'Like silk pyjamas on the red carpet' - Is Monart really worth the hype?
You voted Monart Ireland's Favourite Spa in our Reader Travel Awards 2019. So what's it really like to visit?
In this always-on world, my inability to relax is starting to become exhausting.
Despite my best efforts, I find it difficult to switch off - or even sit through a film without getting up to casually rearrange the bookshelf. The thought of being still for hours on end is a source of vague anxiety for me, so perhaps it's unsurprising that I have never visited a spa.
My inability to be idle seems at odds with the ethos of the spa mentality - I imagine myself lying among all the other sedentary spa-goers, annoying them with my twiddling thumbs, eventually slinking off to check my emails.
So, can a trip to the world-class Monart Destination Spa, a tranquil space that aims to coerce the body and mind into a state of blissful inertia, teach this perpetual fidget to just be?
Monart is the Beyoncé of the wellbeing world; so beloved it goes by a single-word moniker, it has inspired legions of fans around the world. Indeed, it has just been voted as Ireland’s Favourite Spa for the third year running in the Irish Independent’s 2019 Reader Travel Awards.
Despite being just over an hour’s drive from Dublin, arriving at Monart feels as though you have travelled deep into the countryside.
On the day we arrive, the sky is wide and brilliant blue, the January air crisp and immediately restorative. The first indication that this is no ordinary place of pamper is the gated arrival. After being buzzed in, we are greeted by the first of Monart’s congenial staff - the very obliging valet who leads us through the Old House before whisking away our car and luggage.
The 18th century house is where you’ll find the library and lounge, which has recently been redesigned with sumptuous Dutch floral wallpaper and the work of local artist Mary Wallace.
There are so many wonderful aspects to Monart, but first things first- let’s talk about the spa. The Thermal Spa consists of various rooms, including saunas, a steam room, caldarium, Alpine salt grotto and hydrotherapy pool which cluster around the edges of a light-filled central area dotted with loungers and miniature bubbling foot spas.
You could easily lose hours moving from room to room, and they recommend 2.5 hours is needed for the full experience.
Included in my 'Monart Mini Life' stay is a full body massage and Indian Head massage, as well as a session in the mud chamber. Initially, I admit to feeling apprehension - I have endured previous massages, rather than enjoyed them. Any situation in which I am forced to lie prostrate seems to force my mind into overdrive, which is never a good thing. However, there are worse trials in life than a Monart massage, and so into the treatment room I go.
The massage is a deeply therapeutic experience, and my dry skin immediately absorbs the luscious seaweed-infused oil. It takes some time to get used to the sensation of being gently pummelled but, by the end of the hour, I am splayed on the heated massage bed like a lizard on a heat-soaked rock.
My wonderful therapist Kelly comments that - surprise, surprise - my upper back is full of knots. By massage No.2, I'm starting to get into the swing of things. Within minutes of lying down, my breathing has slowed and my mind is nearly emptied of coherent thoughts. I am so relaxed that I’ve gone slack-jawed - when Kelly gently enquires about the pressure of her hands all I can manage is sort of gurgle. It is deeply embarrassing but, ever the consummate professional, she takes this as a yes... and continues to dexterously unknot my back with hot stones.
I leave the room in a torpor of tranquillity, my body limber and oiled as a gym bro in Benidorm.
Along with the world-class spa, what really sets Monart apart is the staff. Each and every person we meet during our stay is genuinely friendly and courteous. So many five-star establishments can feel stuffy or intimidating, but the staff at Monart really excel in the art of hospitality.
On par with the world-class spa is the dining at Monart. The casual Garden lounge offers a refined gastro-bar menu. I’m not sure if there’s any other establishment in which you can enjoy a perfectly cooked steak and glass of red in a robe and slippers, but to me, this typifies the Monart experience. It is the culinary equivalent of wearing silk pyjamas on the red carpet - so decadently blasé that it really is true luxury.
The fine dining restaurant is a robe-free zone, but this is a dining experience worth getting dressed for. The menu boasts an abundance of locally sourced produce and technical, but not fiddly, dishes that truly impress. It is the stuff of Instagram foodie dreams but alas, the restaurant is a phone-free zone.
In fact, the lack of Wi-Fi in the rooms and purposely weak phone signal are one of the most appealing aspects of our stay at Monart. For somebody like me, who is tempted to do a few online tasks or the browse the news whenever a free moment occurs, this forced digital detox is a blessing - and part of the reason I leave Monart feeling entirely refreshed.
Glitches? the only minor thing is that, although the rooms are super-lovely, the sound does travel a bit between them. Luckily, most residents are pretty quiet on my visit, buy I do wonder would we be disturbed if there were a rowdy bunch next door...
On the final morning of our stay, I have a session in the mud chamber which is not, as I had envisaged, a tub of nourishing mud in which I am submerged, but a calm, mosaic tiled chamber. After covering myself in a layer of Canadian moor mud that’s been infused with essential oils, I am left to sit for thirty minutes as steam fills the room.
There is no soothing music, no calming massage therapist- it’s just me, my muddy self and I for a whole half hour. The twinkling lights above dim as I watch wisps of vapour swirl through the room and my skin tingles under its thick mud coating.
Miraculously, I am far from restless - for the first time in the longest time, I simply sit, my breathing steady and mind present, and do not think about a single thing.
Sophie was a guest of Monart, where prices range from a Sunday night special including dinner, B&B and complementary access to classes and the Termal Spa at €169pp, to a five-day, all-inclusive Monart Life Detox programme including all food, treatments, evaluations and a personal trainer from €1,095pp.
Contact 053 923-8999 or monart.ie for more.
Read more:Secrets of Monart's magic: What does it take to make this spa so special?