When a spa treatment is voted the very best in the country, expectations are high.
The bar is set even higher when you have to drive more than four hours just to experience it.
Every year Irish Tatler publishes its spa awards and this time round Knockranny House Hotel picked up the Best Package Award for its Sami Zen treatment.
So we set off, Thelma and Louise style, from Cork to Mayo – the ultimate roadtrip, to try out the ultimate spa experience.
There’s no denying we felt the drive. We took a break in Galway, where we stumbled upon the sensational Artisan restaurant.
But still it felt gruelling.
We drove into Westport, and on to Knockranny, and the four-hour journey suddenly seemed a breeze.
There was the warmest of welcomes, and we made our way through the beautiful country house to our roomy suite, with its luscious thick carpets, marble bathroom and modern, yet cosy (never an easy balance to strike) decor.
Our room faced the beautiful courtyard, but elsewhere in the hotel there are breathtaking views of Croagh Patrick.
Jaw dropping, you find yourself wondering is the spa even necessary in a location as serene and beautiful as this.
We ate out that evening, and again struck gold, dining in the kooky, one-of-a-kind Sage.
The food was five-star, yet served in a laid back, cafe-style, environment.
Westport’s bars were like nothing we’d encountered before either – traditional, authentic and the very best fun.
McGings, right next door to Sage, was another real find that weekend. None of this might quite seem relevant to spa review, but when you travel as large a distance as this for a weekend spa break, what you do outside the treatment room becomes key.
The next morning breakfast was served in the main dining room with its floor to ceiling windows and again, those breath taking views of the mountains.
Breakfast is always the true test of a hotel, and Knockranny didn’t disappoint. Museli, fresh fruit, juice, followed by a hot breakfast brought fresh to the table. No soggy scrambled eggs from a buffet here. Sensational.
And then, finally, it was down to the Salveo Spa, the reason for our visit.
The hotel team told us later that a huge refurbishment is underway, with plans to upgrade the spa and restaurant.
Truly, the spa was perfect as it was.
More of those warm Westport welcomes and I was led into the vitality suite.
A Grecian style pool is the focal point, with sauna and steam rooms to the side.
Give yourself some time here, it’s wonderful, setting the right tone and atmosphere - a mini meditation before the treatment begins.
The Sami Zen is a full body experience using Kerstin Florian products.
I loved how my therapist began by talking me through the process, explaining every step of the treatment, allowing me to smell and touch the oils.
Two and a half hours is a long time to spend in a treatment room, and it was reassuring to know exactly what was coming next.
The Sami Zen begins with a full body brush and scrub with Turkish salts.
The truth? The treatment could gave stopped there. I felt polished, invigorated, revitalised.
Exfoliation over, next came a 10 minute private jacuzzi bath in chamomile.
The room is lit with candles and it really feels like the ultimate indulgence, absolute, uninterrupted “me” time.
I fell in love with baths all over again.
From there it was back to the treatment room for a full body Arctic hot stone massage, finished with a mini-facial and scalp massage.
I was concerned that two hours might be too long to spend on a spa treatment.
Instead, I found myself wishing it wasn’t over.
When part of your job includes reviewing spas, it really does say a lot when you can say this truly is one of the best Ireland has to offer.
Half an hour in the relaxation room, and I floated out of the spa and remained on that same relaxed high throughout the day.
My travelling companion (Thelma/Louise) agreed her treatment was one of the best too.
A quick lunch at the Willow Tea Rooms in town (more of those Westport smiles), and we savoured a glass of wine at Knockranny’s bar - more views, more beaming, friendly staff.
We ate in the hotel at La Fougere that night and instantly understood why it’s a talking point with food reviewers.
I began with the goats cheese parfait with hazelnuts and smoked aubergine.
My main was a 21-day dry aged steak of Irish Hereford beef, tarragon moussesline, mushroom, smoked cheese, pithiver, with crispy onions pepper and mustard jus.
A full list of local suppliers is a welcome addition to the menu.
The desert was a chocoholics dream - chocolate tart, kirsch cherries with hazelnut ice cream. All that praise, and I still haven’t gotten to the best part - the price.
The Sami Zen, at two and a half hours, is just €150.
The Ladies Day package, meanwhile, includes lunch and a one hour treatment incorporating a back massage, facial and head massage, for just €75. Add in an overnight stay and breakfast and it comes to €150.
That Best Package Award was well earned, and every mile of the roadtrip was worth it.