When March rolls around, inevitably many of us start getting in an Irish kind of mood — the shamrock shakes and corned beef and cabbage kind of mood, some fall into that green beer mood, others long to go to the Emerald Isle to get that first-hand look at what it means to be Irish.
If you’re a wanderer like me who loves to explore new places and try new food, the thought of St. Patrick’s Day makes me want to go to Ireland. I had the opportunity to visit last year just after St. Paddy’s Day. So while I may have missed out on all the green insanity, I didn’t miss anything else. My first priority was to spa. Food and exploring were tied for second on the priority list.
Fancy going to Ireland and doing some serious relaxation? Here are some tips and recommendations for spa-going in Ireland and picking up a few native products while you’re spahing in this magical place.
Try the Seaweed
Did you know that seaweed baths are indigenous to Ireland? Popular in the country since the early 1900s, the Irish have been bathing in seaweed mostly to treat rheumatism and arthritis, soothe fatigue and tension, increase circulation and deeply moisturize dry skin caused by harsh weather. Seaweed baths are fairly ordinary baths, but the hot water is seawater pumped in from the unpolluted waters of the Atlantic filled with wild organic seaweed such as Fucus serratus.
Seaweeds, which are a type of algae, contain strong antioxidants, countless minerals, vitamins and beneficial ingredients in high concentrations to help protect your skin against free radicals, and can aid in treating a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema and acne.
Where to go: for a very reasonable €28 (one person, 50 mins) try the VOYA Seaweed baths, in the beautiful Irish coastal village of Strandhill, in County Sligo. It includes a steam room session to prepare your skin for all that lovely mineral absorption. There’s also the Connemara Seaweed Baths in County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, that offers a single one hour bath for an equally reasonable €25 (currently about $26 USD).
Take some home: VOYA pretty much has the Irish seaweed thing all wrapped up with its exquisite line of genuinely organic seaweed-based skincare and cosmetic products. I’ve tried their Softly Does It body moisturizer ($52, 200ml) on my dry skin and my skin was still super soft and well-hydrated 24 hours later. You can try to replicate the seaweed bath experience at home with VOYA’s Lazy Days seaweed bath ($32, 400g) which uses the same organic seaweed as their bath spa in Strandhill.
Visit a Castle
Some castles in Europe just look like old ruins, but the ones I visited in Ireland were magical places. Granted, the ones I visited had spas in them, so they were a little more fancy than most of the castles that are sprinkled across Ireland’s lush, green countryside.
Castle spas are definitely an indulgence and if you are fortunate enough to be able to visit one, book an appointment and soak it in for a day. The castle spas in Ireland are in super luxe, upscale hotels. They tend to have the best products, great service and therapists that are generally trained well.
Where to go: hands-down, go to Ashford Castle in County Mayo if you are able. Voted Ireland’s Best Hotel Spa 2016 at the World Spa Awards, the spa at Ashford Castle has a fairytale-like feel to it. It’s not the biggest spa in the world, but what’s there is lush, luxe and serene. We’ll publish our full spa review of this spa in the coming weeks. Another gorgeous castle to consider is Castlemartyr Resort in County Cork. The Spa at Castlemartyr Resort featuring ESPA is a 24,400-square foot Wellness, Spa and Fitness center, located in the south west Irish countryside.
Take something home: The Spa at Ashford carries a couple of great products that you can’t easily get in North America. Try the Moisturizing Rose Quartz Body Oil by B|Africa, made from a 100% natural potent blend of African plant extracts and contains Baobab Oil, Monoi de Tahiti, Lavender, Jasmine, and Vitamin E. Castlemartyr is all about ESPA products but the one line they carry that we like is the Petalwell line of aromatherapy products. While we can’t recommend their diffuser (it’s way too pricey) we’re intrigued by the new aromatherapy scarves they launched last year. We’re not sure what makes them different from regular scarves, but the germaphobes in us love the fact that we can spritz some sweet-smelling essential oils on these fabrics, and pop them around our necks for the long trans-Atlantic flight home.
Go on a Spa Holiday
I found a very unique spa in Ireland, one where you can stay the night (or several), wake up and go to breakfast in your robe, eat super healthy food that’s tasty too, and then meander over to the spa with your BFF for some restorative down time. This dreamy place is the Monart Destination Spa, located in county Wexford, about an hour and a half drive south from Dublin. So not only can you go to breakfast in your robe and slippers, but you can do dinner like that too, well, at least in the casual dining room. It’s this comfy atmosphere and dedication to serious relaxation that drew me to this five-star adults-only destination spa.
The heart of the Monart spa is their “thermal suite”, which is a huge co-ed spa facility containing several heated benches and footbaths, a Kneippe “Cure Pool”, experience showers, salt grotto, caldarium (like a sauna but not as hot), an infra-red light room, a sanarium (another sauna-like room), an aromatic steam room, traditional Finnish sauna, an outdoor log cabin sauna with an ice bucket shower, a hydrotherapy pool and beautiful grounds to wander or relax in. Our full review will also be published this month.
When to go: The garden and grounds of Monart are really lovely and are nice to walk around. You’ll want to enjoy those when it’s not freezing cold outside (since you’ll be in a robe) so it’s best to head to Monart when the weather is decent, like late Spring and throughout the summer. We visited in April. The weather was a bit cold, grey and rainy when we were there but cleared up and turned super nice when we left.
Take something home: The spa has a decently-sized retail section and their featured brand is Pevonia Botanica. If they still carry it, I would recommend treating yourself to VOYA’s Organic Voyager Travel Set ($72.00, 75ml) which includes travel-sized bottles of Squeaky Clean Body Wash, Softly Does It Body Moisturiser, Silky By Nature Organic Shampoo and Forget Me Knot Conditioner.
Tips on Spa-Going in Ireland
- Like in the rest of Europe, there are times you’ll find yourself in a crowd and people don’t care too much about personal space. It happens when people live in densely-populated areas. When I was at Monart, it was super busy and every area was jam-packed. So, introverts: prepare yourself for the sensory-overload of being in a busy European spa and maintain your cool, calm, collected self when someone sits so close to you that their sweaty arms are touching yours.
- Get used to a difference in therapist quality from North America. I’m not sure what it was, maybe there’s a difference in training or education, but all the the therapists I had in Ireland were not as good as what I have at home. That’s not to say they were bad but if you are picky, request the best therapist available when you book your appointments, and be specific about your needs.
- Be open to the “water cures.” Traditional water therapies or “taking the cures” as they like to call them are big in Europe because they love their baths. From the seaweed baths to geothermal springs, there will be an endless array of water therapies for you to try and you should try the specialty of the area you’re visiting. After all, the locals have been doing it for hundreds of years so there must be something to it!
- There are a couple of cardinal rules when it comes to European bathing (which includes the sauna): #1: be quiet and #2: Soap and scrub everything before entering a communal pool or steam room. Europeans are quite serious about these two rules, so adhere to them!
- Many areas of Europe are OK with nudity, and in some places it’s expected you’ll be sitting around in the buff, even in co-ed spaces. In Ireland, not so much. They’re still on the UK side of conservatism for the most part, so bring your bathing suit to hang out in all co-ed areas of the spa. When it’s single sex, it’s usually fine to be naked.
- Although they allow it at many places (including Monart, which I couldn’t understand), please don’t smoke at the spa. It’s hard to get Europeans to quit the cancer sticks (at least now it’s only allowed outside) but that doesn’t mean smoking has any place at the spa. Let’s keep our sanctuary for health and wellness, healthy!