Rest, relaxation and renewal at the Monart in Wexford

Wexford-based Monart — Ireland’s first purpose-built luxury spa — is a rare treasure, writes Clodagh Finn.

Rest, relaxation and renewal at the Monart in Wexford

The first time I went to visit the Shaolin masters at Monart Destination Spa, I lost my bank pin number.

It just unfurled itself from my brain during an exquisitely relaxing overnight stay and made for the hills, never to return.

I found myself at the supermarket the following day punching in three wrong numbers, but not really caring. I was still on a blissed-out, post-Monart high.

Although, ‘high’ isn’t entirely the right word for the feeling of all-encompassing calm that starts to seep into your bones as soon as you drive through the electronic gates and cruise up the winding path to this five-star hideaway outside Enniscorthy in Wexford.

The 18th Palladian mansion makes a magnificent first impression. If, unlike muggins, you’re accustomed to top-class service, you’ll know to expect it from the moment you arrive. All you have to do is pull up and uniformed staff will welcome you, park your car and deliver any luggage to your room.

Oh, and what a room. I’ve lived in flats a third of the size of the deluxe room which has a gigantic bed — complete with goose-feather-down duvet and Egyptian cotton sheets — at its centre, a plump, sink-right-into-it sofa at one end and a table and chairs at the other.

That’s not even taking into account the superbly equipped Italian-marble bathroom and a balcony that looks out on to woodland just about to don its autumn colours.

Standing out on it in the early afternoon, you remember that there is nothing like the smell of the Irish countryside after rain.

A visitor could simply stay put and demolish the amazing petits fours — salmon and cream-cheese rolls, lemon tartlets, mini brownies — assembled on a two-tiered cake plate and still feel the benefit.

But Monart has so much more to offer.

It’s the country’s first purpose-built luxury spa and you can embrace its promise of the three Rs — rest, relaxation and renewal — in the 2,000sq-foot thermal suite without ever trying a treatment.

Since they first took up an annual three-month residency in 2012, the monks have attracted a faithful following among those anxious to embrace some easily learned Shaolin principles designed to improve health and well-being.

They visited last December and are likely to return again in 2017.

Monart sales and marketing director Liam Anthony Griffin was the first to spot the potential when he met the monks at a spa in Austria.

He was even more impressed when he tried the intriguingly named ‘warrior massage’ — more anon — and its practitioner Master Zheng pinpointed a back injury that had left him in chronic pain since he was a minor hurler with Wexford aged 17.

Master Zheng recommended Qi Gong, a series of eight slow movements that tone muscles and increase energy.

After practising it for 15 minutes a day for four months, Liam Anthony’s back pain was gone.

“We are honoured to welcome two of the foremost masters of Shaolin to Monart this year,” he said.

“It is part of their ethos to share their culture, knowledge and way of life. Their dedication to health and wellbeing and to strengthening the mind and body to be prepared for whatever life brings is entirely fitting at Monart Destination Spa.”

Master Yang and Master Ma have spent a lifetime honing their skills at their monastery in Henan Province in central China but even on a short visit, you’ll learn the basics of meditation, Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

If you have time (50 minutes) and the budget (€120), the warrior massage is not to be missed.

The technique dates to ancient times when the Shaolin monks were forced to defend their monastery from intruders.

They mastered Kung Fu to ward off raiders and developed a warrior massage to treat monks, post-battle. It was designed to pinpoint areas of weakness in the body and strengthen them.

The monks and the massage would soon become famous all around the world, thanks in no small part to the 1970s TV series Kung Fu, in which David Carradine (Grasshopper) played a Shaolin monk.

Expectations are high when Master Yang begins to administer a warrior massage.

It’s unlike any massage I’ve ever had before but it’s blessedly non-intrusive; the treatment is done while you’re fully dressed and covered by a sheet.

Master Yang soon works out his subject’s weak points — in particular iron-tense shoulders that have almost taken on the shape of a computer screen — and begins to work on them by applying pressure at points in the back and neck.

I can’t say exactly how it works but this year I forget my room key after an excellent meal in the spa’s Fine Food Restaurant.

Speaking of food, you can be really healthy and stick to spa dishes or choose from a wider selection; either way, you’ll be eating first-rate locally sourced food.

Even in my altered state, the blue-cheese bread and starter of goat’s cheese and beetroot terrine made a lasting impression.

The next day, there’s time for a long, leisurely breakfast and an extended tour of the thermal suite. I make a bee-line for the infrared pro cabin. Its infrared heat reduces stiffness — I’m thinking of those shoulders again — improves flexibility and soothes pain.

Check-out is at noon, but visitors are invited to stay on at the spa until 2pm. The only risk in doing so is that you’ll be tempted to book right back in again when check-in opens at 3pm.

Getting there

Monart is set on 100 acres of countryside 4km outside Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

The 5-day ‘Monart Life’ Detox Programme including all food, treatments, individual evaluations and a personal trainer, €1,095 per person.

The 3-day ‘Monart Life’ Detox Programme including all food, treatments, individual evaluations and a personal trainer, €479 per person sharing.

For further details, see www.monart.ie

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