Let the good times roll down the Wicklow Way
Mark Evans enjoys the pampering in the plush BrookLodge
LOATHE as I am to believe a government that's telling me we're on the up and up, you can sense a mood change.
For years Irish hotels - even with their bargain prices - felt like morgues. You could feel the gloom, and a half-empty bar or lobby didn't lighten the mood.
But the BrookLodge Hotel, an old favourite of mine, was different. While not the heady hedonistic days of the Celtic Tiger, guests were spending, enjoying themselves and you could sense the buzz permeating the quiet rural surrounds of this little corner of Co Wicklow.
The Brooklodge, with its own Oirishy Macreddin Village, shouldn't work. It's manufactured, right down to the kind of telephone box I haven't seen since my teenage days, but it feels right.
Situated near the village of Aughrim, it's close to Dublin, but even the hotel website warns you not to use your satnav, or you'll have a magical mystery tour over the surrounding mountains.
The old house, where you check in, is a delight. It reminds me of some old British colonial outpost, a feeling that you're stepping into a large home rather than a hotel.
My room - a mezzanine suite - was enormous. If you're a loved-up couple, there's even an old-style standalone bath in the upstairs section beside your bed. But you'd want to be loved up if your other half is having a scrub while you're trying to sleep.
There's also a small TV (it needs to be bigger, unless you've got 20-20 vision. Downstairs there's a sprawling lounge area, walk-in wardrobes and fab bathroom, with lovely views over the mountainous terrain and stream running through the estate.
If the weather's good, there's plenty of outdoor seating to have a drink or light bite, and for dinner you have the option of organic in the hotel, or Italian in Macreddin Village on the grounds. La Taverna Armento is full-on Southern Italian, with a good wine list that's reasonably priced.
The food is excellent - the desserts in particular are spectacular, but the service is polite without the gaiety you need in an Italian eaterie.
The Strawberry Tree - Ireland's only organic restaurant - is full-on fine dining. You can trace everything, and you can tell the difference in taste.
It's pricey though - as you only have a choice of a full-on meal (three courses and amuses-bouches too) or a massive seven-course tasting menu. If you're going, starve yourself first.
Round off the night with a trip to Acton's Pub, which is lively and olde world - a tourist's delight.
And if you want to work off a few of those calories, there's a range of options. The infinity pool is excellent, and there's golf too.
I even mustered up the energy to climb the nearby Cushbawn Mountain - Wicklow's 13th highest and boasting views of three counties.
Hardly Everest, but I felt fulfilled and refreshed, which is pretty much the point of BrookLodge.
It's a luxurious place, so expect to pay more. But check out the specials and treat yourself to a convenient break.
The hotel has a number of one, two and three-night offers available through August and September.
The stay and play package includes two nights B&B in the BrookLodge plus dinner in La Taverna Armento and a round of golf on the Paul McGinley-designed Macreddin Golf Course.
It's from €180pps, staying Sunday-Thurs or €220 if staying Friday, Saturday or bank holiday weekends.