Lying at what claims to be the geographical heart of Ireland is Lough Ree, a tranquil stretch of water that measures around 30km from top to toe. This lovely liquid playground is as mystical as it is majestic, with even its very own legendary lake monster. At its southern tip, you’ll find the buzzing town of Athlone with an impressive 13th century castle, characterful old pubs, and plenty of walking and cycling trails.
What to do: Lough Ree takes its water sports seriously, with boating, water-skiing, canoeing and windsurfing all vying for attention. Try a boat tour with Barracuda Boats, or set sail for the monastic site of Clonmacnoise on a replica Viking boat with Viking Ship Tours. A visit to Lough Ree’s many islands is a real treat, with the northerly situated Inchcleraun of particular interest thanks to the remains of a 6th century monastic settlement.
Where to eat: Athlone dishes up great food in its pubs, delis, cafés and restaurants. Enjoy the local gastro delights of the Fatted Calf, where tasty dishes such as treacle-braised short-rib beef vie for attention with cider-brined pork belly. The Ballinahown Tea Rooms are an ideal stopping-point for gorgeous bakes within the surrounds of a unique craft village, while Grogan’s of Glasson is great old pub set within a building that dates from 1750.
Explore more in the area: Try the Claypipe Visitor Centre in Knockcroghery, County Roscommon; visit the remarkable Belvedere House and Gardens in County Westmeath; and go back in time at Birr Castle in County Offaly.