan” scenario, as MD Tim Hayes puts it. All feels relatively calm, but there’s a huge amount of work going on beneath the surface. 7/10
Service & style
The Hodson Bay Group also run the Galway Bay Hotel, Sheraton Athlone and Hyatt Centric in Dublin. This is the original, though — and it’s kept that rooted, don’t-mess-with-the-carvery spirit while stretching its ambition.
Staff are friendly and easygoing in what feels like a happy company culture (the ‘R’ you’ll see on lapel pins stands for ‘Respect’). There’s a generic feel to the decor — despite the dazzling setting, I always see this as more of a workhorse than a wow-factor hotel — though the Retreat Wing feels stylish and contemporary.
There, you’ll also find a 20m pool, juice bar and polished spa (a treatment here was a highlight of our last visit). In summer, when the brilliant Bay Sports inflatable water park is in full flight outside, the set-up is kind of like an inland Inchydoney.
Yew Point is an exciting addition — a 5km, residents-only trail through oak and hazel woodlands and reed-whispery lakeshore scenes (I see goldcrests and badger prints).
The idea is to sensitively develop a companion resort dotted with A-frame cabins, and augment offerings like butlered picnics, life-guarded swimming and guided walks. It’s hard to believe it’s just 10 minutes from the M6. 8/10
A total of 176 rooms stretch over a few wings, including the adults-only ‘Retreat Wing’ with closer access to the spa (try for a lakeview room).
Ours is in the main hotel, on a third floor accessed by stairs or a single small lift. The room has been refurbished, and we have a good night’s sleep, but it doesn’t pop like it does in website images — I’d describe it as plain.
Some art or plant life wouldn’t go astray, and views from a single dormer window are restricted. There’s a big TV and large shower robes to loll in, but we can hear our neighbours at night, and I’d like to see alternatives to UHT milk cartons and single-use bathroom products. 6/10
Food & drink
The kitchens do heavy lifting at Hodson Bay, providing for a busy breakfast room, ballroom, dining room and carvery bar where diners can stack their plates (“I didn’t know whether to eat it or climb it,” I’m told one guest said).
Breakfast has separate service areas for hot and cold, and a pancake machine that’s a magnet for kids.
Our dinner is at L’Escale, an old-school fine dining space layered with white linen and carpet. It feels a little out-of-time, and sometimes tips over into cheesiness. While I’m wondering about an iffy portrait of a dancing couple in an alcove, for example, Hotel California strikes up on the playlist. It’s a very different vibe to the contemporary buzz of Bonnie’s at Glasson Lakehouse, or the Wineport.
That said, prices are competitive, sommelier Andrzej Dasiak is on top of his wine recommendations, and staff are unstuffy in their interactions.
Dinner kicks off with a playful amuse bouche (“our midlands take on a croque monsieur”, above), bread is from Jinny’s bakery in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, a starter works both comfort and class from local black pudding, egg, bacon and hollandaise, and a braised beef main (€22.95) is sweet and fall-aparty under the fork, though the veg is a little undercooked.
The priciest dish is a 10oz sirloin steak at €27.95 — almost cheap at this stage. 7/10
The bottom line
At times, the Hodson Bay Hotel seems to combine the Ireland of the 1980s with that of the 2020s. Similar to other family-run four-stars like Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House in Adare, the Bridge House in Tullamore or Ashdown Park in Gorey, however, the unpretentious, high-volume, deeply local sense of a hotel as a community hub is part of its charm. It will face down many more threats, I’m sure.
There’s an 18-hole golf course on the doorstep. You can also join a lake cruise, travelling to Athlone or even Clonmacnoise, outside.
A winter wellness package includes B&B, and a thermal spa experience, from €130 for two sharing. Watch out for its annual room sale in December, too.
B&B starts from €100 for two sharing midweek. Pól was a guest of the hotel. hodsonbayhotel.com