Last year I really wanted to go somewhere warm and tropical for our Spring Break. I was hoping Bora Bora or Hawaii but life at the time just didn’t allow us to go too far from home or for too long. So I shifted gears entirely and focused on Europe or the UK and abandoned any thoughts of a tropical paradise. The heat and humidity I sat in would have to be inside a spa, so a spa vacation it was. I had seen the Monart destination spa online years before and I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, so I actually booked our trip around going to Monart after doing a bit of research.
Located in Enniscorthy, in County Wexford Ireland, Monart is a five-star adults-only destination spa, the only one of its kind in the country. If you’ve not been to a destination spa or heard of it before, this is the kind of place that spa vacations are built around: they’re all-inclusive resorts with the spa at its center, its heart, so to speak. These are spas dedicated to health and wellness, and often have detox programs or other guided multi-day programs that are geared to put you on a path to mind-body wellness.
Housed in the former Jameson whiskey family estate known as the Still, this 18th Century building has been expanded and renovated into a luxurious retreat. When I say the hotel and spa are luxurious, I don’t mean it in the indulgent or opulent sense — Monart is a classy place, and that elegant simplicity permeates throughout. The hotel reception is situated in the old 18th Century part of the estate, and long glass corridors connect to the new, state-of-the-art spa.
After a friendly check-in, a Monart staff member escorts you to your room and gives you the low-down on your spa journey and stay. We walked by the dining areas and she showed us which ones were for breakfast, lunch and snacks where we could eat dressed in our robes and slippers, and which one was for a more formal dinner where we had to make a reservation and wear actual clothes in order to get served.
Once in our rooms, she showed us our robes and slippers — our “uniforms” for our stay, as she liked to call them — and gave us a few more tips before graciously letting us get down to the serious business of heading to the spa.
If the spa is the heart of the resort, then Monart’s Thermal Suite is the heart of the spa. This huge co-ed spa facility contains 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.
I tried them all, of course so I could tell you all about them. I’m a huge sauna fan, so I naturally went to those first. There are so many options to choose from: the caldarium, sanarium, traditional Finnish sauna and outdoor log cabin sauna are all in the sauna family of facilities and I entered those according to how much time I wanted to spend in the heat and how busy they were. The traditional Finnish sauna and the Sanarium were the hottest. The caldarium was less hot and had windows that looked out to the property’s waterfall and stream, so that was always pretty busy. The outdoor log cabin sauna was smaller than the other saunas and was jam packed on the Sunday we were there. I ventured in anyway and sat houlder-to-sweaty-shoulder with about 15 other sauna lovers. This would not be a good scenario if you are claustrophobic in any way. I skipped the ice bucket shower on my body, opting just for a cold splash on my legs and feet, because I wasn’t in the mood for that kind of extreme shock of cold on my upper body.
The entire spa was very busy on the Sunday we visited, and almost every area was full every time I went to enter it. Monart is a popular place for locals to visit as well, as anyone can visit the facilities as a day spa visitor. I went into the infra-red light room a couple of times before I was able to find a free seat. This room has maybe 10 wooden seats centered around the infra-red heat column, and is designed to heat your muscles using infra-red light instead of heat waves for a more direct heat penetration. It gets pretty warm quickly, so many people don’t sit in there longer than 10 minutes at a time. I like infra-red saunas, and I thought this one was pretty good.
I think the Kneippe “Cure Pool” was the hot tub. It’s situated near the heated benches and footbaths, which are all designed to get you started on your spa visit. While I didn’t bother with the footbaths and benches (it seemed to be popular with the older folks) I sat in the Cure Pool for a minute or so while waiting for a seat in the infra-red sauna room. I’m sure they meant “cure” as in “take the cure” — an old expression that covered the belief that sitting in hot mineral water was therapeutic — and while the water was hot I don’t think it was mineral spring or salt water of any kind, just the plain old-fashioned chlorinated kind, so I didn’t want to sit in there for very long.
