We spent our first wedding anniversary wandering around Rome, eating pasta and drinking wine, and asking strangers to take our pictures in pre-selfie, pre-smart-phone days.
We spent our second wedding anniversary sitting in Shanahan’s, eating steak and drinking wine, and praying we hadn’t forgotten to bring our voucher.
Our third anniversary was different – it was the due date for our first baby, so we didn’t plan anything at all. In the end, she decided she wasn’t on for sharing her birthday with us and arrived a few weeks early, so we spent our anniversary on the couch, eating cake and drinking hot chocolate, in between feeds.
From then on, each anniversary was very like the third and nothing at all like the first two. And we’ve only gone away once since (Lisbon for our tenth anniversary) so when we were offered the opportunity to stay in Bloomfield House Hotel on what happened to be our thirteenth anniversary, I jumped at the chance. A hotel stay, a break from cooking and chores, exploring somewhere new, dinner in a restaurant – what more could we want? The only difference really from that first trip to Rome – apart from the sun – was that we’d have three kids in tow (and a bit more packing to do).
The Day Before
So on paper, it sounded great. But when we arrived Friday evening in pouring rain and checked the forecast, it started to feel like a mistake. Hotels are great, and inter-connecting rooms are especially great, but what would we do with five of us trapped indoors for the whole weekend? My anniversary plans were starting to look decidedly damp.
With rain pelting against the windows, and everyone tired after a week of school, I went for the most sensible option – I switched on the TV for the kids, took out a magazine for me, and my husband went in to Mullingar town to buy all the things we’d forgotten to pack. The kids were delighted to have their own room with its own TV, and gently but firmly closed the door between our adjoining rooms, so I lay on the bed and read my magazine and wondered if perhaps the rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
When my husband came back, I went downstairs for a food recce. We could eat in the restaurant or the bar, I was told, and when I asked which was better with kids, I was told both are very family-friendly. Nevertheless, I figured with Friday tiredness at play, we’d be safer in the more informal bar. There’s an extensive kids’ menu with something to keep everyone happy, and though my husband and I might have preferred the restaurant menu, not having to worry about noise and spills trumps food options every time now. After dinner, we went back to the rooms and got everyone ready for bed – a low-key but welcome end to the start of our mini-break.
The Day Of
On Saturday morning, the day of our anniversary, I was woken at an ungodly hour by rain lashing against the window and a small boy asking to turn on the TV. I admit I was starting to hanker after Rome at that point. But good things were still to come – firstly in the shape of the breakfast buffet. My kids think breakfast buffets are the most amazing invention of all time, and the novelty of going up as often as you like has not worn off. The breakfast food was very good (I’m not really a buffet fan, but I liked it a lot) and once they’d eaten every last Coco Pop and sausage in the place, we headed back to get ready for a swim.
The leisure centre is in a newer part of the hotel and it’s really lovely – the changing rooms are spacious and well laid out and the pool was warmer than most – a big plus for chilly parents. The kids loved it – their favourite thing about the hotel they said afterwards (as well as the Coco Pops and sausages of course).
I was starting to feel claustrophobic though – we’d been indoors for about 20 hours at that point and no matter how nice a hotel is, there comes a time when you need air. So we went online and booked tickets for Belvedere House and Gardens which is a few minutes away by car (you don’t have to buy tickets online but there’s a discount if you do – we paid €22.50 for a family of five).
The sky was still heavy and grey but we put rain coats on and drove the short distance to Belvedere House. First stop was coffee and cake – an alternative to lunch since breakfast was so huge. The cake was FANTASTIC. And I’m very fussy about the cake. Big thumbs up all round for cheese cake, chocolate cake, caramel cake, and a donut that the small boy inhaled while I was still taking photos of my coffee.
The girls and I had a look in the gift shop while the smallest made friends with some other kids and played with toys, and we spent a good hour there before deciding we’d better check out the gardens.
Outside, the kids played in the playground, then we walked over to check out the Jealous Wall and read the great story behind it (an affair, sibling rivalry, and a blocked view, all dealt with by a giant wall). We checked out the house next – Georgian rooms restored and maintained, with lots of history and anecdotes to read on the walls.
After that we walked down to Lough Ennell – the kids went on the zip line (I took a turn too) and then they worked on their stone skimming while I took four thousand photos.
And the sun came out just then and transformed everything with perfect timing. I used to come to Lough Ennell as a child – when we were living in Tullamore, and later when visiting cousins in Longford and Westmeath. I remember having picnics in long grass and paddling in the lake, and of course back then the sun always shone, as it did in all our childhood summers.
It was hard to tear ourselves away, but we still had a fairy garden and another playground to visit, and the all-important anniversary photo to take – no selfie stick or passing tourist required.
It was after six by the time we got back to the hotel and although we’d planned to eat out somewhere, the easiest option was to go for the hotel bar again. There is a kids’ club but we decided against it, and went back to the room to watch X-Factor instead. We don’t even watch X-Factor, but it seemed like a thing to do when you’re on a mini-break in a hotel. My resourceful husband had brought wine and cheese, and the hotel had kindly left us prosecco and chocolate, so we had an anniversary feast after the kids went to sleep. It wasn’t a Roman Holiday, but it was perfect.
Bloomfield isn’t like that fancy glass and chrome hotel you stayed in with work that time, nor is it the country house with the individually decorated bedrooms. It’s something in the middle – not new, not old, not shiny, not vintage. But it’s extremely family-friendly, and staff were incredibly helpful at every turn. I never felt I needed to shush the kids or slow them down or worry about them doing (many, many) cartwheels in the corridor. The kids’ menu is long, the pool is fabulous, and the overall feel is friendly, cosy, and most importantly, easy. In a beautiful lakeside setting, it’s a perfect spot for a trip with kids, especially if you’re looking for a relaxing, easy weekend getting away from it all.
For me, the highlight of our weekend was our trip to Belvedere House and Lough Ennell and our anniversary feast. The highlight for the kids was the pool, the Coco Pops, and of course the sausages – apologies to anyone who missed out that morning because my kids ate everything in the place.
We were guests of Bloomfield House Hotel for the purposes of this review but all opinions are my own. The 4 star Bloomfield House Hotel, Leisure Club and Spa is located in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, overlooking Lough Ennell. It has family rooms from €99 per night midweek/ €139 at the weekend.