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Make mine country...

It's hard to get the right mix in a hotel. If you want peace and tranquillity, a pool, spa area and fitness centre, you'll often be directed to a countryside hotel. The downside is that nightlife, shopping and urban life are at the very least a costly taxi ride away.

But you can get the best of both worlds -- and only an hour's drive away from Dublin -- at Tullamore's Bridge House Hotel.

Situated slap bang in the middle of the town, it's as if a country house has been deposited beside the main street.

Inside, it's an oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling town.

The lobby area, with a grand sweeping staircase, is a wedding photographer's dream, and it's no coincidence that many people choose it as their venue for the big day.

It leads on to the nicest area of the hotel -- the Library Room and bar, with a small terrace overlooking the gently flowing local river.

The Library Room is filled with church and antique salvage, and lined with countless old books and deep, comfy chairs.

What's best is that special touch that's hard to create or replicate -- the country hotel vibe, with friendly staff and plenty of craic.

When we visited there was a throng there to watch Leinster play on the box, and fellow guests (many from Dublin with most of the rest locals) were up for some lively and friendly chat.

Unusually for a hotel, the second bar is actually a throbbing "real" pub on the main street of the town.

Entertainment-wise, it's top notch and the male and female performers singing here at night are worth the price of a weekend away on their own.

The gym area -- as big and as varied as you'll need on a trip away -- is also "real", where the machines are not just for show, attracting a big membership in its own right. It's busier than you'd expect, but that's no bad thing as it's lively with plenty of energy.

While the dressing rooms are starting to look dated, the beautifully appointed pool area is truly unusual -- with an infinity pool that stretches out and overlooks the local shopping area from high above.

The Sanctuary Spa, with all the usual varieties of massages and treatments (all good value and excellent) is the only one in the country with an "egg" massage chamber.

Shaped like an egg (anyone old enough to remember the space ship from Mork and Mindy), you lie inside for about 15 minutes and are gently massaged while looking at twinkling lights in the semi-darkness.

If that works up an appetite, forget about Dublin-style nouvelle cuisine. You're in the country now, and portions are huge and the service is friendly.

Gargantuan steaks, shank of lamb, fresh salmon -- it's all aimed at your typical diner, but it's done very well without any pretension or fuss.


And for a four star, the service is good, like being in a country cousin's home. Late down for breakfast on our last morning, nothing was too much trouble and the chef (who was due off 15 minutes earlier) actually seemed like he was going to be disappointed if we tried to stop him from heaping a huge full Irish breakfast on our plates.

A bit like the food, the rooms are big too, as you'd expect from a modern hotel.

Family rooms -- sleeping up to five -- are available, with DVDs on offer to bring up to the room (as well as fun splash hours in the pool) to keep all the family occupied.

If you want things to do, Tullamore's got plenty to offer. The main shopping mall is just across the road from the hotel and it has its own cinema, while the stunningly beautiful (and largely forgotten) Charleville Castle is a must-see.

At times quirky, but always fun and friendly, Tullamore might not trip off the tongue as a first-choice destination for a break, but it's a tonic to stressed city life.

Fact File

GOOD DEALS are available, including the five-night Family Getaway, which costs from €289 per person. It’s based on two adults and two children sharing, and if the kids are under 12 they stay free. Both adults can dine at the hotel on three evenings of their choosing in the awardwinning Bridge House

Restaurant, which also has various children’s menu options. Breakfast for all the family is included each day of your stay.

The Midweek Package costs from €109 pps, with two nights’ b&b, including one evening meal. Stay in a king-bedded room, and receive full use of the leisure centre, gym and outdoor hydro pool.

Phone (057) 932 5600/lo-call 1850 312 312 or see www.bridgehouse.com.