The mighty Shannon flows majestically through the heart of Athlone, yet for years it seemed as if the town was happy to turn its back on one of Europe's great waterways. That trend has been well and truly reversed and there is a real buzz of regeneration. The area around Athlone Castle has been transformed into a veritable "Left Bank" with the bright new Luan Gallery attracting culture vultures from all over Ireland. On both sides of the Shannon, new restaurants and stylishly modern architecture have sprung up on streets lined with 200-year-old buildings that have been given some imaginative repurposing alongside one of Ireland's most architecturally dazzling churches. Once upon a time, tourists were few and far between in what was cuttingly termed the "dead center" of Ireland, but the renaissance has made Athlone an increasingly attractive destination.