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Hotel Review: The Ice House offers chill out wellness in the west

The Ice House Hotel & Spa in Ballina has added a new panoramic riverside terrace, offering pampering treatments close to nature

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The outdoor Corian baths at the Ice House Hotel & Spa with a view over the River Moy estuary

The outdoor Corian baths at the Ice House Hotel & Spa with a view over the River Moy estuary

One of the light-filled rooms at the Ice House Hotel &Spa

One of the light-filled rooms at the Ice House Hotel &Spa

The Ice House overlooks the River Moy estuary

The Ice House overlooks the River Moy estuary

Chill out at the Ice House

Chill out at the Ice House

A lounge at The Ice House

A lounge at The Ice House

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The outdoor Corian baths at the Ice House Hotel & Spa with a view over the River Moy estuary

One of the benefits of the Irish staycation over the last 21 months has been waving goodbye to airport stress.

Those queues, the security checks, all of the new Covid restrictions, and arriving early ‘just in case’ before hanging around, wound-up like a coil as you watch TV monitors impatiently for details of your flight to pop up. My blood pressure shoots up just thinking about what goes with getting from A to B.

So imagine my surprise when, a few hours after leaving Dublin’s traffic-choked quays, I had transitioned into a Mayo mermaid. Languishing outdoors in a Corian bath filled with seaweed, I enjoyed fresh fruit, sorbet, and peppermint tea while drinking in a panoramic view over the River Moy estuary in Ballina. As city escapes go, this was pretty epic.

The Rating: 8/10

Arrival & location

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The Ice House overlooks the River Moy estuary

The Ice House overlooks the River Moy estuary

The Ice House overlooks the River Moy estuary

The exterior of the Ice House Hotel looks sleek and contemporary when you park up on the main road outside. The geometric stonework, inspired by rock formations along the Wild Atlantic Way, glistens in the sunshine, and inside, it’s a tale of two parts and a fusion of architecture.

The original ice store building has been a landmark on the Moy since 1836 and, when checking in at reception, you can peer through a glass panel in the floor. It is set where ice was once poured through to preserve the salmon before it was boxed up and exported.

The original building is today home to a handful of heritage suites, like the Bartra and the Moy, and the stone building serves as a hinge from which two long arms radiate out. Our sitting room and adjoining twin bedroom and bathroom were located in the Chill Spa wing, and we had a peach of a view out over the river. I stored my ‘doggie bag’ of seaweed so I could bring it home with me for two more uses. 9/10

Service & style

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Chill out at the Ice House

Chill out at the Ice House

Chill out at the Ice House

It doesn’t take long to discover the ‘boutique’ hotel values of this property. With 32 bedrooms, The Ice House feels intimate without being invasive, and the staff are very friendly and professional across all elements.

The riverside thermal area and spa garden is at the core of Chill Spa’s outdoor wellness programme. A new extension adds more than 250 square metres of space, spanning the raised deck over the river, and I tried out therapeutic treatments on Gharieni warm quartz crystal beds in new double therapy rooms. This Rolls Royce of pampering treatments includes a Himalayan hot stone back massage, crystal healing therapy, a facial cleanse, pressure-point facial and head massage, after which you can have access to a private hot tub.

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If I thought I was going for a spa break with great food, I was in for a further surprise. Pearse Farrell, the owner, has put together a really great art collection, and it is well worth taking time out to do a full tour and enjoy the work of Martin Gale, Charles Tyrrell and John Devlin, to name but a few. 8.5/10

The rooms

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One of the light-filled rooms at the Ice House Hotel &Spa

One of the light-filled rooms at the Ice House Hotel &Spa

One of the light-filled rooms at the Ice House Hotel &Spa

When I design my next house, I want floor-to-ceiling windows. Our light-filled westerly facing rooms were a game changer on this ditch-the-stress break. The rooms were nicely decorated with colour, rather than the usual greige you so often encounter.

Fluffy robes were in peak condition, and the bathroom, with both a shower and free-standing bath, were serviced with Voya products, but these single-use items really need to be addressed across the hospitality industry.

The mobile phone reception in these parts can be patchy, as I discovered, though when the WiFi dropped in our room, staff at reception swiftly came to our aid.

Besides, the local landscape is far too beautiful to get sidelined by digital distractions. Standing out on our wooden deck, we had a bird’s-eye view of the iconic local landmark, the SS Crete Boom concrete ship, and across the river, the skyline of Belleek Wood proved hypnotic.

Best of all, the Mayo night sky offered us the spectacle of shooting stars on night two. 8.5/10

Food & drink

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A lounge at The Ice House

A lounge at The Ice House

A lounge at The Ice House

‘Goodness plated with passion’ is the philosophy in the 54° 9° Restaurant, where chef Anthony Holland really does go about creating interesting menus. I looked forward to the surprise of the amuse-bouche, adored the sweet scallops, and the nightly fish specials were priced at €32, while starters averaged €11 and desserts were €5.

Vegan and vegetarian diners are well catered for here, especially with the Moroccan-style tagine and the coconut and lentil dahl. The Pontellón Albariño Rías Baixas was so good we ordered it two nights in a row. 8/10

Insider tip

Drive home via Foxford Woollen Mills (16.5km away) which has a fabulous café and a seriously good bedding department, where they offer a 10pc discount to Ice House guests.

Local 101

Factor in a bracing walk on Enniscrone beach 15km away.

Rates

A two-night ‘Wellness on the Moy’ break with one dinner, a 75-minute signature treatment and full use of the thermal suite costs from €760 for two. Bairbre was a guest of the hotel. icehousehotel.ie

The bottom line

We were booked in on a luxury package, but prices to stay at the Ice House start from €150 B&B per night in low season and €220 B&B per night in high season, so it doesn’t have to cost a small fortune to stay. The only thing I could fault in the entire place were the rather incongruous red plastic plants on the spa walkway to our rooms. They just kind of stuck out as odd in a place so filled with an appreciation of nature.


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