Five Star Fitness

Take one of Ireland's most beautiful hotels, add a weekend getaway geared towards activity and what do you get? A near-perfect staycation for fitness fanatics

Yoga by the lake at Ashford Castle.

We all know that staying healthy and in shape can be difficult in the summer months. The lure of ice-cream cones, beer gardens and BBQs often means we spend less time working out and more time munching. Running, gym visits and fitness classes are also easily replaced with lounging in the sunshine, for fear it will be the only nice weather we get. Add the holiday mentality of decadence and indulgence into the mix and your training routine could go severely askew.

That's why when I heard about a new fitness weekend break at one of Ireland's most fabulous hotels, Ashford Castle, my interest was piqued. Devised for those who want to remain active in their downtime, but without the fear of a boot-camp atmosphere, this is a weekend that promises to be both stimulating and relaxing and, above all, healthy.

Girly getaways with my friends usually revolve around nights out dancing and days horizontal recovering, but a weekend away that doesn't involve booze, bars and sitting around on my bum? I was more than willing to give it a try.

Olympic cyclist and local fitness guru David O'Loughlin has devised a weekend of activity and pampering that can be tailored to all fitness levels. The Cong, Co Mayo, castle becomes the setting for sessions of Pilates, functional fitness training and running, with mountain trekking, cycling and more activities like clay pigeon shooting and horse riding taking place away from the estate.

Coupled with a nutritional plan designed to keep an active body going, the idea of the weekend is to provide an alternative break for those who mightn't want to booze or laze their time away.

I travelled to the west from Dublin with three friends, two of them brides-to-be. It struck me that this type of break would be a perfect anti-hen party for fitness fans – the right mix of glamour and grit.

Checking into the magnificent castle, Nadia, Ciara, Corina and I were excited – and once we saw our weekend breakdown, a little scared!

After a good night's sleep, we were up for a 7.30am high-protein, low-GI breakfast (the carved ham is a signature of Ashford). Instructor Sinead took us through Pilates stretching and pulsing in front of the castle by the lake, which was such a treat.

Then David took us clay pigeon shooting during our rest time, perhaps because he suspected we might go back to bed otherwise.

We then had a gorgeous two-course lunch that may have been healthy, but certainly didn't taste like it, before completing an hour-long intensive body-conditioning class. Incorporating weights, resistance training, stretching and more, David put us through our paces before escorting us to the spa for a rigorous sports massage.

We lounged around in our robes while rehydrating, and chilled out in the Jacuzzi, letting the jets ease our tired muscles.

After some rest and relaxation, it was time for some outdoor cardio, and it just so happened that the annual Cong 8k race was on in the village – and David had signed us all up. I don't run due to a bad knee, so we split into groups and walked or ran the distance.

After all that, it was time to refuel with a divine five-course meal in Ashford's stunning George V restaurant. The meal was nutritionally balanced with lots of protein and fewer carbohydrates, but also included delicious desserts so we didn't feel like we were being restricted. We also indulged in some wine as reward for all our hard work!

Nothing too crazy though, as the next morning we were up early again for a mountain trek up nearby Mount Gable before hitting the road back to Dublin. Sore and stiff perhaps, but also exhilarated, upbeat and utterly in love with the castle and its staff.

Activity breaks often strike fear in the hearts of many as they can seem muddy, extreme and distinctly unglamorous – think zip-lining, obstacle courses and wind-swept treks. However, for four girly girls who just so happen to enjoy working out, this package had it all: a gorgeous setting, the right amount of pampering, delicious food, and fun, diverse exercise regimes to balance it all out.

Price: €1,500 per deluxe double room on July 26&27 and September 6&7. Contact Ashford Castle on 094 954 6003 for more information

This article originally appeared in Fit Magazine

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