Is there anything more tempting when finishing a long night shift than heading straight to a five-star hotel and sinking into a restful sleep in a luxurious bed? That’s exactly what I did one Friday night a few weeks ago.
Despite the late hour, it took just 15 minutes to drive from the Irish Examiner offices in Blackpool to Fota Island Resort, a relaxing haven nestled beside Fota Wildlife Park.
I had been to Fota Island before, but usually for work-related events. Truthfully, because it is so near to home it was beyond my radar for relaxing getaways.
However, when I mentioned to family and friends where I was going, I was regaled with glowing tales of afternoon teas, and spa days galore. Clearly, I had been missing out.
The 780-acre estate is home to three championship golf courses, mature woodlands, and a world-class destination spa, and the night I checked in the reception was buzzing with partygoers attending a function and hotel guests making the most of the midnight atmosphere.
Despite the busyness, the reception staff swiftly checked me in and sent me on my way with a welcoming smile. Ascending through the hotel, I noticed the party atmosphere soon changed to one of relaxation.
My room — one of 123 the hotel offers — was huge. With a deep bathtub, a spacious shower, views of the beautiful grounds, and a bed that was wider than long, it has everything you need for a relaxing escape from the outside world.
Eight-or-so hours later, I emerged and went downstairs once more for breakfast. Fota Island offers hot food and a continental buffet. A chef will also prepare some alternative dishes beside the buffet table. At his table, I helped myself to freshly- made pancakes which were delicious.
Following a post-breakfast stroll through the woodlands on a rare sunny spring day, we went exploring through the hotel. Our first stop was the pool, where we enjoyed some leisurely lengths as the sun shone through the nearby windows.
After about an hour there, we dried off and stopped by the Amber Lounge for a quick snack.
Although the restaurant was full of young families, the serving staff were focused and welcoming, and our food appeared very quickly.
I enjoyed a classic vegetable soup with homemade brown soda bread. Across the table were some delicious-looking grilled satay chicken skewers with Ajay relish.
Fota Island and the surrounding area spoil families with a variety of activities, we learned, as those around us planned their days.
For sports fans, the renowned golf courses were a tempting lure. The nearby Fota Wildlife Park, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, was an attractive option for most, while others, drawn to the history and beauty of Fota House and Gardens, were drawn there. Plenty of frazzled parents were also looking forward to their own down-time, either around the grounds or in the spa.
Stomach satisfied once more I headed straight for the spa myself while my other half made the most of the thermal and hydrotherapy suites.
Fota Island Spa is spread over 1600sq m and offers over 60 treatments, from facials to pregnancy treatments and everything in between. I spent 70 minutes unwinding with the ‘chakra balancing massage’ (€100).
This massage is a new treatment at Fota Island, and it promotes holistic relaxation and wellbeing and promises to bring the body and mind into perfect harmony by allowing energy to flow through the chakra centres of the body. This technique results in renewed balance and re-energisation.
My masseuse began by placing gentle pressure on specific points on my body, such as the stomach and forehead.
After 10 minutes of zen, she moved onto a more traditional full-body massage, pummelling away the stresses of the week.
While I’m still not entirely sure where my chakras are, I can confirm that I left the spa feeling both relaxed in body and calm in mind.
I returned to my room after the spa experience to bask in my newfound mellowness for a few hours before dinner. Thankfully a chilled-out body naturally works up an appetite; otherwise, I would have struggled with the delights of the Fota restaurant, a family-friendly all-day dining venue.
The chef uses locally-sourced produce combined with natural ingredients, and the results are mouth-wateringly good. There is also an outdoor terrace to dine on — ideal for dinner on lazy summer evenings.
I started with an Irish camembert cheese plate and followed up with one of the best beef dishes I have ever tasted: a wild mushroom puree, mini fondant and vegetables accompanied the succulent fillet of Irish Hereford beef.
For dessert, I indulged with a dark chocolate fondant, with peanut butter ice-cream and chocolate crumble on top.
Needless to say, I nearly had to be rolled out of the room after dinner.
We returned to the Amber Lounge for some after-dinner drinks, and, as it was a Saturday night, the atmosphere there was great. We settled into some comfortable couches and spent our evening chatting and people-watching.
When the last call came and went, we returned to the lobby area and pulled up some armchairs by the fire while we finished our drinks, before retiring for the night and falling into a deep, contented sleep.
An overnight stay with breakfast the following morning, dinner in Fota restaurant, and complimentary access to thermal and hydrotherapy suites costs from €240 per room for two adults.
BONUS REVIEW: Here’s what Greg thought of our trip
By Greg Murphy
If you, like me, are not a big fan of spa treatments and massages then fear not, there is more than enough to do for you to enjoy your break at Fota Island.
The hotel leisure centre has a fully equipped gym facility, so you don’t have to miss out on your workout if you’re a regular gym-goer.
While Denise was ‘having her chakra balanced’ (which to me sounds like something you take a car to a mechanic for), I made use of the hotel’s swimming and hydrotherapy pools.
The 18m pool is the perfect way to relax after a long week in the office, or after a quick session in the gym. It also is home to a great sauna, perfect for loosening out those muscles.
If that’s not enough, the hydrotherapy suite with nine different areas is guaranteed to work out every knot in your body. Make sure you try out Ireland’s only ‘walking river’, well known for its assistance in healing sports injuries and fatigue.
Just off the main corridor of the leisure centre is a quiet relaxation area where you can chill out, catch up on some reading, or enjoy a refreshingly cool drink.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on 22 April 2017.