Wellness weekend at Ashford Castle: more ‘treat’ than ‘retreat’
Voted Ireland’s best hotel by Travel + Leisure, this is a very luxurious place for a detox
Ashford Castle is offering a Winter Wellness Escape for two, with two nights’ b&b, detox dinner for two and pampering treatments, at €495 per person sharing
The sun is about to rise but my fellow retreatees are still dark shapes moving ahead of me as the forest opens out onto the lakeshore. I smile, well aware of how completely strange we must look, a group of lycra-clad strangers silently walking towards the water. But at this moment I don’t really mind.
It’s the final day of my wellness retreat in Ashford Castle, which was recently named as the UK and Ireland’s best hotel and inn for 2016 by Travel + Leisure. It’s about as luxurious as it gets, and I have spent the last three days detoxing, stretching and unwinding.
On day one, I also arrive in darkness. Late on Friday evening, after a three-hour drive from Dublin, the country roads require concentration, so as the lit-up castle comes into view, it takes me by surprise. It’s the castle that you drew as a child, complete with princess tower and moat.
I pull up and begin to drag my bag to reception, when a man dressed in a cape and top hat approaches and relieves me of my luggage. While handing the case over I exhale, completing my first relaxation exercise of the weekend.
My bedroom makes me giddy. I can lie on the bed in a star shape and not touch any of the sides. There is a crystal decanter at the end of the bed filled with sherry. In the bathroom a candle is lit and Voya (an Irish organic cosmetic brand) soap sits in what appears to be sterling silver soap-holder. There is art on the walls. The furniture is teak. There are tiny, beautiful chocolates beside my huge, duck-down pillows. I am brought back to reality by my itinerary, sat beside homemade protein balls. I put the sherry down, order a green tea, and go to bed.
My wake-up call is at 6.45am and lemony water arrives to my room. I sit on the bed, a bit shell-shocked at having to talk to someone in a bow tie at this hour, but I pull on my stretchy pants and make my way to the meditation room.
Our yogi leader for the weekend is a Swiss man named Ata. On entering the room Ata beams at everyone. He takes both my hands in his when he says hello, slowly and meaningfully, with full eye contact. I realise I forgot to brush my teeth.
We settle on mats that have been laid out in a circle and begin by learning how to comfortably sit in a yogic pose (the secret? Lots of those fluffy duck-down pillows). We learn that yoga is not just about flexible poses, but also about the mind, the body and the soul. On this note we make our way to breakfast.
Our vegetarian detox menu has been carefully designed by Ata and the chefs at Ashford castle. Smoothies, juices and wheatgrass shots are practically available on tap. We are eating in the hotel diningroom, surrounded by normal, non-detox guests. The air is laced with the smell of sausages; it’s heady with hash browns. This proves somewhat challenging.
A waitress asks if anyone would like to eat from the regular menu. We look to our guru, with his glowing vegan complexion, who tells us that there are no rules. In an attempt to straddle both worlds, I order scrambled eggs with truffle shavings.
After breakfast each day we practice physical yoga for two hours. This time flies, with Ata careful to tend to everyone’s physical limitations. Savasana ends each practice. This is the best bit and involves lying down on the floor and focusing on relaxation and breathing.
After lunch, which is exceptionally tasty as well as healthy, the afternoon is spent in any way you please. On the first day I go for an Indian head massage in the newly built spa. On the second day I join a falconry walk guided by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Tom. My hawk’s name is Aztec and he likes to eat mice whole, which is not very yogic of him.
Each evening we reconvene for yin practice in the Ardilaun suite. This involves more lying down on the floor, much to everyone’s delight. To the backdrop of soft music, Ata talks us though the complete relaxation of every muscle. Once totally relaxed, we visualise calm spaces, such as green forests and open fields. The feeling of complete surrender of the body is unexpectedly delightful.
Dinner involves three courses and, hallelujah, the odd gin and tonic, and bedtime is before 10. This is something I could get used to. The final morning we get up before dawn to watch sunrise and practice yoga by the lake. As we silently and mindfully walk through the forest, I have a feeling of calm, which I can’t help but be smug about.
As I pack up my room later that day and enjoy my last round of fluffy pillow chocolates, I reflect that a retreat at Ashford castle is perhaps a little heavy on “treat” for the more dedicated detox practitioner. But for people who would like just that, a treat for the mind as well as the body, this journalist couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Ashford Castle is offering a Winter Wellness Escape for two, which includes: two nights’ bed and breakfast; a healthy detox dinner for two; a one-hour Pure Flow session per person; a Voya Warm Spiced Mud Wrap for one person; an Elemis Cellutox Aroma Spa Ocean Wrap for one person; and complimentary use of the steam room, relaxation pool, fitness studio and spa. Priced from €510 per person sharing in a Corrib Room. Available until March, subject to availability. Visit ashfordcastle.com or phone 094-9546003.