Lolloping along the soft edge of the road is a pony, the color of honey. It’s being piloted—rather expertly—by a tiny girl, perhaps 7 or 8, whose ebony colored hair bounces against her shoulders in rhythm with the pony’s long, swishing tail. She’s riding bareback, one small hand wrapped securely around a hunk of the pony’s thick mane. With the other, she gives a jaunty wave as I pass, and I fall instantly and completely in love with her, the pony, and this beautiful country.
Ireland is full of moments like that, ones that persist even after you’ve run out of words that mean “green.” All throughout this friendly island, world-class destination spas are nestled among the lush countryside, interspersed with ancient healing wells, mystical standing stones, and fascinating historic sites.
Deep spiritual significance has long been conferred by Celtic (and other) traditions upon geographical sites with springs, wells, streams, and lakes, illustrating the global historical connection between water, healing, and the sacred. In Irish mythology and many of the country’s pagan traditions, water was a vital element in sacred rites and ceremonies—and some sources estimate that over 3,000 holy wells and springs can be found here. Sites include Doon Well near Kilmacrennan in County Donegal, Tobair na Glóire near Lismore, and St. Brendan’s Well and its seaside altar in Dingle, County Kerry.
Some of the mysterious standing stones, cairns, and circles of stones found throughout the countryside and along the coasts—many of them megalithic in their proportions—date back thousands of years. Historians and archaeologists continue to debate their absolute meaning and purpose, but it seems clear that many of them were deliberately moved or erected to designate a place of spiritual significance. The prehistoric stone circle overlooking the coast near Dooncarton, for instance, is believed to have been a place of worship. Other sites include Ardgroom in County Cork, and the Brownshill Dolmen, listed as a National Monument. These stones and their specific arrangements suggest, perhaps, how the early inhabitants of this lovely land expressed their understanding of the sacred. In some cases, stones—such as that of the Proleek Dolmen in the coastal village of Ballymascanlan—are surrounded by legends. A giant called Parrah Boug MacShagean is said to have placed the massive stones that make this ancient monument, known for the 46-ton capstone that rests on the surface of a trio of huge vertical rocks.
Unlike much of Europe, Ireland remained comparatively free of Roman exploration. Though that resulted in a lack of the Roman’s usual bequest of elaborate bathing temples, spas have definitely found their way into Ireland’s modern wellness culture. Scattered across the island, once-private estates, castles, and country houses have been transformed into spa havens that offer innovative therapies inspired by healing traditions from around the planet. Given their frequent proximity to ancient springs and holy wells, they might even be considered to be modern adaptations of that ancient connection between water and wellbeing.
Embark on your own Irish wellness expedition at the addresses below. And, for detailed help planning a trip to Ireland, visit Discover Ireland.
Monart Destination Spa
The Still, Enniscorthy, County Wexford
Over one hundred acres of private woodlands surround Monart’s 18th century manor house in southeast Ireland, about an hour and a half south of Dublin. If you can bear to leave the spa, you can hike, ride, fish, or play golf. The resort has excellent fitness facilities with state-of-the art equipment, and complimentary classes including stretching, aqua classes, and Swissball (large exercise balls). Multi-day themed spa getaways include weight loss, anti-aging, and detoxification. There’s a physical therapist on staff for more serious treatment requests, and a supervised cancer care program. The wide range of spa therapies feature Voya and Pevonia Botanica spa products. An extensive thermal area includes an indoor sauna, outdoor sauna log cabin, organic mud chamber, Scandinavian samarium/sauna, warm caldarium, Kneipp soaking pools, heated benches and footbaths, aromatherapy steam bath, salt grotto and hydrotherapy pool. Therapies include dry flotation (which suspends you in a watery envelope while keeping you from getting wet), organic seaweed wraps, and a decadent crème fraiche wrap with papaya and pineapple. Pregnancy therapies include a water lily float to relieve fatigue. Post-treatment, you can choose to relax in a dark room or light room. The light room features unique curved cubbyholes built into the walls for guests to relax in. The entrance to the spa is one of its most fascinating features, with an extensive, winding indoor corridor open to the area below that forces you to slow down as you approach the spa, and was designed to help you “unwind” as you enter the healing space.
