There is little as satisfying as discovering a hidden gem.
It could be somewhere for the very first time, or visit a place that you had overlooked and find a great surprise.
And so it was when we decided to escape the hectic life in the city and explore the hidden areas of Ireland to see what we missed – and it turns out it's a lot!
The obvious starting point is Athlone, a special place in the heart of the country and just over an hour's drive from Dublin and Galway.
Athlone has grown over the years as a tourist destination. We met many foreign and domestic visitors, all wandering around town and enjoying the many bohemian cafes and bars.
The welcome mat is being rolled out on all access roads to the city with beautiful flower displays and the death of miles, lives on in the friendly streets.
Athlone is a compact city with impressive modern shopping centers that spring from historic buildings.
Right in the center on a hill overlooking the narrowest part of the mighty Shannon lies the impressive castle of the city. The structure dates back to 1210 and is the key to understanding the growth of the city over the centuries.
The castle is a national monument and the visitor center offers scheduled tours during high season. But this is not a boring retrospect, it is an interactive journey through the ages with a focus on the people who lived here and formed the history.
The tour is a fascinating mix of incredible artefacts that go back hundreds and thousands of years and modern modern technological displays and shows.
Learn how the Battle of the Boyne led to the siege of Athlone and get an eyewitness account of history through interesting quotes and momentos. And you can even dress up in a costume from that time.
This is living history, a journey through time presented with pleasure and flair.
To get the best out of a visit, you have to take 60-75 minutes to take everything with you, and if you come a second time, you will definitely discover something new.
Opening times are seasonal, so check the website (athlonecastle.ie) for times and prices.
On the other side of the road, Luan Gallery is easily one of the best provincial art spaces in Ireland.
The artwork is the main attraction, but this gallery is also a star in his own show.
The floor-to-ceiling windows offer beautiful panoramic views of the River Shannon. Floating above the river, it feels good to be here and to enjoy a feeling of weightlessness.
The wide open exhibition spaces currently show the lively, colorful work of Eoin Francis McCormack and Susanne Wawra – but the exhibitions change every two months.
Admission and guided tours of the gallery are free (see athlone.ie/visit/the-luangallery).
It is not a hidden secret, but when you walk back to the castle, it seems silly not to visit the oldest pub in Ireland.
Sean's Bar in Main Street dates back to 900AD and regularly lists the worlds biggest or coolest bars. It is worth the effort to invoke history and to be fooled.
Athlone is a gourmet town – there are craft bakeries or nice coffee shops and restaurants in every street.
The Fatted Calf on Church Street, led by the Feargal couple and Fiona O & # 39; Donnell, is on the Michelin list and is a great place to have lunch with local ingredients cooked to order (see thefattedcalf.ie).
We stopped in Bastion Kitchen, a nice little coffee house with homemade cakes and treats on Bastion Street, near the castle.
The Bastion Gallery on the other side of the street is also worth a visit for an unusual gift.
After tasting city life, it's time to explore the surrounding lush green landscape. This is a land of relaxing hiking trails along the lake, forest trails and breathtaking landscapes.
Only 15 minutes drive from Athlone is a place of rare peace and tranquility. Glasson, known as the Village of Roses & # 39 ;, is one of the jewels of the Hidden Heartlands of Ireland.
The charming little village has an incredibly three multiple award-winning restaurant and bars, while the roses on each access road give a warm welcome to the upcoming visitors.
We had dinner on a Monday night in Grogan's, a very lively place, the food was top notch and the busy staff was great.
Only a mile outside the village is the impressive Wineport Lodge. Famous as the location for The Restaurant on RTE & TV3, it is indeed a very special place.
Wineport celebrates its 25th year in operation and has grown from a restaurant to an independent destination.
The restaurant is on the banks of Lough Ree and most rooms have a serene view over the water.
This feels like a hidden core country – a secret place where you can just let go.
We had the privilege of staying here and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, which has been perfected over a quarter of a century.
All 29 rooms are named after wine-producing regions, a nod to the history of the area.
The monks of Saint Ciaran landed here in the 6th century with wine from France and many of the things are still eaten here to this day.
The shore of the lake, the passing boats, the swans, the fireplace in the lounge, the warm and comfortable furniture together form an almost dream-like experience of relaxation.
The staff are friendly, helpful and efficient and the food, as you would expect, is also fantastic.
And it does not make sense for someone to rest on their laurels here – General Manager Norma Wilson, who has been here since the beginning, was very passionate in her description of the beautiful summer with 40 days of sitting outside.
Owner Ray Byrne, who set up the Wineport in 1993 together with his wife Jane English, is still working on the dining room, so that all guests are satisfied – of course they were.
I've heard that 80 percent of the guests are repeat visitors and it's easy to understand why – with this level of hospitality, who does not want to come back?
