With the festive season well and truly under way and the attendant bustle and stress beginning to take its manic hold, isn’t it time to consider getting away from it all to relax and unwind?
No matter where you are in Ireland you’re certain not to be too far away from the superb break that The Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore, Co Offaly, offers in the very heart of Ireland.
The much-photographed lobby in the Bridge House is somewhat iconic and certainly sets the tone. As you walk in the doors to the vast area you are immediately greeted by the huge, red-carpeted marble staircase flanked by art deco statues and overlooked by a massive crystal chandelier. It all looks like it’s been lifted from the set of The Titanic.
All around there’s a buzz of social activity – from revellers and guests sipping drinks in The Library Bar beside an open fire to a perhaps more mature crowd availing of the hotel’s famous Afternoon Tea service in The Lobby.
A word of warning, however. I struggled to get out of my chair after enjoying a quick drink to wash the dust of the day’s travels out of my throat – not due to any particular lack of athleticism or suppleness, it must be said, it’s just the luxurious armchairs in The Library seem to swallow you whole and demand you stay for ‘just one more’. Yes, I’m blaming the furniture on that.
But the extra time spent downing a second beer gave me time to absorb the sheer scale of the hotel – which is reflected in the number of bars and eateries at your disposal.
My favourite is the Italian-themed Balcone Restaurant situated on the mezzanine level. This family-friendly Italian serves up a great mix of pizza and pasta, as well as a nice selection of meat and vegetarian dishes, and is hugely popular for birthdays, anniversaries and nights out with ‘la famiglia’.
There is also the Char Bistro situated adjacent to the Bridge House Bar (aka ‘the front bar’), and the fare available here can also be enjoyed in the bar itself – if you fancy something a little more informal.
It’s a beautifully designed place to chill out and enjoy a bite, and 1930s-era painted panelled walls give off an overwhelmingly chic ‘speakeasy vibe’.
There is live music in this famous bar an impressive seven nights a week – I’m struggling to think of a similar Irish venue that can provide that – and there is a liberal sprinkling of screens about the place for the sports lovers among us. If it can be kicked, thrown or hit with a stick, then your favourite sport is sure to be covered here.
This part of the hotel is something of a landmark for the citizens of Offaly, and actually dates back to the 1700’s when the building was a haberdashery (ask your parents, kids… it was before Amazon!).
The Bridge nightclub certainly seems to be the social hub of the entire town – maybe even the entire county.
The huge room also accommodates live bands, and Dublin heroes Aslan played to a rapt full house while we were there.
The lads have been treading the boards for a long time and certainly know how to put on a show, with singer Christy Dignam – looking hale and hearty after his recent brush with illness – conducting affairs with all the skill and confidence of a seasoned old pro.
On this night the dyed-in-the-wool, true-Blue northside Dub was, without doubt, Tullamore’s favourite adopted son. A crazy world, indeed.
There’s plenty to do and see around Tullamore – if you can actually manage to extricate yourself from those ridiculously comfy chairs in the Library Bar – and if you’re a golfer a trip to nearby Esker Hills Golf Club is essential.
This rolling, tumbling riot of a golf course is incredible fun (you won’t see any boring, flat, featureless holes on this layout) and is, of course, home to this year’s Open Champion – and Offaly’s favourite non-adopted son – Shane Lowry.
Add in the fact that it has one of the most welcoming and quirky clubhouses in the country and you can see why it’s so popular with visitors and locals alike.
But no trip to the town would be complete, of course, without dropping in for a drop in the Tullamore Dew Distillery.
I don’t normally need much encouragement to sample a wee dram, but we visited relatively early in the day – so I wasn’t quite sure if the body was ready to tackle a glass of fire water just yet.
I was wrong, of course. By the time we finished our tour of the Old Bonded Warehouse and discovered the fascinating history of the brand, my taste buds were ready for battle.
As we settled in for our Masterclass at the end of the tour we were presented with several options to sample – and the differing whiskey flavours available depending on what process was used from grain to glass never ceases to surprise me.
Some flavours were extremely delicate and subtle, while others hit you in the back of the throat with a jolt. After sampling various blends with differing degrees of preference, it turns out my favourite is the ‘classic’ Tullamore Dew that is readily available in most bars and off licences throughout the country – and, indeed, throughout the world.
It sells about 11 million bottles around the globe annually, so I suppose there’s a good reason why it turned out to be my preferred tipple.
But, let’s face it, you’re here to relax – so we headed back to the Bridge House’s swimming pool, thermal suite and relaxation areas at the Leisure Club – perfect for unwinding and relaxing (or working out, if you’re still full of beans).
You can treat yourself a little more and avail of a treatment in the luxurious Spa. You can choose from a variety of options, but you can’t go wrong with the spa’s Signature Body Treatment – which includes use of the outdoor hydropool, a 55-minute deep tissue full body massage and a half hour on the ‘alpha lounger’ – a multisensory bed that blisses you out with fine vibrations and gentle warmth.
With the weather truly showing us the meaning of winter right now, it’s just what your body deserves this festive period, don’t you think?