Lyrath Estate & Spa Hotel
Dublin Road, County Kilkenny
Near Kilkenny City, the elegant, ivy-covered manor house of Lyrath Estate is sprawled across 170 acres of grounds ideal for walking, hiking, and horseback riding. Treatments at the property’s Oasis Spa are built around Lyrath’s concept of the Seven Pillars of Wellbeing, defined as Beauty, Harmony, Vitality, Aqua, Life-balance, Nature, and Nutrition. Products from Kerstin Florian, along with the Mediterranean-based Green Energy line of organic skincare products, are featured in treatments. Try the Sámi Zen treatment, a melding of ancient traditions and modern technology that includes scent, hydrotherapy, healing touch, and sound therapies designed to induce complete harmony between body, mind, and spirit. Besides the expected facials, massages, and nail care options, there’s also a Rasul mosaic steam chamber, where you can be covered in soothing layers of mineral-rich therapeutic muds, and relax while they work their magic on your skin and muscles. When you’re ready to rinse off, you’ll be doused with a warm rain shower while an ever-changing array of tinted lights twinkle over your head. The spa’s Relaxation Suite looks out over the estate’s landscaped parkland. Loungers are equipped with remote controls that activate self-massage features, and headphones that allow guests to drift away to their own choice of music. Unique treatments include Windsphere Massage, a form of Tibetan massage that focuses on rebalancing energy through the use of two wind-generating spheres that are directed at specific chakra points. Also nice: The 150-minute long Luxurious Chocolate and Cinnamon Body Sculpting Soufflé and Facial—a wrap and facial combo guaranteed to be calorie-free.
Aghadoe Heights Hotel & Spa
This five-star resort consistently garners top awards around the world for its accommodations, dining, and spa. Aghadoe’s location is one of the reasons—overlooking the Lakes of Killarney with views of the Paps Mountains, this area has long been one of Celtic spiritual significance. Guests can gaze out at Lough Lein, the “lake of learning,” a location mentioned throughout Irish mythology. The hotel and spa, however, are definitely set in the present. The ultra-modern, trendy lodgings include a spa of gorgeous proportions, noteworthy for being the first Aveda concept spa in Ireland. The product line has since expanded to include Biodroga, Futuresse, and Neom. There’s a full thermal suite, with hammam, rock sauna, aroma grotto, mist and deluge showers, warm laconium, and a stone cabin with aroma, light, and sound features. The signature Futuresse therapies include Touch of Lotus, a 90-minute wellness experience that begins with a lotus flower ceremony and includes a head and ear massage, starfruit facial peel, hand and arm exfoliation, lotus mask, and a lotus oil massage. Private yoga and Pilates classes are available, and the main relaxation area, with its wall of angled glass, features futuristic chaise lounges made of ceramics, with an undulating design that’s crazy comfortable.
Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare
There are thousands of castles in Ireland, but Dromoland may well become your favorite, thanks in large part to the dreamy spa. Located a short, 15-minute drive from the airport in Shannon on Ireland’s west coast, the 16th century Renaissance structure dates back to 1543, when it was the royal seat of the O’Brien clan—and still has corridors and halls lined with medieval armor. Transformed in 1962 into a luxury hotel, it only recently added a spa. Therapies in the flowery, candlelit space are built around The Anne Semonin Treatment Collection, and the organic, all-Irish Voya line. Locally-themed spa choices include the Gaelic Body Experience, an hour and a half of exfoliation and hydrating massage, and the Fig Leaf Therapy, which begins with an aromatic fig body scrub, followed by a fig and seaweed body wrap, and a full-body massage. The Mermaid’s Purse includes a dry hand mitt body exfoliation, organic seaweed wrap, and a scalp massage. You can keep the mermaid vibe going by heading for the pool in the spa’s tranquil wood and stone water space, which also offers self-massage water features. After dinner, wander the castle’s nooks and crannies, and try to decide who’s featured in all those stern looking portraits in the halls, and whether or not a great massage would perhaps have made them look a little less serious.
Mount Juliet Conrad
Thomastown, County Kilkenny
Located on the banks of the River Nore, Mount Juliet Conrad was originally two separate estates, Walton's Grove and Ballylinch. Once combined, the lush, green domain and its Georgian manor house was named by the resident—the first Earl of Carrick—in honor of his wife. There are 32 bedrooms at Mount Juliet House, and many of the individually designed rooms have views over the river and the nearby paddocks of the famous Ballylinch Stud, which has produced an impressive number of racing champions. There’s an equestrian center on site, and miles of riding trails. You can take a riding or tennis lesson, try your hand at archery, croquet or snooker, or enjoy the surrounding countryside from the seat of a bicycle or on foot. The spa is elegant and peaceful, with a full service gym, enormous pool, and a progressive selection of treatments on the menu that include a Dead Sea Discovery Flotation Room, Reiki, stone therapies, and the newly offered Softime Float Experience—a floating waterbed which is heated with infrared emissions and stimulated to resonate with a mild, vibrating pulse that helps achieve deep relaxation. Product lines include E-SPA and SpaFind natural mineral products.
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