travel review

Holidays in Ireland

What it’s like to stay in Monart, Ireland’s Only Destination Spa Hotel.

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Many Irish hotels have spas but there is only one destination Spa hotel in Ireland – Monart.

 

It was only when I was booking Monart that I realised the difference between the two. The only reason people go to Monart is for the spa experience, it’s not like there is an entertainment programme or a golf course on site. They don’t even allow kids! I think this is what makes Monart special. They are not trying to be all things to all men and cater for the masses. They are an adults-only luxury destination spa hotel and what you see is what you get.

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I travelled with my sister and my mother, a gift to my Mum for her 91st birthday. Let me start by saying none of us are big Spa fans, but we wanted a luxury hotel for a ‘girly night’. I asked a few people where they would recommend and Monart cropped up time and time again. It was important for us to find somewhere that my Mum could relax, without the need to go sightseeing in the local area. We wanted to check-in and stay put for 24 hours, which is exactly what we did.

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After a short 90 minute drive from Dublin, we arrived at an 18th century house which looked like a stately home. Initially, I thought we were in the wrong place. That notion quickly passed when we were greeted by a gentleman in a tailored suit, ‘Welcome to Monart – shall I park your car for you?’ – a nice first impression. The main Georgian house has two reception rooms decorated in traditional style. We later found out that this is where you go to read the complimentary newspapers or use the WiFi – but a digital detox is encouraged in the main hotel. We walked straight through the glass corridor into the reception area. A strong aroma of essential oils filled the air and I immediately liked the décor, it was classic but with a modern twist. The floor to ceiling glass offered stunning views of the grounds, but the spiral staircase with the massive bog oak tree, stole the show.

We arrived in time for lunch in the Garden Lounge. This restaurant / bar serves food throughout the day until 7.30pm. The first thing that struck me was everyone was dressed in their white towelling robes, even in the restaurant! Our room wasn’t ready until 3pm, so much to my Mum’s relief,  we had to dine in our clothes! We had a tasty lunch, washed down by a nice Sauvignon Blanc, which was recommended by our friendly waitress. We shared a smoked salmon starter which was particularly good, as was my sister Anne’s pulled beef BBQ brisket sandwich. However, I expected more flavour from my dressed pink prawn bruschetta with tomato tapenade, gem lettuce and toasted sourdough… Overall it was a lovely experience, in a pleasant room overlooking the grounds of the hotel. The extensive menu also has some vegan dishes if you fancy combining your visit with some lighter food options. The bill came to €100 for the three of us, which was quite reasonable considering we were in a luxury five star hotel.

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After lunch our rooms were ready so we checked-in and got ready for our spa treatments. The rooms are bright and very spacious, with nice views overlooking the gardens. We donned our robes and made our way to the Spa. Anne and I booked the hour long Cellulite Smoothing Green Coffee Wrap (€100), hoping against hope that we would look a half stone lighter afterwards, just in time for Summer holidays! My Mum clearly wouldn’t have the same desires so she opted for the prescriptive facial, (€90) also an hour in length. This facial is tailored to the needs of your skin so it was the perfect choice for my Mum. She took the first appointment and was extremely impressed with her therapist, Sreeja. She loved every minute of it and happily read her book afterwards  in the relaxation room – there are several!

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While Anne and I waited for our treatments we decided to check out the Thermal Suite. There is a 2 hour circuit which we would have liked to complete, but time was against us. I particularly loved the salt grotto, in fact I fell asleep within minutes of going inside. I’m not sure if it was the couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc or the hot steam that made me nod off though, but either way I loved it. This salt and steam treatment room softens the skin and aids circulation; I had to be woken by my sister to tell me it was time to go! We moved on to the Aromatic Steam Room, which had the most divine scent of eucalyptus. This is supposed to cleanse the body of impurities and revitalise the mind. I’m not sure about the latter but my body certainly felt cleansed after it. I also liked the Caldarium, which is like a large dry room, not as hot as a sauna, but very relaxing. In between the heated rooms, I tried the experience showers which have a range of temperatures and pressure. The idea is to mix hot and cold to stimulate your body. We had time for a quick dip in the small hydrotherapy pool but not enough time to enjoy it properly. There are four heated loungers at the top of the pool, which we would have loved to relax on, but as we were only staying one night, we didn’t have enough time to do it all.

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After mixing hot and cold temperatures a few times, I decided to go one step further and try the outdoor sauna ritual, something some my Facebook followers had advised me to do. This ritual happens every day at approximately 4pm. Located just outside the Thermal Suite, it practically begs you to try it. I sat in a sauna that had such intense heat I thought I was going to pass out. I was never so relieved to have an ice-cold bucket shower in my life. I then had to rub ice all over my body, before going back into the sauna to start all over again. I must confess I cheated half way through the second round and had to escape. I’m not sure if it had the relaxation effect that it mentioned in the description, but I certainly felt invigorated after it! The time went by so fast and suddenly it was time to de-robe and go for my body wrap.

