DRIVING on the motorway with the beaming sun, windows wide open and some catchy tunes blaring out of the speakers, it felt like I was on a holiday abroad.
The nation cheered as Ireland finally got the few weeks of summer that we deserved.
The recent heatwave made the country bask in the heat, and see 99 ice-creams sell by their thousands, making many forget that yes, we were still on the Emerald Isle.
So, I took the opportunity to make the most of the (then) good weather and ventured an hour down the M4 from Dublin to Costa del Athlone. Why didn’t I go to a seaside town to enjoy the beaches like so many other people did?
Firstly, they likely would have been packed, and I would have been stuck in traffic, trapped in a sauna-like car.
And, secondly, I remembered learning that the further you are from the sea, the warmer summers you’ll have.
This being so, the midlands were sure to be a heat trap, and there would still be plenty of greenery and the River Shannon to enjoy.
I checked in with my other half to the four-star Radisson Blu Hotel, conveniently located in the centre of the town. The hotel overlooks the River Shannon, which is lined with docked barges and boats cruising along.
You can relax and take in these views with the hotel’s summer barbecue on the terrace, which is a popular spot during the summer months.
The barbecue caters for all tastes, with cooked meat and corn-on-the-cob straight from the grill, a range of salads and desserts, as well as plenty of choices for children.
To cool off and unwind after lunch, we took a dip in the Synergy Health and Leisure Club’s swimming pool at the hotel. Although the pool has no jacuzzi, there is a nice sauna and a steam room to ensure you feel refreshed and relaxed.
The Radisson Blu sits beside the bridge over the River Shannon. The main shopping district is located on one side of the bridge, while the town at the other side is home to Athlone Castle, the Luan Art Gallery, and many pubs – including the oldest pub in Ireland, Sean’s Bar, which dates back to as far as 900AD.
We enjoyed the afternoon by starting with a relaxing, scenic boat trip up the River Shannon with the Viking Ship Cruise.
The boat departed from outside Athlone Castle and set sail to Lough Ree and the Hodson Bay Hotel. Here, those on board had the choice to disembark, but we stayed put to enjoy the views from both sides of the boat.
We later explored the local history with a self-guided tour at Athlone Castle. The castle was first built in the 13th century, and acted as a defensive building.
Now, it boasts eight new exhibition spaces, interactive displays, audiovisual installations, and old utensils, as well as offering great views of the town and river.
Although admission for adults is a bit pricey, at €8, families of two adults and up to four children get a special rate of €20.
If you have an appreciation for minimalistic, modern art, stop off at the Luan Art Gallery opposite Athlone Castle.
The gallery opened its doors last November and exhibits mainly visual art, but also showcases work by local artists. It sits over a small boardwalk on the river, and there is plenty of sunshine to light up the rooms.
We spent the evening sampling fine dining with a candle-lit meal at the Radisson Blu’s Elements bistro. The restaurant boasts an array of dishes, such as steak, risotto and seabass.
Following dessert, we moved into the hotel’s Quayside Bar and Lounge, where a music session is hosted every Saturday night.
On a warm evening with clear skies, you can sit out on the terrace with the music in the background and relax as you enjoy star gazing. Heavenly!
The Radisson Blu Hotel Athlone offers a romance package from Sunday to Friday, which includes a one-night stay, a four-course candlelit dinner with a bottle of house wine at Elements Bistro, a plate of chocolate-dipped strawberries, a super breakfast buffet and late check-out, for €145.
A cruise on the River Shannon can also be added as an extra. For further information, see www.radissonblu.ie/hotel-athlone.