Whether it’s a couples retreat, family bonding or a hen party - the Ice House Hotel is a west coast jewel, says Freya Drohan.
The Ice House is a gleaming glass building beside the tranquil River Moy outside Ballina.
When checking in, we realised straight away that the only thing on the cards for the next two days was total and utter relaxation. The welcoming reception area and jovial concierge immediately set us at ease after a busy few days in work - and a long drive across the country. From this point on, we totally switched off.
The atmosphere everywhere from the lounge and bar area, to the restaurant and relaxation room where guests unwind before and after their spa treatments is one of total calmness. Visitors at the hotel seem to almost float through the wide corridors in their fluffy dressing gowns in a trance-like state, as if they have completely forgotten the pressures of everyday life.
The hotel itself is relatively small, but space is not an issue when it comes to the suites. We stayed in the expansive ‘Gold Suite’, which had its own outside decking area, sitting room, large bedroom and an impressive bathroom which was almost like a spa in itself thanks to candles, a colossal bath tub and soft lighting.
However, the best thing about the room was the view; huge windows looked out onto the River Moy, which was as smooth as glass, where locals and tourists often drifted past on paddle-boards and canoes.
A special mention must be made for the beds. I slept for ten hours both nights - a luxury that you can’t usually put a price on!
As celebrated chef Julia Child once said: "People who love to eat are always the best people." I may have been at the Ice House to review the hotel and spa, but the meal was certainly my highlight.
On our first night, we ate from the bar menu - just a quick salmon and prawn salad with some crispy potato fries (accompanied with a few too many glasses of wine.)
But on the second night, we were treated to a meal in the restaurant. I eat out probably every weekend (a habit that neither my waistline nor my wallet thanks me for) but this was something else. We shared starters of crostinis drizzled in olive oil and topped with local cheeses and cured meats, and potato cakes accompanied with poached eggs and ham hock.
In between courses, the staff, who were so attentive and genuinely warm and friendly, would present us with amuse-bouches, fresh bread and stop for a chat. For my main, I opted for a delicious fillet of sea bass with sweet potato strips and sautéed vegetables. My mum chose a tender cut of beef with all the trimmings.
Dessert, always my favourite, was the most decadent and divine chocolate brownie I’ve ever had served with salted caramel ice-cream. In fact, I’d go back if only to get a takeaway brownie!
One of my favourite things about a hotel is the breakfast buffet, and the Ice House really receives top marks on this. There is a full breakfast menu available, and a great selection of continental options too.
While helping yourself to seconds and probably thirds, the staff will stop by your table with coffee, friendly chit-chat, and ideas of what you can do for the day in the area.
We were lucky enough to experience treatments at the award winning Chill Spa.
Being covered in bruises and cuts after the gruelling Tough Mudder challenge the week before, I couldn’t wait for some TLC and opted for a seaweed body wrap. My therapist, Celine, gently exfoliated my body from tip to toe before applying crushed seaweed and wrapping me in heated muslin cloths. While the seaweed worked its detoxifying magic, I had a head massage. There really is nothing like being pampered at that level. After showering the seaweed off and being massaged and moisturised, I felt like a new pin.
Under manager Elaine Armstrong, the Chill Spa recently won three highly commended awards at The Irish Tatler Spa Awards - Best Boutique Spa, People’s Choice Award and Best Package Treatment.
Spa treatments don’t come cheap. If you wanted to keep the cost of your trip to a minimum, just pack your swimsuit and make use of the sauna, steam room and hot tubs - you can even order a drink right to the jacuzzi. Cocktails or a chilled beer while sitting in the bubbles overlooking the river - we could get used to that!
The bar menu would benefit from a wider range of wines, at different price points. The salad we had on our first night from the bar menu was also disappointing - at €13 it was sparse and didn’t satiate our hunger at all.
The Ice House Hotel would be an excellent option for a wedding with a difference.
The venue offers couples the option of actually having the ceremony and the reception in the hotel (or they can say their vows in a nearby church.) Wedding parties are welcome to book out the entire hotel for their stay, and the restaurant can accommodate up to 120 guests for a sit-down meal.
On the big day, the bride and her bridesmaids can make use of the experienced manicurists, masseuses and makeup artists, meaning it really is a one-stop shop.
The Ice House Hotel is in Ballina, Co Mayo, a two to three hour drive from Dublin. See theicehouse.ie for deals, steals and special offers, which change each month.