There is nothing like spa-ing in a castle to make one feel like real royalty. That’s especially true at the five-star Ashford Castle (Cong, County Mayo, Ireland), which has a rich history dating back to 1228. Once home to the famous Guinness family, the estate was purchased in 1939 and transformed into a hotel. Throughout the years, it changed hands numerous times and was restored and expanded into a first-class property. In 2013, Red Carnation Hotels bought the castle and began a major renovation to restore it to its former glory. Set on 350 acres, the estate encompasses 85 guest rooms, an equestrian center, Ireland’s only Orvis-endorsed fishing school, an exclusive nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a falconry school, and more. Reopened in April 2015, Ashford Castle debuted a stunning new spa three months later as part of the two-year restoration.
Featuring a regal setting, The Spa at Ashford Castle entices guests with its grandeur. A striking new bronze conservatory, designed by French architect Philippe Bonino, houses an indoor resistance pool and offers views that stretch across Lough Corrib, the island’s second largest lake. Inside, spa-goers can relax beneath three seashell chandeliers, inspired by the nearby Atlantic coast, and admire the stunning Tree of Life mural by celebrated South African ceramic mosaic artist Jane du Rand. Drawn from Irish folklore, the mural focuses on an oak tree, which the Celts believed was a source of wisdom and whose acorns were considered good luck.
The rest of the spa is set within the castle walls, replacing the Health and Beauty rooms from its previous incarnation. Decked out in muted greys, earthy greens, and serene creams, the relaxing retreat also incorporates a hammam, a steam room, a manicure and pedicure area, a tranquil relaxation suite, and an outdoor terrace. The five-treatment-room spa is a haven for those wanting an escape from their daily routine. “Guests who visit the spa are looking to feel rejuvenated and relaxed when they have completed their spa journey,” says spa director Michelle Ryan. “This is a far cry from everyday life where guests can be under immense pressure or stress. They want to experience the fairytale setting, relaxing treatments, state-of-the-art facilities, and magnificent views over Lough Corrib.”
In developing those relaxing treatments, Ryan sought to offer a wide variety of services that incorporate organic and natural products and traditional and holistic therapies. Featuring three product ranges, the spa relies on B Africa, Red Carnation Hotel’s own line, previously exclusive to its South Africa properties; Elemis, a leading British skincare and spa brand; and Voya, an organic hand-harvested seaweed-based brand that hails from nearby County Sligo. According to Ryan, the spa’s most popular services are those that are hands-on, such as traditional massages, hot stone therapies, and facials. The Ashford Castle Ritual ($173, 75 minutes) appeals to many spa-goers, as it allows them to experience a combination of five specialized treatments. The head-to-toe ritual involves a muscle-melting back massage with warm organic body oil, a nourishing hair mask, a soothing facial, an Indian head massage, and restorative reflexology.
With seven full-time and seven part-time employees on staff, the spa can accommodate up to 35 treatments each day. According to Ryan, staffing can be a challenge, as candidates must possess several attributes, such as being skilled, articulate, and knowledgeable of the hospitality industry. They must also understand the concept of providing world-class guest service. “We are always looking for key team players,” says Ryan. It’s also essential that those team players adopt the company’s philosophy on selling. “Our key to selling is to sell right,” she says. “To suggest is to sell and to sell is to serve.”
Intent on providing guests with the ultimate experience, Ryan and her team are focused on adding to the spa’s offerings with fitness activities and yoga retreats that help enhance the spa journey. “The Spa at Ashford Castle provides a sanctuary of calm and serenity inspired by the location and history of this iconic building,” says Ryan. “Our guests are here to take a time out.” The fact that a visit also makes them feel like royalty is just icing on the cake.
Owner: Red Carnation Hotel Collection
Spa Director: Michelle Ryan
Opened: July 2015
Most Represented Countries
7,534 square feet;
5 treatment rooms
B Africa, Depilève, Elemis, Essie, Robeworks, Voya
Concept Software, Life Fitness
Philippe Bonino (Antibes, France)
Brian Brennan, projects director of Building & Design, Red Carnation Hotels (London)