The hydrotherapy pool was quite lovely though, and at 592 sq.ft, also massive. This long pool has nine different water jet stations to “massage and manipulate the major muscle groups,” which in turn ease tension and stress. I found the jets to be really strong and after a while I just floated to an area where there weren’t any so I could just float without being massaged and manipulated.
There are a few different areas to relax and all areas of the spa seem to be designated quiet areas so you can unwind in peaceful silence, or at least, very near silence. The hydrotherapy pool has a few loungers facing the floor-to-ceiling windows, there are some plush chairs near the spa reception to sit and wait, but the jewel of the relaxation areas is the main waiting room that has loungers and beautiful circular pods with individual lounge seats built into the wall.
It’s here that I enjoyed some time to get centered before my treatments. This room also looks out onto the lovely grounds, so you can stare off into nature while meditating or sipping some of the tea they offer.
While I wanted to book several treatments and longer massages, the Monart doesn’t have any massages longer than one hour, and will not book more than one massage per day. The rep told me that “it wasn’t good for me” since massages are detoxifying. In my 20+ years of getting therapeutic massages, that was the first time I’ve ever heard that, and the first time I was ever unable to book a massage longer than an hour under that kind of reasoning.
I think that the Monart tells their guests this because their actual reasoning is more of a business strategy: perhaps they simply cannot have guests booking extended treatments, back-to-back, because their resources are already stretched to provide 5-star destination spa service for the amount of guests required in order to make this business profitable. Maybe there just aren’t enough experienced, top-quality therapists to go around in Ireland.
At any rate, I booked the 60-minute full-body VOYA massage (60 minutes, €90) — this organic “aroma massage” has stress relieving elements to “combat the effects of tired bodies.” Seaweed extracts from VOYA signature seaweed Fucus Serratus purportedly help skin tone and elasticity, renew damaged skin cells, help against signs of ageing. I just wanted to book a signature massage treatment that used some form of aromatherapy to help me relax and combat jet lag.
Although the spa’s front desk made a big deal about us filling out the intake form and questionnaire, the therapists clearly never read them. I answered all of their questions regarding pressure, allergies and injuries, but the therapist still asked me all the same questions, taking up valuable treatment time. Even though I asked for a firm to medium-pressure massage, she seemed a bit timid and conservative with her touch. Maybe this massage was designed to be more relaxing than therapeutic but then why bother asking me what pressure I want if you are going to give me light pressure anyway?
Other than the pressure issue, the massage therapist seemed well-trained but maybe not as experienced as I thought she would be for a 5-star destination spa. The treatment itself was nice but it wasn’t really memorable or exceptional. I did come out relaxed and mellow, so in that sense the treatment worked well.
The treatment tables at Monart were very comfy and wide, and they articulated so that you could end the treatment sitting up on an incline, or have your knees elevated instead of using a bolster. Definitely some nicer spa equipment at Monart.
The Voya massage oil used during this signature treatment was lovely — it was hydrating without being greasy and had a soft citrusy scent. Voya is an Irish brand that centers around hand-harvested Irish seaweed, and all the spas I went to in Ireland used this line almost exclusively, at least, at the time.
Because I wasn’t able to book another massage on the same day, I booked a body treatment that included a head massage so I got what I wanted anyway. The Moor Mud Floatation (60 minutes, €90) was advertised as a “stimulating and nourishing treatment ideal for promoting relaxation, reducing stress, easing muscle strain, and detoxifying.”
This was a more memorable and interesting experience than the Voya signature massage. I saw the description on the brochure but didn’t quite grasp the concept until the therapist explained it to me. A “dry float” takes place on a treatment table that starts out like a regular table but then inflates with water like a water bed to suspend you in weightlessness. She told me (like the brochure) that in terms of rest, 30 minutes suspended on a dry float bed was equivalent to two hours of rest in a regular bed. Not sure how they came up with that, or how sound that is scientifically, but it was definitely relaxing and I think I may have dozed off as well. And just like a water bed, there are no pressure points to make your hips, spine or neck achy and it really does simulate weightlessness.