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I was greeted by my therapist Sreeja, who explained the treatment and what I should expect. Following a full body exfoliation and massage I was cocooned in a mountain of towels. The lotion started to tingle on my skin when I was wrapped up, something Sreeja had warned me about. I actually liked the sensation and thought to myself that it must be working. I could smell something that resembled coffee and I had visions of it breaking down my cellulite and eliminating toxins from my body. I hoped my skin would look polished and my physique leaner, as I had packed my white trousers for dinner that night, and hoped that they would fit better than they had the previous time I had worn them! After a while I stopped overthinking and finally relaxed. The combination of the massage, the perfumed oils and being wrapped up in a cocoon of hot towels, gave me a real sense of indulgence. I haven’t had many spa treatments before so I felt I deserved this little piece of heaven, even if it was only for an hour. When it was all over, Sreeja took my slippers and placed them on my newly moisturised feet. The slippers were hot! She had put them in a microwave or some similar heating appliance, before placing them on my feet. It was the perfect ending to my spa treatment experience.

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Unfortunately I didn’t stay relaxed for long. After my treatment Sreeja advised me to not to drink alcohol and to wait a while before showering… Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to do either. We had dinner reservations for 8pm and it was 630pm when my treatment ended. It felt a shame to wash my beautifully moisturised skin and I wondered if the creams were still working to eliminate toxins and combat cellulite? I also knew we were going to have wine with dinner and maybe even a cocktail beforehand – we were on a ‘girls’ night away after all. I began to wonder whether I choose the right treatment. Was the whole thing a waste of time? I still loved it, the experience, the feeling of being utterly spoilt, but in hindsight I wished I had chosen this treatment for the following day. TOP TIP It is vital that you plan your visit and book treatments in advance. Think about what time you will arrive, how long you will be staying and plan accordingly. We booked late and were lucky to get availability, although we all had treatments at different times, which meant we couldn’t use the thermal suite together. Perhaps a facial before dinner and a body wrap the following day would have been a better choice for me.

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For a brief time I did feel a little slimmer and loved the feel of my freshly polished skin. I also managed to fit comfortably into my white trousers for dinner in the fine dining restaurant. This is the only place where Monart ask you to dress in appropriate clothing. At all other times you are encouraged to wear your robe.

I was really impressed with the food in the main restaurant. From the amuse bouche right through to the dessert, each course was delicious. After a tasty starter of seafood lasagne, I enjoyed the rack of lamb followed by a cheesecake that was perfect and light. However Anne’s choice of ham hock with smoked pudding for starter and the Asian infused hake for main course was the winner! The flavours in both were sublime. We were all amazed at the set menu price tag of €45, it was excellent value for such high quality food. There is an extensive wine list too and contrary to Sreeja’s advice, we couldn’t resist the beautifully balanced L’Amourier…

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It was a long time since the three of us were away together so we retired to the bar after dinner for a nightcap. It was great to catch up with our news, without having to rush to work or to collect the kids. I made a mental note to myself that we need to get away together more often!  My only complaint about our stay is we didn’t have long enough. I think you need a two night stay to completely ‘switch off’ from the stresses of everyday life and enjoy complete relaxation.

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The following morning we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and went for a short walk around the gardens. The stone bridge, greenery and duck filled pond reminded me of Monet’s ‘Japanese Bridge’ painting. It is not only the Spa that is relaxing, there is something very peaceful about the gardens too. In fact Monart created an atmosphere of pure relaxation from the moment our car was valet parked at the entrance. It’s almost symbolic, like you are handing someone the keys and you are escaping ‘normal life’ for a day or two. Everyone walks around in their white towelling robes, the smell of aromatherapy oils fill the corridors, mobile phones are discouraged (the signal is really poor in the main hotel) and there are countless friendly staff at your beck and call. Now I finally understand the difference between a hotel with a Spa and a destination Spa hotel. There is only one Monart.

 

Prices from €219 mid week and €269 weekend for a two night stay with breakfast and one evening meal. Visit Monart.ie for more details.

 

Like holidays in Ireland? See more here.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert

 

Family HolidaysTravel TipsTraveling With Kids

Travelling with children

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For some people travelling with children can be very daunting. Where to go? What to pack? How to keep them amused on a long flight? Here is my top ten tips on how to arrive in style and with family relations still in tact!

 

1. Choose your holiday wisely.

The famous saying that “if the kids are happy, the parents are too” springs to mind.  This can mean different things for each family. Some parents love kids clubs, as it gives them much needed quiet time. Others are happy if there is a nice beach or swimming pool.  Some family resorts now have extraordinary facilities, from stage schools and swimming lessons to football academy’s and even water parks on site. These resorts are not for everyonem, but you are guaranteed the kids will never be bored! However, if you have teenagers, you will probably find that free wifi is the most important holiday accessory for them!

