Monday 27 February 2017

Spa Watch: Wind down in Wicklow

In the heart of the Garden County, Gemma Fullam finds her stress and scepticism are pampered into submission

Gemma Fullam

Hens. They're not something you would expect to see on arrival at a spa, but then the BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa isn't your average destination.

Set in the lush, pastoral landscape of Co Wicklow, and in the vicinity of such renowned beauty spots as Avoca, Glendalough and Tinahely, BrookLodge sets the relaxed tone from the get-go, with its brood of hens and justifiably smug cockerel cluck-clucking at the hotel's entrance. Laid-back? You bet.

The tranquil mood of the place is enhanced by its design: despite the fact that BrookLodge only opened in 1999, the clever architecture and lush planting serves to play a temporal trick -- the place, known as Macreddin Village, looks like it has been in situ for decades.

With the enchanting sight of the hens still lingering, I headed for the Wells Spa for some well-deserved -- isn't it always? -- pampering. Therese Meaney, the spa's manager, met me on arrival and, over a cup of tea, the bubbly, personable blonde guided me through the treatments I had to look forward to. One swift dip in the spa's pool, a brief steam, a quick flirtation with the jacuzzi, and then it was total-indulgence time.

First up was a scalp massage, which comprised 20 minutes of invigorating attention to my stressed-out cranium.

Next up was an Aroma Expert Youth facial with Kirstie. As with all of the therapists, Kirstie was happy to chat, but sufficiently tuned in to sense that conversation wasn't high on my priority list. This treatment promises much, namely to remineralise, illuminate and lift even the most lifeless skin. Sceptical soul that I am, I expected little, but following a felicitous hour and a half, lo and behold -- my nicotine-weary skin was positively glowing.

Two down, one to go.

The concluding element of my triptych was the Aroma Foot Relief, which did what it said on the tin: my feet haven't been so baby-soft before, or since. All in all, a decadently delicious affair.

Feeling practically post-coital, I glided back to my suite; a minimalist symphony of greys, ivorys and dark wood. The bedroom area, set on a mezzanine, featured a delightful freestanding bath, which, by its very presence, cheekily invited bathing a deux.

The luxurious suite also had a massive plasma screen, free internet access, a blissful power shower with jets set at every angle, along with a complimentary pot of jam and a bar of Green & Black's.

As my companion wasn't arriving until late, I was dining alone. With the day's newspaper in lieu of company, I headed for The Strawberry Tree, Ireland's only certified organic restaurant. Explaining my solitary state to the maitre'd, I was seated in a discreet corner where I could happily watch the world go by and enjoy my dinner without feeling like Billy-no-mates.

The treatments were exemplary, but it is the food at The Strawberry Tree for which I would return: it was beyond superb. I'm on a gluten-free diet, which normally means limited choice and lots of palaver; not here, however.

My culinary choices for the evening included hake with a crab crust, which contained gluten, so the chef cooked a hake fillet especially for me without the offending gluten. Bother? No bother.

Many items on the menu are wild -- among these are mushrooms, John Dory, woodpigeon -- and the subtle, delicate flavours of the fare on offer reflect the quality of the ingredients. The other dining option at BrookLodge is La Taverna Armento, an Italian-influenced restaurant named after the village of Armento in Italy, with which it has strong ties. Situated near the hotel's pub, Actons, La Taverna Armento has an intimate ambience, and food of a standard equal to that of The Strawberry Tree. It's the perfect spot for a romantic dinner, and a few lingering hours spent sharing some fine wine and conversation.

The grounds at BrookLodge invite a post-prandial stroll, so I took the opportunity to explore.

There's a picturesque golf course, which is designed by Irish Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley, and horseriding is available at Macreddin Stables and Equestrian Centre.

Tables dotted around the hotel building's perimeter invite the passer-by to stop for a leisurely al fresco libation: indeed, what better way to watch the world go by?

I can't finish my account without mentioning one thing: conditioner. Women everywhere will identify with the sinking feeling you get when you arrive at your destination for the weekend to discover you've forgotten the all-important conditioner; my hair, at least, is a horror without it, but there it was, in the bathroom at BrookLodge.

It's small, vital touches such as this one that make a destination somewhere you wish to return to. The devil is in the detail, goes the cliche, and BrookLodge has got the detail -- and the bigger picture -- nailed. Bravo.

BrookLodge Hotel & Wells Spa, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow.

Tel: (0402) 36444, or see www.brooklodge.com

Sunday Independent

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