Anytime I tell people about my trip to Ireland, the first thing I say is that Ireland a magical place. Once you pass the cities and drive the countryside on those tiny roads, it’s all rolling green hills dotted with sheep, old stone cottages surrounded by equally ancient stone walls, and endless magnificent vistas. It really is kind of like a place stopped in time, a bit like Lord of the Rings, but more like the scene of every fairytale I’ve ever read.
Capping off our fairytale trip was a three-night stay at the magnificent five-star Ashford Castle just north of Galway on Ireland’s west side. Set on 350 perfectly-manicured acres on the shores of Lough Corrib, the castle dates back to 1228 and was once home to the famous Guinness family. The hotel has numerous awards and accolades, including being Voted No. 1 Best Resort Hotel in the United Kingdom and Ireland by Travel + Leisure ‘World’s Best’ Awards for 2016. And when you visit, you’ll see why: guests staying at the hotel are treated like VIPs from the moment they drive up to the moat gate. It truly is Irish hospitality on a grand scale.
There is so much to see just in the castle itself, and there are a ton of activities to enjoy that three days didn’t seem like enough time. There were only two things I really wanted to do when I got to Ashford Castle: fly a hawk on a “hawk walk” at at the oldest established Falconry School in Ireland, and spend some time at the brand new, state-of-the-art spa.
The spa was completely renovated a couple of years ago, and now features a striking bronze conservatory with uninterrupted views stretching across Lough Corrib. The centerpiece of the conservatory is a mesmerising Tree of Life mural stretching the length of the relaxation pool. Last year, the spa was awarded Ireland’s Best Hotel Spa 2016 at the World Spa Awards.
Everything in the spa is outfitted luxuriously, with polished fixtures and stone throughout. Even the reception desk is inlaid with shell mosaic, like the mural in the conservatory. Facilities include five treatment rooms, a Hammam, steam room, nail station, fitness center and a terrace area with views over the tranquil waters of one of Ireland’s largest lakes. The Fitness Centre offers wellness innovation PureFlow™ technology, the first of its kind in Ireland. PureFlow™ sessions are designed to combat fatigue and improve endurance, performance and recovery.
The conservatory is a gorgeous sanctuary of calm and serenity, and the relaxation pool looked lovely. Unfortunately I didn’t try it. The polite but stern older Irish lady at the front desk was very insistent that everyone wear a swimming cap in the pool and I wasn’t that desperate to go for a swim or interested in buying a swimming cap. So I simply enjoyed the loungers and stared at the Tree of Life mural for a while.
Otherwise the spa is fairly small and on the lower level of the castle, so it has a bit of a basement feel to it. We tried both the Hammam, steam room, and communal showers. Since the spa wasn’t busy at all when we visited, we had the facilities to ourselves. When not in use for treatments, you can sit on stone benches in the Hammam. It’s warm like the steam room but not steamy. The steam room is small, but comfy enough for two people to enjoy. After getting warm in these two rooms, we used the luxurious communal showers to rinse off before our treatments.
Massage & Body Treatments
I wanted to try a signature treatment at the castle spa, and the Ashford Castle Ritual (75 minutes, €155) seemed like that was it. This ritual allows you to experience a combination of five specialized treatments offered at The Spa at Ashford Castle.
This relaxing, blissful head-to-toe treatment began with a brief dry brush exfoliation and then moved to a back massage using warm organic body oil. I was a little surprised by the dry brush as it was never mentioned, but not so surprised that it put me off because I am a fan of a good, gentle body exfoliation of any kind. The back massage was straightforward but even though I indicated I liked firm pressure, the therapist didn’t go as deeply as I would have liked. The organic body oil was really nice and I’m pretty certain that everything used during this treatment was from the Voya line. The therapist mentioned that the new owners of the hotel and spa really liked Voya and made sure they were heavily incorporated into their treatments. I think the body oil was the same seaweed-based Voya Angelicus Serratus that was used on me at Monart a few days prior. At any rate, even though this was an hour and a half treatment, the massage portion felt short and not as therapeutic as I would have liked. It was very relaxing though, which was fine since I was on vacation to rest, relax and recuperate.
