Weekend break: Islantilla, Spain

She was buffeted as much as buffed, but Esther N McCarthy‘s skin is glowing after a spa break in Spain with her godmother.

Every since Cinderella got to the ball by defying the laws of science, Darwinism, and fashion (glass is so last season, Cinders), a godmother is synonymous with someone who’ll be there for you, no matter what.

My godmother has lived up to that Disney standard my whole life, and then some. 

The two of us want something special to do together but we only have a couple of days that we are both free.

A two-day spa and detox break in Andalusia fits the budget and time constraints and Aer Lingus flying Cork to Faro seals the deal, the hotel being an hour from Faro albeit necessitating going over the border into Spain to get there.

The plan is sun, spa and a whole lot of sangria. Two out of three ain’t bad. It pours rain most of the time we’re there, but it really doesn’t impinge on our enjoyment. 

The hotel is surrounded by a golf course and about half a mile from the beach, but the wellness centre, the bar and the restaurants are the only things we’re interested in.

The bedrooms have pops of colour in the cushions and art work.

Our room is gorgeous, with a big balcony overlooking the pool. We share a kingsized bed, in a room with muted tones and pops of colour in the cushions and art work. 

There’s loads of space for hanging out, with sofas, TV and free wifi. There’s a Nespresso machine and a range of herbal teas and biscuits. 

These come at a charge. We find that out after we slurp down a few rooibos and feed the rather unusual biscuits to the birds. D’oh.

The bathroom is a treat, with sleek, smooth lines, clever lighting, a giant egg-shaped tub, and a proper power shower. 

The whole hotel provides a welcoming, well-designed, high-end vibe but the spa is the real star of the show. This is the real deal. 

Semi Olympic swimming pool, indoor and outdoor seawater pools, jacuzzi, cold pool, Scottish shower, Finnish sauna, Turkish bath, dry and infrared saunas. 

There’s also a hairdresser, a nutritionist, personal trainers, physiotherapists, and every type of massage you can imagine — from Pindas, with small sacks of natural aromatic herbs, to sports massage.

The bathroom has sleek lines with clever lighting.

We are given a timetable on arrival with my itinerary a little more packed than fairy godmother’s who was looking forward to just chilling out.

I am on for trying out as much as I can in two days so, at 10am, I hit the FIT group class. This is described by the lovely Laura in reception as “a fitness mix”. Indeed. 

There is everything going on, dancing and aerobics to weights and yoga. At least I think that’s what I am doing. The instructor doesn’t speak any English so I just sort of follow what everyone else is doing. 

There is a moment with a hula hoop which I may have badly misinterpreted. But it gets the heart-rate up and the breakfast digested so it’s all good.

Next is an Essence massage — hugely relaxing, aromatherapy oils, soft music, candlelight, gentle pressure. Bliss. 

I finish off the first day with fairy godmother in the group Pilates class, followed by a casual, reasonably-priced set-menu dinner in the bar and early to bed.

The next day starts with a consultation with a nutritionist. I fill out a questionnaire — things like how much exercise I take, food allergies, and objectives — and am given a very thorough evaluation which involves the Tanita Body Composition Analyser. 

Turns out Tanita’s a bit of a bitch. The two standout facts are that my degree of obesity is 24.4% and my metabolic age is 53. I’m 38, Tanita.

The nutritionist talks me through a plan aiming at 1,800 kcals, a diet and exercise plan. She had to speak up to make herself heard over my sobbing.

Then it’s time for a Watsu massage. Still reeling from the added 15 years, off I go to the pool where therapist Soufiane awaits me. 

Described in the brochure as “aquatic relaxing therapy”, this involves me reclining back on to his chest and shoulder, and him weaving me through the water for half an hour, me rigid for fear of touching anything inappropriate. 

“Just relax,” the poor fella keeps saying. He’s exhausted by the end of it and I have a rash from his beard that was going to be hard to explain to the husband at home.

But not as difficult as the next bit,

the 90-minute hammam treatment. Again, I haven’t a clue what to expect and am still slightly traumatised after the old age bombshell and the pool pulling.

Off we go into a tomb-like, steamy, wet room with two large slab type beds and a bench. You’re supposed to be starkers except for those ridiculous bits of dental floss underwear they give you but I explain very nicely to Soufiane that I’m Irish, you see, so I’ll hang to the towel, thanks a million. European spa etiquette is far more blasé than Ireland.

He’s highly amused by this, tells me he sees bodies all the time, and to think of him like a doctor. He proceeds to scrub me down while I’m sitting on the bench, he’s armed with a bar of soap and what I can only imagine is sandpaper, chatting away all the while, me desperately trying to cling to the towel, as he raises my arms and legs up, like Mrs Doyle giving Dougal a bath.

He tells me to hop up on the table, but it’s over waist high so I have to go belly first, then swing the leg over and hoike myself up, arse over elbow. I need my two hands so that’s the towel gone.

I lie down and try to calm the nerves. Cold water comes gushing out of the ceiling, unexpectedly, I sit bolt upright, roaring.

Soufiane gets a hose from the corner to finish the job and I kid you not, the pressure is so strong, the dental floss goes flying.

He restarts the scrubbing, the skin is coming off me like a new potato. He’s leaving no surface unbuffed. 

Did I mention he’s just wearing a towel around his waist?

So he’s slathering on all types of oils and lotions, he’s done my entire 24.4% obese body and he comes up to start on the face. I tell him to skip it because I have rosacea, I’ve basically been puce since I met the guy, so he has no reason to doubt me. 

He peers at my face, this way and that, trying to convince me of the benefits. I’m adamant, no, I say, as firmly as one can when lying naked on a slab of concrete.

“How old are you?” asks the man who’s just pummeled and scoured every inch of me, “43?”

Well. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to Soufiane for any offence caused that day. He’s entitled to come to work and not be subjected to that kind of language.

On the plus side, me and fairy godmother had the most lovely two-day break, an experience we never would have had at home. And my skin never felt so smooth and soft. Not bad for a pensioner.

Nightly rates at Marble AMA Andalusia start from €100 on a B&B basis. 

See www.ama-resort.com 

Aer Lingus operates up to six flights a week, Cork to Faro. The service finishes Oct 29, resuming March 26. 

Summer 2017 fares start from €54.99 one-way including taxes and charges.

Visit www.aerlingus.com 



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