By Natalie McGuinness, guest writer for Unwind and let go.
The spa at Ashford Castle was reviewed by The Irish Times shortly before I visited, so my anticipation levels were raised based on the glowing feedback. The spa is a cleverly designed glass annex like an orangery for cultivating beauty and relaxation, tucked away in the west of Ireland. My first visit to the Spa was for an emergency file and paint.
On entering the Spa you can see the nail area straight ahead with reception on your right. I was warmly welcomed and offered a choice of a refreshing lemon or cucumber infused water. The treatment room has large wooden thrones set into the wall. The thrones have matching wooden tables covered with a fluffy towel for hand treatments – unusually there was no palm rest or direct lighting on the table. The recessed thrones are clever as they provide privacy and they also have ingenious inserts into the wall to hold your water or other small belongings. It is very on brand with Ashford Castle, but I’m not convinced how comfortable the chairs are for a full hour manicure. I was starting to wriggle with discomfort after 25 minutes.
The therapist was charming. She was friendly, but not too friendly, and worked hard to prep my poor nails before painting with gorgeous essie. This extra effort was certainly not part of the treatment, but much appreciated. Sadly, the nail varnish I picked proved to be a bit too popular! Half-way through the treatment the therapist struggled to scrap the gloopy bottom of the bottle. As a result the coverage was a little uneven and it was hard to get precise edges. The gap between my cuticles and the polish was wide enough to warrant a tannoy announcement. Despite the gap the shine was lovely and my nails appeared really glossy when finished. Afterwards I was shown to the relaxation area, which faces east to the river. It is a lovely calm space filled with delicious homemade treats like granola and sponge squares. I won’t embarrass myself by admitting how many I ate. For healthy people with will power there are nuts, protein balls, apples and more water. I didn’t see any hot beverage options which was surprising given the low temperatures outside, but these might have been available on request. The only small thing letting down an otherwise lovely relaxation area was a lack of magazines. Perhaps this was to encourage Zen, but one of my treats is flicking through a magazine and Golfers Digest just didn’t fit the brief. Overall it was a lovely experience for such a minor treatment, but next time I will pick a less popular colour.
Day two I returned to the Spa for an Elemis facial. As I was checking out of Ashford Castle after the treatment I went down in my robe, with my bags. The changing room isn’t really designed for much usage or luggage. There are two short rows of anorexic lockers, which only have enough room for a robe and a pair of shoes. Alternatively, you can drop the rest of your luggage to reception. Some of the lockers and seating are located directly in front of the door to reception, which can result in some guests getting a room with a view! The two shower rooms and loos are surprisingly spacious compared with the changing area and the room is well stocked with cotton wool, shower caps and Elemis products.
I was brought to the stunning pool area to complete my pre-treatment form. You could happilyspend your entire day in this room watching the clouds or looking at the exquisite designs and sculptures on the wall, while listening to the lap of the water. The pool is really only for dipping and has a number of seats and jets, so not an option for swimmers. It is deliciously child free in the afternoon. Dragging myself away from my pool side lounger I went for a quick steam to enhance my impending facial. The steam room is almost as stunning as the pool area. Hewn from stone with a wonderful full length window, balcony and fountain sink it was a real immersion experience.
It was such a wonderful experience that I almost missed my appointment time so do find some way to track time (no clocks or timers that I could see) or ask someone to come and get you. Again my Therapist was lovely and I was shown to a large double sized treatment room. Due to my notoriously indecisive nature combined with a wide choice it was a difficult to select one facial. Also, there was no reference guide or price list in the room and with a 30% difference in facial prices this could prove a costly selection. We eventually settled on one of the nourishing vitamin facials and I hopped up on the heated bed. On a cold day this was a glorious treat. The Therapist was superb and adapted the treatment to my needs and kindly offered a hand instead of a head massage. She also adapted two of the facials I struggled to choose between, which was excellent client service. Each stage of the treatment was explained and I was guided through the phases so I was completely comfortable and relaxed. The only missing element was that of smell – normally scented oils are used in the room or during the facial and I think this is a missed opportunity, both in the treatments and throughout the spa. It is only a small point, but the sense of smell has a powerful impact on mood and state. Afterwards I had the choice between the pool or relaxation rooms and I opted for the pool room for a short rest before leaving the spa in full bloom.
[Natalie is a late arrival to the world of beauty and spa treatments, but they are now an essential part of her battle against time and gravity].