Sunday Independent - May 2004

Travel, For Mind Body and Soul

Early to rise and early to bed make a male healthy and wealthy --- and dead. You'll be under the ground long enough so you might as well live a little while you're here. If I have any belief at all, it is probably close to W C Field's: "A man's got to believe in something --- I believe I'll have another drink".

And that drink is usually in Lillies or Renards at four in a weekend morning with a splitting headache and with the fires of hell waiting to incapacitate me for the next 24 hours.

It was during one such hellish, Hieronymus Bosch-esque hangover that I had an epiphany: why not try healthy for a change? At first, it sounded like a thoroughly deplorable concept - but once I reached The Wells Spa at The BrookLodge Hotel in Wicklow, it soon began to feel like a good idea. It promised a spiritual oasis only an hour from Dublin an "escape for mind and body, and soul rejuvenation".

I was already starting to switch off (in more ways that one: my mobile phone wasn't just switched off - they had taken it from me) by the time the masseuse began the senses-stirring pummelling.

She told me that my body and mind would be invigorated by the aromatherapy oils, my spirit refreshed and my vital energies strengthened. Whatever my emotions, when I had a dip in the glorious pool directly after the massage. I certainly felt - forgive the cliché - like a new man. Pumped in from the hotel's own well, the water was warm and my muddy mind was starting to clear. But, ironically, I couldn't get away from the mud - my next port of call saw my unimpeachably beautiful friend Siobhan and I covered in hot mud and put in a steam room for an hour.

The mud was of different colours, which meant we looked like particularly distressed Amazonians from the rainforest. We remained covered in mud until lunch.

But what a lunch. Serving only the finest in wild and organic foods, The Strawberry Tree is the proud winner of Food & Wine magazine's 'Best Leinster Restaurant 2003'. To start, I had mixed rocket leaf & poached egg, Macreddin salad, while Siobhan had marinated slices of organic beef fillet with hazelnut vinaigrette.

For the main course, I enjoyed a delicious organic beef fillet (char-grilled) with roast onion mash and maderia jus, while the princess had organic grilled salmon with braised savoy cabbage and white wine sauce.

The hotel has such a large selection of wines that we couldn't resist ordering a bottle, which we followed with a quiet drink in Actons country pub - which is part of the hotel and serves perfect pints from its very own microbrewery. Alas, the quiet pint turned into several noisier ones.

Post-lunch, the management had laid on all manner of treatments - more delightful massages and swims - which we gratefully enjoyed until it was time for food again. Our appetites were well and truly satisfied with wild organic pan-fried fillet of sea bass with couscous and cumin sauce and wild organic baked red mullet, Jerusalem artichoke and chive beurre blanc respectively. Highly recommended.

By: Barry Egan