2.  Don’t let the flying time put you off.

I am often asked about holidays with short flights, the Algarve and Majorca would be the obvious choices. However make sure you check out the transfer times from the airport. Some resorts like Puerto Pollensa (one of my favourite family resorts) in Majorca or Lagos  in Portugal both have long transfer times. You may find you are ruling out going to Lanzarote because flying time is 4hours 15 minutes yet the transfer from the airport to Puerto del Carmen is only 10 minutes. The total journey time for all three holidays is the same. If you have young kids the chances are they will sleep on the plane so waking them when you land, only to take a long bus journey. You would have to ask yourself which is actually the better option?

3. Check that your passports are valid at the time of booking.

Also ensure that your kids have their own passports. It is necessary for most countries now. Check visas and make sure you have adequate travel insurance. Check the names are spelt correctly on flight tickets, the hotel you have booked is correct and any special requests are noted. If you have requested a cot and you are arriving late at night, you could email the hotel and make sure it will be  in your room when you get there.

4. Plan your trip to the airport.

Make sure there are no road works on the way to the airport and check which terminal you are leaving from. You don’t want to arrive at the airport late, this increases stress levels and inevitably ends in a bad start to the trip. Depending on your departure time it might be a good idea to arrive early and have a bite to eat, I find that it a nice relaxing start to the holiday. Check out more details and airport tips by clicking here.

5. Use your kids hand baggage allowances.

Let the kids pack some toys into their own cases. They will love the independence of packing and wheeling it around the airport. Trunkis  are great, they can also be used as a seat which can come in very handy! Kids will also pack the toys they want to bring so you won’t be scolded when you arrive for forgetting the latest barbie or transformer!  If you are travelling with young kids, I would suggest that you keep their toys in your handbag. Speaking from experience, opening trunkis that are full of crayons and small action figures on the plane is not a great idea – they will end up everywhere!

6. Bring plenty of toys / to play with on the airplane.

Old fashioned crayons are hard to beat, kids of most ages still like to colour and a new colouring book won’t break the bank. For toddlers I find the water based aquadoodles great and very easy to use. Puzzle and sticker books are another good choice and at a very low price. Most kids now can play games on mobile phones, iPads etc. Download the latest peppa pig or minecraft game before you go, or even download a new movie and surprise them with that. A Verbatim MEDIA SHARE is much handier than a portable DVD player. It creates it’s own wifi network so kids can watch movies on their tablets or phones anywhere. It is great to have on the plane, in restaurants, or in the car.

7. Prepare for flight delays and the unexpected.

Make sure you have plenty of nappies, wipes ( don’t go anywhere without them!) calpol, baby formula, and of course food. No matter how much or little your kids eat, you need to make extra allowances for boredom! Just when you think they couldn’t possibly eat anymore, they announce they are hungry again. It also passes the time if you are waiting on luggage, buses or particularly in the dreaded car hire queue! All of this extra food can of course translate into messy clothes, travel sickness or even toilet accidents. So no matter what their age, a change of clothes is a MUST!

8.  Check out the resort you are going to and pack the appropriate supplies.

If there is a shingly beach, bring surf shoes for the kids. Bring a good insect repellent. If you are going to a country where there are mosquitoes I would suggest bug bands. (Check out my blog post on the best products on the market)  Kids keep them on all day, some of them even look ‘cool’!  There are numerous available now, Boots have their own brand but I find the family pack is a great choice. It goes without saying to bring sunscreen but some are better than others. When my kids were small I loved Parasol, it was so easy to apply and great for sensitive skin.  The all in one swimsuits are great, and even the surf tops for older kids. You don’t need to worry about too much sun, and the kids will thank you for not applying cream to them every hour!

9. Check you have adequate supplies for babies and toddlers.

Nappies, wipes, formula are readily available in most family resorts. If your child has sensitive skin you may need to bring your own brand but I find in most cases this is not necessary. The ready made formula is so handy, likewise the Avent 3 scoop powder dispensers.  Try your baby on some ready made food pouches before you go. There are some excellent healthy options on the market now.  If they have tried them before, they are more likely to eat them abroad. These can be life savers on the plane journey, or in resort if you haven’t made  it to the supermarket yet. Don’t forget disposable bed mats, these are a must if your child has just recently been toilet trained. The warm climate generally means a larger intake of liquids and if having late meals, accidents are inevitable.

10. Relax and enjoy it.

Kids sense it if you are stressed and will act up. Don’t panic if your child cries on the plane or misbehaves. People who have kids have all been there and completely understand what you are going through. Remember that in a few hours you will be relaxing, having a glass of wine and enjoying the sunshine! Family holidays are a special time in both your life and your kids lives and unfortunately don’t  happen often enough. They are made of special memories – make sure they are good ones!

 

Want to see more travel tips? Click here!

 

Sarah

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