Here come the girls

Esther N McCarthy and besties took off for a pamper-plus weekend at Brandon House.

A GIRLS’ weekend away must comprise of certain elements to ensure success. Girls, first, obviously. So, with two besties in tow, we looked for the second vital ingredient, pampering. Throw in some good grub and any class of alcoholic beverage and that’s us sorted. Rumours of a spa of superior status in a four-star, old country house in Wexford lured to us to New Ross. No boys or babies allowed — except the one in Bestie No Two’s tummy.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

A red carpet rolls graciously from the entrance of the hotel, buffeted by banks of blooms. For us? How wonderful! Sadly, there was a bride who had the notion the extra touches were for her, so we let her have her moment.

But you know what? We were greeted at reception with genuine warmth and every minute of our time in Brandon House was just lovely, so red carpet or not, we did feel special during our stay. The sweeping drive up through mature woodlands, the elevated stately house and an intriguing dome-like structure, all creates an aura of seclusion and relaxation.

THE ROOMS

We check into a triple room on the second floor. All you people who can’t pack light, take note, there’s no lift in Brandon House. But then there is only two floors and helpful porters if you need a hand. It’s a triple room, light and airy, with an overflowing fruit bowl, with local Wexford strawberries, naturally, water and red wine to greet us.

The decor is neutral, with muted tones, clean crisp linens and plenty of room for the three of us. There wasn’t a very strong signal on the free wifi in this room and the view was a non-event, disappointing considering the stunning grounds but on the up side, there were lots of lovely touches in the bathroom that we girlies appreciated — luxury Havana products, including a nice conditioner, mending kits that I always swear are so handy yet have never once used; a dental kit and get this, a shoe mitt.

The beds were comfortable and the curtains were proper blackouts enhancing the ability to lie in — another must for a girls’ weekend away.

THE FOOD

Our first night we wandered into New Ross to dine and the less said about that, the better. Stay in the hotel. The gallery restaurant, under head chef Emmet Maher was just wonderful and offers a very good value Table D’hôte price of €25 for four courses.

We walked around the room first, nosing at all the art, there’s a pretty impressive collection by artists like Tony O’Malley and Nora McGuinness. The proprietor Paddy Quinn, who passed away last year, also has pieces here. It was early Sunday night when we dined and the restaurant was quiet but didn’t lack atmosphere.

The staff were just excellent, catering for our veggie gal, offering other options that weren’t on the menu. And what a menu. Every bite was a delight, with local produce abounding. We started with marinated chilli chicken kebabs with nachos and guacamole — perfect portion size and a brie cheese parcel in filo pastry with apple and plum golden raisin chutney — divine.

Main course brought grilled fillet of monkfish, with red onion courgette and tomato gratin with sauce vierge for me, poached hake for Girl Number 2 and stuffed aubergine with aromatic veggies, smoked mozzarella and tomato coulis for Girl Number 3.

For dessert we shared: when I say shared, I ate most of them, to be fair. I declare the individual warm banana bread with rum and raisin ice cream the winner. A reasonably priced prosecco washed it all down nicely.

Breakfast was good, with a lavish spread, but the second morning I ordered from the menu rather than partaking in the buffet and the freshly-made cheese omelette beat the ol’ full Irish hands down. A gorgeous array of breads and good, strong coffee served with just enough good cheer but not so enthusiastically as to hurt a hungover head, sealed the deal.

THE AMENITIES

Ah, where do I start? I can say, without hyperbole, the Solas Croí Eco Spa is the most amazing place on this or any other planet. Too much? Just visit and see. You will not be disappointed.

You go from a traditional, intimate country house into this futuristic eco friendly realm, all glass and wood and light. It’s like stepping into a bubble of nurturing. Every detail is perfect — chocolate dipped strawberries, a bistro area with menu to cater for every possible health option — from with weight watchers points to low GI foods, genuinely lovely staff — oh! and a reflexology stimulating Via Sensus Japanese Stone walk.

The three of us crunched our way around that one fairly lively. Then we went to have a Traditional Spa Ritual, as one does. We started with a foot scrub, then off to the dry sauna, onto the eucalyptus steam inhalation room and into the rainforest showers and then we braved the outdoor hydrotherapy pool and Jacuzzi.

They have these funky looking Alpha beds there, not unlike something Mork slept in. We couldn’t quite figure out what they were supposed to do.

Then it was treatment time. The spa uses Elemis beauty products, with a range of Ayurvedic therapies and there is a huge menu to choose from. Our mammy-to-be got The Mama Mio Smoothie that did indeed leave her with skin to rival a baby’s bottom. I got a body scrub that removed a few layers, I can tell you, finished with soothing oil massage and bestie No 1 got a facial that — and this is a fact — made her look 94% younger. She got asked for ID in the Library Bar later that night.

Up to the relaxation room to stare at a giant crystal in a blissed out haze and make sand sculptures. This place is four storeys of potato starch walled heaven. Oh, and there’s a leisure centre but as we were avoiding children we gave it a miss — but it looked lovely,

WHAT TO DO

We piled into the car to head to Kilmore Quay. This picture postcard fishing village has pristine beaches, cute cafes and friendly pubs. Check out the thatched cottages, Ballyteigue Burrow for its flora and fauna, Ballyteigue Castle, and there’s a bird sanctuary out on the islands if you can find a nice boat owner to spin you over.

Don’t leave without trying the monkfish goujons from Saltee’s chipper, it’s not cheap but well worth it. We did the five senses walk around the grounds of the hotel. Made sense.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There’s a two night rekindle package on offer at time of typing, that’s two nights B&B for two people with four course evening dinner in the Gallery restaurant with a choice of one hour spa treatments and access to the health and leisure club from €308 for total stay. Check www.brandonhousehotel.ie or 051-421703 for more info and deals.

ANYTHING TO ADD

They offer a day spa package called The Ultimate Experience, it lasts three hours and costs €180.

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