When the Irish economy slumped in 2008 it took Ashford Castle down with it.
Nearly every hotel in country suffered as bookings headed south, with the County Mayo property entering administration in 2009.
Yet, rather than spelling the end for a location that had first opened as a hotel in the 1930s, it turned out to be a new beginning.
Taken over by the Tollman family of South Africa and added to their Red Carnation portfolio, Ashford Castle has been completely overhauled in recent years.
Following a near €100 million investment it reopened in 2013 with nearly every inch resorted to its former glory.
Visiting recently I couldn’t help but be overawed by the wonderful job more than 300 local craftsmen had done rebuilding the castle.
New facilities have been added throughout, while the range of activities on offer has been expanded exponentially.
However, the real jewel of the reopened property is the new spa - a striking bronze conservatory housing an indoor resistance pool at the rear of the property.
As general manager Niall Rochford explains: “The opening of the Spa is the final piece in the puzzle of the phenomenal restoration and renovation that Ashford Castle has undergone since we became part of the Red Carnation Hotel collection in spring 2013.
“Complementing the numerous amenities, including the new 32-seat cinema, billiard room, cigar terrace, children’s games room and wine cellars for private dining and wine tastings as well as the array of outdoor activities such as golf, falconry, fishing, tennis, horse-riding and cycling, the spa makes Ashford Castle a truly all-year round destination for the most discerning of guests.”
The spa is run by manager Michelle Ryan in close consultation with Toni Tollman, daughter of Beatrice Tollman, president of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
Invited to visit as part of a weekend stay, my immediate impression on arrival is one of calm contemplation.
The hotel proper is alive with activity, with children enjoying themselves and couples laughing in quite corners. But down in the spa, everything is still; a haven of peaceful relaxation.
Everything a regular spa goer would expect is on hand.
The indoor resistance pool offers views across the serene Lough Corrib, perfect for a quick dip before heading into the treatment rooms.
Also of note here is the ‘Tree of Life’ mural by celebrated South African ceramic mosaic artist Jane Du Rand.
Stretching across an entire wall of the pool area, it draws inspiration from Irish folklore and centres on an Oak Tree, which the Celts believed was a cosmic storehouse of wisdom and whose acorns were considered good luck.
Back in the central areas, the spa is decorated in muted greys, earthy greens and purifying creams.
Boasting an invigorating Hammam, guests are also invited to enjoy a steam room and a tranquil relaxation suite with views over Ireland’s second largest lake.
But it is the treatments which, of course, define any spa experience.
With five treatment rooms, the spa at Ashford Castle offers an extensive range of results-driven treatments including hot stone massage, marine therapy, regenerating facials, detoxifying wraps and pampering beauty treatments.
Guests can choose from three product ranges: organic Irish spa brand, Voya, hailing from nearby Co. Sligo; internationally renowned Elemis and Red Carnation Hotels’ very own B|Africa product range, previously exclusive to the collection’s South Africa properties.
Voya treatments are based on hand-harvested seaweed and the traditions from the hotel’s location along the Atlantic coast.
At the same time, the B|Africa range blends native African plant extracts, the natural goodness of the sea and eco-friendly production technologies.
I selected the Elemis for my treatment – a deep tissue muscle massage.
Each one of the spa’s talented therapists has undergone thorough training to become true experts in the rejuvenating treatments.
And the training shows.
Designed to alleviate stress, the treatment begins with guests invited to select a stone, illustrating to the therapist what they seek from the experience.
I selected ‘renewal’ before taking my place on the bed.
For the next hour the world drifted away in a haze of soft scents, calming music and relaxing massage – an essential element to any stay at Ashford Castle.
Aching muscles are revived and senses renewed as part of this deeply rewarding experience.
All too quickly it was over and I was whisked to the relaxation area for an apple sorbet, with time to take in the magnificent views from the castle.
Dating back to 1228, the castle now enters a new chapter in its history, as part of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
With 83 spectacular rooms, suites and a Lakeside Cottage, a wealth of activities and plenty of thoughtful touches, guests will enjoy acclaimed Irish hospitality on a grand scale.
Rooms at Ashford Castle start from €335 for a double room, on a bed and breakfast basis.
To book head over to the official website.