Just a ten minute drive away is the beautiful Portlick Forest Park, where you can take a leisurely stroll along the remote east bank of Lough Ree and pause to take in the natural beauty of this area. Then it's time to get back on track and only 15 minutes from Athlone to Dublin is the beautiful Ballinahown Craft Village.
This is a picturesque, leafy village as something of a romantic novel.
The residents are rightly proud of their environment and the village is an eternal winner of the Tidy Town Award.
We stopped for a refreshment in the charming tea rooms before we visited the heart of this community, the Celtic Roots Studio.
This is a carefully designed gallery annex workshop that expertly reclaims peat wood into unique sculptures and jewelery.
Visitors can take a tour of the studio and try to lay their hands on carvings or form their own personal wishstone, a gift for homecoming that is an incredible moment.
The Celtic Roots Studio is in itself a special journey through time to the Irish heritage and your navigator is owner Helen Conneely.
Helen is simply a dynamo. Her impressive knowledge of our extensive craft producers is passed on warmly to tourists.
We were fully booked to make something out of our own piece of peat wood – but this was not a simple workshop.
Helen listening to the history of the trees and swamps of Ireland is a treat in itself and the passion with which she speaks is contagious.
She and her team work on wood that has been reclaimed from swamps in the Midlands and have made pieces for dignitaries all over the world.
US presidents, CEOs of large corporations, Helen has designed pieces for all of them – and now she sits on the other side of the table to help me file the grooves of a piece of round wood.
The two hours she spent with her were a life-affirming journey. Part of a Northern European network of art and craft, Helen's passion lies in the art of sculpting a reclaimed sacred area of our hidden core area, the trees that sank beneath our emerging marshes, and sharing that skill with others .
An unusual experience with an incredible guide, the Celtic Roots Studio is a glimpse into our Hidden Heartlands – an Ireland and heritage that deserves to be rediscovered.
To plan your trip, see discoverireland.ie, facebook.com/discoverireland.ie and instagram.com/discoverireland.ie
Highlights of the Heartlands
IRELAND & # 39; S Hidden Heartlands occupies the heart & # 39; from the country, from Leitrim to East Clare and runs through Longford, Roscommon, East Galway and parts of Westmeath, Cavan, North Tipperary and Offaly.
It features natural wonders, including the Beara Breifne Way; Lough Key from Roscommon; the hills and forests of Drumshanbo in Leitrim; Lough Derg in Portumna, Co. Galway; as well as Lough Oughter in Cavan and the River Shannon that flows through Athlone Town in Westmeath.
Explore the green core areas of Ireland, where activity and relaxation concentrate on rural communities and can be experienced on land and in the water.
There is a wide range of things to do for all ages over the entire length of the River Shannon.
Whether you want to experience a new adventure, discover the history of the Irish Hidden Heartlands or just want to experience the beauty of the surroundings, there are some essential visits with activities for the whole family.
Kieran's piece spoke about some of the highlights of Athlone and its surroundings, including the must-see Athlone Castle (athlonecastle.ie), Luan Gallery (athlone.ie/visit/the-luan-gallery), The Fatted Calf (thefattedcalf.ie), Wineport Lodge (wineport.ie) and Celtic Roots Studio (celtic-roots.com).
But there are so many more spectacular places to visit in the area, including:
Derryglad folk museum – Located in Curraghboy, Co Roscommon, the museum shows rural life in the hidden heart of Ireland from the 18th century to the not too distant past. SEE derrygladfolkmuseum.com
The villager– The Villager, in the heart of the beautiful village of Glasson, received the award & # 39; Westmeath & # 39; s Best Gastropub & # 39; for two years of running during the 2016 & 2017 Irish Restaurant Awards.
Under the supervision of the local man and women team, Chef Cathal Moran and Maeve Lennon, The Villager has something for everyone.
Call for a cup of coffee, a pint, meet friends and family for lunch or enjoy a romantic dinner for two. They offer healthy, rustic cuisine with great flavors, friendly and efficient service in a warm and homely atmosphere. See thevillager.ie
River Shannon Cruise – A trip with Romaris Boat Trip is the most elegant way to sail on the Shannon, whether it's a simple excursion on Lough Ree or a dinner cruise with family or friends to Clonmacnoise, or a little further, you will not find a relaxing way to spend while you spend some time on the water. See romaris.ie
Corner House Bistro – With so much to discover, it is important to stay well fed and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, including The Corner House Bistro at Athlone.
The chaos in Dublin airport, where American pilots strike with & # 39; TWO HOUR queues & # 39; top & # 39; IT problems & # 39;
It was founded in 2012 and has become a favorite eatery for both locals and tourists.
The Corner House Bistro is run by the couple Joe and Linda Connolly, and offers customers a quality dining experience with a very personal touch.
With a mix of casual furniture, interesting menu & # 39; s and excellent service, Corner House Bistro is a must for guests with a passion for food. See cornerhousebistro.ie