Lifein - May 2008

One to Watch - Local Business Profile
This Month: The BrookLodge
The perfect destination for a weekend mini-break with a spa, organic restuarant, pub, local rambles, golf...

Described by the Lonely Planet as the 'favourite chill-out spot for Dublin's high flyers,' The BrookLodge is certainly somewhere this low flyer would be happy to hideaway. Hanging out in this idyllic setting, just outside Aughrim on a sunny April day, I felt immediately relaxed, and I hadn't even visited the Spa! Today, the daffodils are out and blooming and so are the wedding guests. I had a sneak peek at the charming set up of today's small wedding, and decided that while the room with its high beams looked fantastic, I don't like pink bows. I digress... This isn't simply any old hotel; it's a veritable treasure island for guests. I met the managing directory Evan Doyle, one of the three dynamic brothers who started off with a green field site back in '99. Macreddin Village had fallen into decline but it now comprises hotel, spa, the Strawberry Tree restaurant, (which uses only organic, free-range produce) a pub with its own microbrewery, craft and organic food store, bakery, organic herb garden, conference centre and much more besides.

The brother's objective of making the place into somewhere they would want to visit themselves, not a 'starched bow tie' place, seems to have been achieved, nay, surpassed. In Evan's words, 'instead of peacocks, we wanted chickens'! It has a quaint country house feel which is sophisticated without being prestine, the ambiance is relaxed, affable, with an understated appeal which doesn't take from the quality, Staff here are treated a 'crew'.

The design of the hotel blends comtemporary flair with country elegance, the suites boasting dark wood plinth beds, the naughtiness of a free standing bath, and babbling brook outside.

The Strawberry Tree was the first and only restauarant in Ireland to receive its organic license in 1999, you can feast on such delights as grilled green asparagus, rocket and pine nut salad an wild rabbit. There's an organic herb garden in situe and Chef plucks wild garlic from the hills of Wicklow for use in the stuffed onion and wild garlic polenta with tomato sauce. There is the option of a feast menu so guests can experience the restaurant in relaxed banqauet style. The reatuarant create their menus around what produce is in season or available, the old-fashioned way.

Tales of elderflower champagne are making me thristy so I retire to the cafe - a joy; with carrot soup for €4 with homemade brown bread from the bakery, and (not quite bubbly) elderflower fizz... the shop has a wide array of organic produce. I left with olive oil from Italy (€11) and 4 (free) free range eggs (from the chickens). Thanks Lorna!

Their concept has recently evolved, with the addition of La Taverna Armento recently opening. Evan explains that they source their organic produce from the small town of that name in Southern Italy. They have built strong bonds with the local suppliers, one of whom is curretnly rearing 177 geese destined for the table in Co. Wicklow, (and apparently, it's a big deal over their that there is a restauarant over here named after their town!).

Then, to the spa, my favourite place of all... What makes the spa unique is the fact that the experience is perfectly serene and easy to navigate. The Wells spa has Finnish baths, mud baths, a spa pool and an indoor/outdoor pool with various therapies and skin treatments. The outdoor hot tub looks enticing and is apparently even better when it's snowing outside. Which it suddenly is, so I abandon my dreams of spring and head back to safety.

If you want more than just a hotel with a dining-room, the BrookLodge is an attractive package; best of all, no taxis required. One could check in at the hotel, head straight to the spa to chill out (boys and girls welcome) or have a swim, then later meander to one of the restaurants for a cosy candlelit feast, even the pub is only a short stagger to your room. A whole microcosm of Wicklow in one location. They have even built a chapel by a babbling brook, and with the new possibilities in civil ceremonies, they have had plenty of enquiries.

Aside from all this is the fact that you are in the middle of the country and can access the delights of the open air if you are feeling active; there is an equestrian centre, archery and clay pigeon shooting. The proximity to the Wicklow Way means you can walk off the previous night's indulgences; there's a handy brochure you can pick up in reception with guides to nearby rambles. Not to mention the fact that there's a new golf course in the (tee) offing. Also, the first Sunday of every month brings an organic food fair in the afternoon, with barbecues and music.

By Mary D'arcy.