Shaolin Staycation: A spa break with a difference at Monart in Enniscorthy
Stress? What stress?
A Shaolin Experience in Enniscorthy makes for a stress-busting staycation with a difference, says Nicola Brady.
Set the mood
I'm mirroring the motions of a Shaolin Master, who is dressed in orange robes and moving slowly and methodically. He has little English; the verbal instruction he gives is mostly limited to "breathe in… breathe out". Oddly though, being told when to breathe is almost as relaxing as the movements themselves.
I'm in a Qi-Gong masterclass, learning the eight ancient exercises of the Shaolin, which promote health and longevity. But I'm far from the Henan Province in China, where Masters train. I'm in the depths of Wexford, at Monart Destination Spa, where a pair have taken up residence to showcase their 2,000-year-old traditions through classes, demonstrations and treatments.
Dinner in Monart's restaurant is included in the Shaolin Experience package, and it's a decadent affair, far from preconceived notions of spa cuisine.
Rich, intricate dishes utilise the best of Irish produce, including a notable starter of ravioli stuffed with plump Dublin Bay prawns. Classic roast chicken is a dish that can be difficult to impress with, but I enjoyed a flawlessly succulent breast paired with creamy hints of goat's cheese that left me too full for dessert, but the chocolate and passion fruit torte proved tempting, regardless.
The breakfast is just as impressive, with a wide selection of fruits, compotes and pastries. Be sure to save room for the Eggs Benedict, though.
Classes led by the Shaolin Masters are free for all guests at Monart, and include Qi-Gong, Tai Chi and meditation. There can be up to six a day, all designed to relieve stress, promote strength and release tension. I left each class with a feeling of intense calm, my usual hurried pace reduced to a serene amble. Tai Chi proved a little trickier than Qi-Gong, with our floundering efforts leaving one Master in giggles. But it's worth filling your schedule with as many classes as possible, for maximum benefit.
Between classes, make the most of the exemplary spa facilities that Monart is famed for, from the infrared sauna to the salt grotto. Don't bother packing too much, either - the vast majority of guests spend their time in bathrobes, dressing only for dinner.
Shaolin Warrior Massage was designed by the Shaolin (who served China as warriors and Buddhist monks) to keep the body healthy and strong, ensuring the warriors stayed fighting fit. It's far from a traditional massage - you're fully clothed, and the movements are percussive, fast-paced and strong. It may not be to everyone's liking, but it's one of the best treatments I've ever had.
Monart is keen to uphold its reputation as a cocoon free from distractions, but the lack of in-room WiFi is a little grating (it can be found in the old house, however). Tea and coffee facilities should be in the bedrooms at this price point, too.
Get me there
Monart's Shaolin Experience package includes two nights with breakfast, dinner on one evening, full use of the spa facilities, access to all of the classes and a Shaolin Warrior Massage. Prices start from €309pp in 2016.
The Shaolin Masters are in residence until December 12. The five-star resort is just outside of Enniscorthy, 130km from Dublin. See monart.ie for more. If you want to venture off-campus, take a look at visitwexford.ie for things to do in Wexford.
NB: This story has been updated to reflect 2016 prices.