Reviewing the spa at the five-star Heritage hotel, in Co Laois, was relaxing work, says Esther McCarthy
I AM walking, like one of the zombie extras from classic horror movie, Dawn of the Dead, through the corridors of an Irish hotel. Shuffling at a snail’s pace, my eyes barely open, I am moving gingerly towards my room.
Fortunately, there has not been a zombie apocalypse — my floppy status is due to that heightened state of relaxation that a truly great spa treatment can bring.
You don’t realise how much tension you’re carrying in your body until you take time out, until you’re placed in the hands of a great spa therapist. For the previous eighty minutes, I’ve been simultaneously relaxed and revived in the very capable hands of Mairead, therapist at The Heritage, in Killenard, Co Laois.
This very lovely, five-star hotel and spa recently introduced its ‘Heritage Hero’ package, built around a sublime, eighty-minute ritual, using ESPA products. I went there after a busy period at work.
The treatment is tailored to your needs and skin type. Beginning with a back exfoliation — to slough off that dry winter skin — followed by a hot-stone back-neck and shoulder massage and customised facial, you’re encouraged to share with your therapist the areas you most want to focus on.
The Heritage at Killenard is one of those great hotel spas that midlanders have long been flocking to and which the rest of us should cotton on to. Its setting is unique and creates its ‘relaxed luxury’ mood. On entering the lobby, your eyes are drawn upwards by its striking, four-storey atrium, with its dramatic, iron-railed staircase.
We headed straight for the water. The Spa Experience — a vast hot-and-cold therapy area — really is world-class, and it’s essential to spend an hour here before your treatment.
A spa map marks out the 7,000 sq ft area, including a hydrotherapy pool, salt foot baths, ice baths, a steam room infused with eucalyptus oil, sauna, and various other hot-and-cold experiences. If you have achy limbs or dodgy sinuses or troublesome skin, this is the place for you.
After these hot-and-cold treatments, I was relaxed even before the therapist began to work her magic.
The Heritage Hero ritual can be built into overnight, weekend, and midweek packages, and, if you’re looking for a weekend bolt hole, this is the place. An hour from Dublin and two hours from Cork, the hotel is also easily accessible by rail, via Portarlington, a five-minute taxi ride away.
But the hotel’s tranquil setting is restorative — this is the Irish countryside, and it doesn’t take long to shake off the shackles of the city, work, and traffic.
On Friday night, we rekindled our love for the sublime Irish coming-of-age movie, Sing Street, in the hotel’s very cool, comfortable in-house cinema, before retiring for the night.
The rooms are beautifully decorated, airy, and well-appointed and come with some nice touches, from the free-standing baths (complete with resident rubber duck) to the beds, which manage to be both supportive and soft. Tech fans will like the interactive home entertainment system, which boasts a vast choice of TV channels and a music library, doubling as an information system on the hotel’s facilities.
But our stay coincided with the very first hints of proper warmth. This was a weekend break to savour outdoors, and we left the TV in favour of a five-kilometre walk around the hotel’s vast estate.
Blackbirds and robins sang us on our way, as we followed the country trail, which is, incidentally, illuminated at nighttime, making it a very popular, year-round local walk.
Following our spa treatments, we headed for afternoon tea in the hotel, where we met the general manager, Andrew Phelan, a committed believer in hospitality and the Irish welcome.
Afternoon tea is having a moment, he told us, and that was very apparent from the dozens of people tucking into dainty sandwiches and cakes that looked like little works of art, served on Aynsley fine bone china.
That evening, we feasted on starters of beetroot and goat’s cheese and mains of Irish beef, in The Arlington Restaurant, an elegant yet relaxed place, which serves all the great Irish staples, some with a modern touch.
If you’re feeling a bit jaded and in need of time out, The Heritage is really the perfect place to pause and restore yourself, and rediscover the underrated art of doing as little as possible.
There are walks and tennis games and golf and swims to be had, but also plenty of cosy spaces to just sit and read the papers or gaze out the windows.
After a Sunday-morning cooked breakfast, with home-made mango smoothies, we left in a relaxation-induced haze, determined to return.
The Heritage Hero package is available from €199 per person and includes overnight accommodation in a deluxe room with breakfast, afternoon tea with bubbles, unlimited access to the Heritage Spa Experience and The Club, and the 80-minute ESPA Hero Treatment.
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