Ed Leahy spends some quality time in Cork.

The River Lee rises in the Shehy Mountains in west Cork and flows east towards the Celtic Sea. And just as its ever-splitting waters reach the island that houses the city centre, you'll find the River Lee Hotel, sitting pretty on the banks of its namesake.

However, I was arriving by car not kayak, so working my way against the current, I travelled along the industrial quays, negotiated the obligatory detour up the city's main thoroughfare, St Patrick's Street, before returning to the quayside, this time on the southern side, arriving at the hotel on Lancaster Quay.

First impressions are dominated by the contemporary design, where light and space are utilised in abundance. The drive from Dublin to Cork has become considerably easier in recent years and I was feeling very little effects from the journey south. However, the receptionist was taking no chances as a tray of hot towels was produced ahead of check-in – a nice touch, it has to be said.

Glass lifts transported upwards as the space/light theme continued, while excellent aerial views were offered along the river and across at the elevated north-side of the city.

Again, as expected, the bedroom was bright and spacious as full-height windows provide more panoramics, while natural materials are used in an attempt to reflect the serene riverside setting. The rooms are decorated accordingly with an understated elegance of muted colours and modern fabrics.

The only disappointing aspect of the room was that the king-size bed looked remarkably un-regal; the room was deserving of a more befitting bunk.

The excellent range of satellite sports channels on the flat-screen TV and the Nespresso coffee machine were a welcome addition and the in-room furniture was also a very nice touch, enhanced by the views below.

Executive suite guests can also avail of the exclusive fifth-floor lounge, which includes a library and refreshments throughout the day.

The River Lee Hotel's location is a major feature as it sits adjacent to the city centre as well as residing in one of Cork City's most interesting areas, adjacent to the University.

Many different walks will take you about this vibrant quarter of the city and it was a real bonus to be able to saunter out along the river strolling up around St Fin Barre's Cathedral, in and around the pretty University campus of University College Cork and back down to the river to Fitzgerald's Park.

If you have time, venture across the river and uphill in search of the Butter Exchange in the old market area, where you will also find the interesting Firkin Crane and the Shandon Craft Centre.

Back along Shandon Street to Pope's Quay, you might be tempted into the Franciscan Well Brewery – a micro brewery serving natural homemade beer.

And every tour around the city should always include a visit to the renowned English Market, which specialises in Cork's local produce and dates back to 1788. The market is always a hive of activity and is one of the main reasons why Cork has earned and maintains a superb culinary reputation.

Back in the hotel and time for a swim and a sauna in the impressive leisure area.

The more active guests can take advantage of the well-equipped gym, the 20-metre swimming pool, outdoor tennis courts and exercise rooms, which provide classes including spinning, Pilates and yoga.

The hotel is obviously very family friendly and while it is a great option for parents to allow the kids to use up some energy wreaking havoc in the not-so-sanctuary pool area, your relaxing Jacuzzi may be interrupted by a school of young Paul O'Connell wannabes practising their line-outs in the neighbouring waters.

But fear not, because peace and pampering are at hand at the hotel's Urban Escape Spa, where a soothing massage awaits along with a full range of entirely organic beauty treatments.

Dining at the River Lee Hotel
The hotel's elegant Weir Bistro offers a range of cosmopolitan cuisine, with its own distinct Corkonian twist. The locally sourced food will be enjoyed and complemented by riverside views. The Weir Bar is also a great place to enjoy lunch or some pre-dinner drinks, which can be taken on the outdoor deck overlooking the river.

A great range of restaurants is also within walking distance of the hotel with the award-winning vegetarian restaurant Café Paradiso located across the road, while Liberty Grill is only five minutes away and makes for a great option if you are looking for a quality restaurant on your way into the always-interesting city centre for a night out.

A Night at the Opera
While in the Rebel City, take in a performance at the Cork Opera House. It's not always opera but the Spring Season has a great range of acts lined up including Tommy Tiernan, Neil Delamere, Jack Dee, Pat Shortt and Rich Hall. The City of Cork Symphony Orchestra presents an evening of stunning music conducted by Keith Pascoe in April, while the RTÉ Concert Orchestra presents Across the Stars: The John Williams Collection in an evening of instantly recognisable scores like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Superman and many more. This season also brings two touring opera productions from the famous Ellen Kent Opera Company, Tosca and Carmen, while The Three Tenors perform on St Patrick's Day. www.corkoperahouse.ie.

For more information about the River Lee Hotel and Cork City, visit: www.doylecollection.com/cork and www.discoverireland.ie/cork.

Ed Leahy

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