Irish Times - September 2008

Go Overnight - Aidan Dunne Stays in The BrookLodge & Wells Spa

IF, APPROACHING Aughrim from the north, you turn off and loop back to your right, you may well get the impression that you've wandered into a latter-day Brigadoon. For there, nestled among the slopes of southern Co Wicklow, is the little village of Macreddin, a buzzing hive of activity in a serene pastoral landscape. But, unlike Brigadoon, Macreddin is clearly a secret known to many, because when we arrived the car parks were brimming with a formidable array of select marques. At the heart of the village is BrookLodge & Wells Spa.

We were there for a wedding and had arrived without realising that we would have the facilities of an entire village at our disposal - and not just any village. Macreddin is dedicated to the visitor in every way. The hotel even has its own brewery, Actons, not to mention an organic bakery and restaurant, the Strawberry Tree, and an Italian restaurant, La Taverna Armento. You can also hang out at the Orchard Cafe and indulge in the multiple restorative therapies offered by the Wells spa.

Brook Hall, a recent addition to the complex, housed most of the wedding party. Neobaronial in style, with a stone-flagged hall and exposed beams, it is a comfortable building, not so large as to be impersonal.

Momentarily overwhelmed by a sudden deluge of arrivals, the staff were unfailingly good-humoured, polite and resourceful. Our first-floor bedroom, looking out on an expansive slope with forest in the distance, was comfortable, if slightly on the narrow side, given the Narnia-scale wardrobe. And although there was a table there was no accompanying chair.

Still, everything worked, the bed was comfortable and the French windows opened out on to the view and the soothing burbling of the swiftly flowing Ballycreen Brook a few metres away.

Downstairs, meanwhile, the champagne was flowing as guests mingled or settled into sofas and armchairs. Seating close to the open fire proved to be especially popular.

A gong summoned the now-famished throng to the function room. Macreddin boasts its own smoke room, and presumably the smoked chicken spring rolls stemmed from there. The one disappointing note in the meal was struck by the tomato soup. It was diagnosed by my companion, whose culinary expertise is considerable, as probably consisting of generic passata with a dollop of vinegar and pesto. Both main-course dishes, sea bass or beef, were fine and considerably enhanced by white turnip, carrots and herbs that certainly tasted as if they'd come straight from the walled garden. An especially generous sweet plate went down a treat with pretty much everyone.

Thus stupefied with food and drink the company slumped back to be entertained by the ritual speeches and the evening's entertainment.

As explained by Einstein's theory of relativity, after midnight time seems to stretch but actually contracts. This means that if you linger beyond the witching hour you feel as if you've all the time in the world only to discover, abruptly, that it has somehow vanished in a blur of drink, shouted conversations with people you haven't seen in ages, the sentimental hits of yesteryear and irrationally exuberant dancing.

Sunday dawned bright, sunny and warm - at least that's what we were told, because few if any of the wedding party were in a position to see for themselves. Eventually we surfaced, drew back the curtains and winced. Breakfast meant a stroll over to BrookLodge, where an organic menu waited in spacious and comfortable surroundings. The genial waiter recommended the organic smoothie rather than orange juice, and he was right: it was incredibly fresh and reviving, setting us up nicely for butter croissants, toast, poached egg and potato cakes, washed down with lashings of tea. Pretty much everything was described as organic, which somehow makes you feel virtuous as you tuck in greedily.

No one had reached the 18th hole of Macreddin Golf Course, visible from our room, by the time we were leaving. But lots of people had setoff to negotiate the impressive-looking course, designed by Paul McGinley, on the first really good day in weeks. Macreddin also has an equestrian centre, offering lessons and treks, which sounds good given the terrain.

It is, in all, a place designed to be hospitable and, bar the occasional detail, it really is.