The treatment used Pevonia’s aromatic moor mud which the therapist told me was from Canada but Pevonia says is mostly sourced from Europe now. They claim Moor Mud has been used in spas all over Europe for natural and preventive medicine because of its curative properties, particularly in the fields of rheumatology. Pevonia has designed treatments using Aromatic Moor mud for aches and pains, sports injuries and rheumatic aches, and to detoxify of the body. Pevonia states that its rich black mud contains minerals, amino acids, phyto-hormones, vitamins, enzymes, natural antibiotics, humic acid, and salicylic acid.
Interestingly there was also Pine oil in the mud, which Pevonia says is stimulating and healing. It certainly was stimulating — it made my skin feel tingly and warm and at the start I worried that it was going to escalate to a burning sensation. Thankfully it didn’t get to that point but afterwards my skin was red and a little angry, which very rarely happens to me.
So the treatment started with the therapist asking me to sit up for a minute while she applied mud to my back. It could have been warmer, as the first application was a little cold and shocking after laying on a warm table. After I laid down again, she applied the mud to the rest of my body. She asked if I wanted my abdomen treated — I said yes, and she smoothed mud there and to my chest as well. I was a little surprised by that, but not bothered by it. Things are done a little differently in European spas and I have come to expect that.
When she was done with the mud, she covered me in plastic and space blankets (those foil/emergency blanket-looking things) and started in on the short head and scalp massage. It was a relaxing scalp massage, though I have received much better at other spas. I wished she had done more, and applied deeper pressure.
After that, she pressed a button and warm water filled up the table enabling me to float. She then left me to float and relax for about 15-20 minutes. I am pretty sure I dozed off, or at least got into a deeply meditative state from being warm and weightless.
When float time was done, she came in and started a warm shower for me, which thankfully, was just steps away from the table. If you can’t get rinsed off with a Vichy shower, this is the next best thing. I was given a washcloth and body wash but this stuff was challenging to take off. I ended up missing a few spots and had to get some help later on with the harder-to-reach spots which would not come off with just water and body wash. Rinsing off was the end of the treatment. She left me with some moisturizer to apply on my own if I wished.
Even though my skin was slightly irritated, it subsided in a couple of hours and way later it was very soft and smooth. Overall I really enjoyed this treatment and was totally spacey when I came out of it, so I guess it was a success.
At Monart, service was always relaxed, friendly, and competent. They seemed genuine about trying to help you feel comfortable and relaxed, and always had a smile to go along with their Irish warmth. I thought that the therapists could have had a little bit more skill (and taken some time to actually read the intake forms) but other than that, their service was excellent.
Even though it’s located out in the Irish countryside in the middle of nowhere, Monart is impressive — striking, even. It’s a welcome combination of affordable and luxurious, and everything from the food to the treatments had an impressive level of quality for what you pay. There’s no way you could get this level of quality at a five-star spa, hotel or restaurant in Dublin or London at these prices, so when you visit Monart you really are getting a fantastic deal. Be prepared to drive a while (from Dublin) and use Google maps to get to the Still in Enniscorthy, but it’s worth the journey through the lush Irish countryside on little winding roads for the exceptional spa time in return.
- Kneippe “Cure Pool”
- experience showers
- salt grotto
- infra-red light room
- aromatic steam room
- traditional Finnish sauna
- outdoor log cabin sauna with an ice bucket shower
- hydrotherapy pool
- quiet rooms
- Restaurant, café, juice bar
- Fitness center
- Detox programs
$$$ – Pricey
Monart Destination Spa is located in the Still
Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford
HOURS OF OPERATION
The spa is open 7 days a week from 8:00am to 7:00pm.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
I had a bit of a time trying to book my appointments at Monart. You should try to book your appointments months in advance as this is a hotel spa and everyone books their treatments at the same time they book their hotel stay. Since my dates were flexible, I called first to make sure the spa had openings on the days we were thinking of booking, and then I booked the hotel rooms. To make an appointment you can call 011 353 53 92 38999 from North America (remember to call between 8am and 7pm GMT) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your requests.