Ed Leahy heads northwest to luxury.
The spectacular panoramic views across the stunning Lough Key Forest Park are without doubt the highlight of the three-hour drive from Dublin to Sligo.
A 10-minute stop-over at the viewing bay high above the sprawling forest will soothe the soul and awaken the senses as you suck in the clean, pine-fresh County Roscommon air.
There would be no such stop on this trip into the northwest, however, as once past the Strawberry Beds the rain swept down towards the Liffey and accompanied me on the cross-county drive, the storm travelling in the opposite direction, coming in at pace from the Atlantic Ocean.
The windscreen wipers were still at full tilt as the road ran out towards the Sligo coast, and with three days of outdoor activities planned throughout Yeats Country, things were looking ominous at best.
The Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa was located somewhere along that long lonesome highway from Sligo Town to the coast at Rosses Point.
The hotel itself is immediately welcoming and homely, while the faint aromas emanating from the basement Spa were oddly relaxing as I made my way up the long corridor to my first floor dwellings.
It being a Radisson hotel, the rooms are everything you would expect them to be – spacious, stylish suites equipped with high-quality amenities such as Vogue mattresses from Respa. Rain stopped play for the remainder of the shortening September evening so the Benwiskin Bar proved the perfect place to relax over a few pints of plain and an impressive bar menu where the pepperoni pizza prevailed.
Meanwhile, the hotel's main attraction showed itself the following morning – and I'm not talking about the hearty buffet breakfast, although it does deserve a special mention.
For the Atlantic rains had passed, revealing a shining sun sitting in the middle of a deep blue sky, surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery that rolled out around the hotel and beyond to the coast.
Out and about, the walking trails are as impressive as you will find throughout Ireland, which take you through the remarkable landscape of Ox Mountain and allow you to get up close and personal with the awe-inspiring table top, Ben Bulben mountain.
It's all about the outdoors in Yeats Country: from tranquil walks along beautiful coastline to cycling through lush countryside, there is a wide range of adventure activities to suit everyone.
Culture vultures will get suitably fed following the Yeats Trail, paying a visit to the contemporary arts centre, The Model, which is home of the Niland Collection, or travelling out to the largest megalithic site in Europe at Carrowmore.
And if you still have a bit more energy left in the tank, the superb surf scene of the northwest at Easkey and Strandhill beaches offers a great challenge, while there are some excellent surf schools available to help you catch your first wave.
Although the rains, which were the tail end of a distant hurricane, had passed, the swells coming into the beach at Strandhill were unfortunately proving too dangerous to take surf novices like myself out for lessons – perhaps a blessing in disguise as the waves were reaching 15 feet in places.
The hotel's location between the historic Sligo town centre and Rosses Point makes exploring easy and day trips can be planned to popular local attractions including Lough Gill/Isle of Innisfree, the Sligo County Museum, Yeats Memorial Building, Parke's Castle and Lissadell Woods & House.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel, a long day in the outdoors will be rewarded with a trip to the Spa to revive the aching body. The Solas Spa & Wellness Centre offers seven creatively designed treatment rooms, balneotherapy, a dry flotation tank and an impressive thermal suite featuring a Razul, which, I believe, is a traditional Arabian cleansing ritual.
Classiebawn Restaurant serves fine food, using mainly local produce and the menu offers a range of eclectic dishes that won't disappoint. The Rabbit Amuse Bouche was particularly memorable, while the service and all-round dining experience was top notch.
And then into town where an excellent night was had, strolling the streets, which are filled with an excellent range of bars, live music venues and nightclubs.
With the surf school still out of commission, the next activity on the list involved a short hop out to the quiet coastal village of Rosses Point, just minutes from the hotel, and renowned for being home to one of the best golf courses in Ireland, County Sligo Golf Club.
Dating back to 1894, the Harry Colt designed County Sligo Golf Club is surrounded by beauty with the Atlantic Ocean rolling up alongside this spectacular links course and the majestic Ben Bulben Mountain dominating the northern skyline.
As tough a golfing test as you will find anywhere in the world, the track at Rosses Point also takes you on a fantastic hike up to amazing vantage points in the opening holes, which provide great vistas of the town and surrounding area.
The back nine brings you out to the amazing Ben Bulben, while there may not be a tougher – or prettier – hole than the long par five 12th, which sends you out to the edge of the world, surrounded only by the Atlantic Ocean.
It can be wild out there in the northwest, but no one said that wild was a bad thing.
For more information about the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, visit: http://www.radissonblu.ie/hotel-sligo.
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