Breaks: Aslan, whiskey and Bridge House make for a great weekend in Tullamore
Don't underestimate the midlands, writes Liz Trainor, whose warm welcome at the Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore was supplemented by classic Irish rock, a bit of pampering and fine locally produced whiskey
IT'S known the world over for distilling its own famous brand of whiskey, but there's so much more to Tullamore than a drop of the liquid sunshine.
A thriving town – and a gateway to the midlands – Tullamore is situated on the central plains of Ireland and just an hour and a half's drive from Dublin.
For hikers, hill-walkers and anyone who fancies getting in touch with nature the Co Offaly destination is an ideal base to explore the great outdoors where the rolling hills of Slieve Bloom give way to unspoilt bogland and lush greenery.
Fishing enthusiasts and golfers are spoilt for choice in equal measure while Ireland's rich heritage is reflected all around with Clonmacnoise and the nearby monastic sites including Durrow and Rahan.
Co Offaly is an often overlooked part of the country, slightly off the beaten track and playing second fiddle to the main cosmopolitan centres and tourist-rich rugged coastlines and mountains to the west.
But it has a charm all its own, with a rich history and fine buildings including Charleville Castle, regarded as Ireland's finest example of Gothic revival architecture.
With much to do it makes for the perfect weekend escape.
Our hotel, the Bridge House Hotel & Leisure Club, enjoys a central location in the town and is popular with tourists and locals alike, catering for all events from family gatherings to business conferences.
With an opulent grand lobby and central staircase the hotel makes a great first impression, while the Bridge House itself is quite a size. The cavernous building boasts a nightclub, four conference rooms, two bars and dining areas as well as a health and wellbeing centre with indoor pool, spa and hydro suite.
Dining options include the Balcone Italian restaurant, the Char Bistro for food and cocktails, a bar and grill plus options for coffee shop, carvery and afternoon tea.
We were lucky enough to be staying a weekend when Dublin band Aslan were playing.
After a relaxing meal in the bar area, serving a host of favourites including a wide variety of seafood, chicken and salad starters and mains serving ever popular dishes including chicken curries, steaks, roast chicken and pasta, we headed to the main 'ballroom' which was packed with fans of all ages, many who appeared to have travelled a distance to see the Irish rock favourites perform.
Drinks followed in the Palace Venue and Nightclub where there was also live music. The bar, which is also accessible to the pub from a separate entrance, also boasts a beer garden and nightly entertainment.
The hotel was heaving with visitors and residents enjoying the music and drinks.
However, for a more chilled vibe, visitors could avail of drinks in the lobby and Library Bar with its plush and relaxed surroundings.
A little-known fact about Tullamore is it bears the distinction of being the location of the world’s first known aviation disaster.
In 1785 a hot air balloon exploded over the town destroying more than 100 homes. But the town rallied back and built itself up again and to this day its coat of arms depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes.
So it’s fitting that its most famous export, Tullamore Dew, has come back to the town. The original distillery was shut in 1954, with the brand later being resurrected and produced in Cork.
However, its new owners, William Grant & Sons, invested in a new distillery near its home town, bringing whiskey production back to Tullamore in 2014. The old distillery warehouse on the banks of the Grand Canal has been totally refurbished and now houses an impressive visitor centre which is well worth a visit.
The following morning we joined a private masterclass where the art of whiskey making was explained through every fascinating step of the process. It really enhanced the tasting having a knowledge of the flavours you're savouring with every sip.
Afternoon tea back at the hotel was served in the Library Bar which was the perfect setting to sample the sandwiches, scones and pastries on offer.
After a spot of shopping in town we opted to eat later in the Balcone Italiano Restaurant which is located on the mezzanine level of the hotel. The selection of food and drinks was extensive with everything on offer with a variety of authentic Italian hams, pizza and pasta to fish and char-grilled steaks.
The following morning it was time for a chill-out in the spa’s thermal suite and outdoor hydro pool.
A soothing and thoroughly relaxing deep tissue full body massage, followed by a 40 minutes in the relaxation pod with cool blue hues and unlimited cool drinks, got the morning off to a relaxing start.
The pool and hydro pool and gym were also available for use. And while tempted to use the facilities to work off the excesses of our weekend away, we opted instead for a relaxing walk along the canal – the perfect way to round off a wonderful weekend.
:: Bridge House Hotel Spa and Leisure Club, Bridge St, Tullamore, Co Offaly. For more details, offers and booking visit bridgehousehoteltullamore.ie. or call 00 353 5793 25600