The back massage was followed by a “nourishing dual action hair mask”, which my therapist said was like a leave-in conditioner that smoothes and softens the hair. I have a lot of hair and she really worked it in there. I was instructed to leave it in as long as possible and then shampoo it out. When that was worked in thoroughly to all my hair, she moved onto the facial.
As you may have seen from some of my other reviews, I’m always a bit leery of facials because I break out easily. I made sure to go over this with the therapist and she assured me that their line of Voya organic facial products wouldn’t irritate my skin. The purpose of this mini-facial was to add an immediate glow to your skin, and then brighten the eye area with the application of laminaria eye compresses. I have to admit I liked smell and the feel of the Voya facial line and I think that she used the products that were appropriate for my skin type. Although they weren’t immediately irritating, I did have a minor breakout but I’m not 100% certain it was from the facial as I tend to break out a bit when I’m travelling. I don’t know if I had an immediate glow, but my skin felt smooth and looked brighter after the treatment. She skipped the laminaria eye compress — after admiring my lashes and then asking me if I wanted to put heavy compresses on them, I opted out of the compress this time as I had had enough of estheticians pressing on my pricey lashes.
After the facial she moved onto an “Indian Head massage”, which was supposed to release upper body tension by concentrating on the shoulders, neck and head, “drawing on ancient pressure and manipulation techniques to relax and rejuvenate.” The brochure states that this massage initiates a healing process within the whole body and restores natural energy. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? This is what I always hope for in a head/scalp massage, and I’m still on a quest to find the best scalp massage on the planet. Well, this scalp massage was relaxing but it wasn’t as therapeutic as billed or as I had hoped for. She even skipped the entire back of my head, down near the base my skull near the cervical spine, which is the part that needs the most attention, especially when travelling. So, the part that was the most tense was completely ignored.
This ritual closed with “the restorative ancient art of pressure points performed on the feet.” Although they wouldn’t say “reflexology”, it was reflexology-lite. It was not as deep as regular reflexology, nor was it as long. It was enough to qualify as a foot massage and to fill the “head-to-toe” treatment requirement. Normally, traditional (real) reflexology is a bit too much for me to handle, so this was actually more relaxing for me than the traditional version. I knew the treatment was over after she wiped all the oil off my feet with hot towels.
Service in the spa, as it was elsewhere in the castle, was in line with a five-star resort. The older lady at the front desk of the spa, who had the authoritarian air of a manager, was a bit intense and on the verge of headmaster stern. After she told us what we could and could not do in the spa, she’d ask us in a tone that wasn’t really asking us, “Is that alright?” For instance, she told us if we wanted to use the spa pool, that we’d have to wear a swimming cap (which of course were for sale for €5) — anyone and everyone using the pool must wear a swimming cap, no exceptions. Then she said, “Is that alright?” Like we had a choice? Well, we weren’t alright with it and I didn’t want to pay five euro for a cap that probably wouldn’t fit over my hair anyway so guess what, we didn’t use the pool.
Besides being efficiently told what we were able to do and where to go by the stern lady, service elsewhere in the spa was gracious and kind. All the staff was more than willing to lead us to where we wanted to go and help us out in other ways. Service from the therapists was also very kind, gentle and nurturing. Everyone wanted to make sure our experience at the castle was one we would remember fondly, and would hopefully make us repeat guests.
If you are in County Mayo or staying at Ashford Castle, visit the spa. Prices are surprisingly reasonable for the level of luxury that surrounds you. There are only a few places where you can hang out and relax, but those few places are luxuriously outfitted and a serene sanctuary nonetheless. And be sure to bring a swimming cap if you want to use the pool!
- Steam Room
- Indoor Pool and Conservatory Lounge
- Nail Station
- Fitness Center
$$$$ – Pricey
The Spa at Ashford Castle is located on the lower level of Ashford Castle.
Cong, County Mayo
Ireland F31 CA48
HOURS OF OPERATION
The Relaxation Pool and Fitness Centre are open every day from 7:00am to 8:00pm. Spa Treatments are from 9:00am – 7:00pm. Children Relaxation Pool Access Times: 8:00am – 11:00am and 6:00pm – 8:00pm.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
You can call the spa from North America by dialing 011 353 94 954 6003 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. When you book a hotel stay and spa package, the hotel will contact you via email to book your treatments so you don’t have to call.