With a year-round mild climate, Ireland is the perfect place to embrace the great outdoors in all but extreme weather. The island’s magnificent landscapes and coastlines offer a host of opportunities for wellbeing, from therapy retreats in clear-air forest retreats in Northern Ireland’s Lakelands to a relaxing wellness experience seaweed bathing in warm water along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Whether it’s a short day in winter or the height of summer, seize the moment and unshackle your mind, body and spirit with any of these invigorating and unusual wellness experiences on the Wild Atlantic Way, near Dublin or Northern Ireland.
Forest bathing – known as Shinrin-Yoku in Japan, where it has been popular for decades – offers an antidote to the burnout of daily life in the company of nature. Instead of piped water, this eco-therapy is all about an immersion into the undiluted atmosphere of the land and a deep reconnection to forests, the spring of wellbeing for both humans and animals.
The backdrop of Killeavy Castle’s 350-acre estate, a rambling woodland at the foot of volcanic Slieve Gullion, is hard to match for a spiritual connection or mindfulness meditation retreat. The psychological and physical benefits can be felt for weeks afterwards, with people left feeling this retreat with a reduction in stress levels and a positive mood – so you’ll have the tools to combat whatever everyday obstacles life has in store for you back home.
From freeloading Buck Mulligan, a fictional character from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the Garvey girls in Apple TV’s Bad Sisters, wild swimming in Dublin’s 40 Foot has captured the imagination of Dublin locals from time immemorial. A dip into the chilly, choppy Irish Sea from a rocky outcrop close to pretty Glasthule Village is just 20 minutes by DART train from Dublin City Centre.
It’s not for the faint hearted, with many a well-intentioned plan unravelling from the moment the first toe reaches the water. A hasty retreat to the warm sanctuary of the car can follow – but locals swear by the 40 Foot’s restorative impact of well-being and for others, it’s an unmissable Christmas tradition. Stop by handsome red bricked Fitzgerald’s Pub afterwards, for warm sustenance as a reward for your act of bravery if you do manage to take the plunge.
The restorative power of seaweed has been recognised by seafaring communities along Ireland’s western shoreline for centuries –so a fully immersive experience with those healing qualities can leave an aching body feeling born again.
Wild Atlantic Seaweed Baths have gone one step further by setting up a row of Irish whiskey barrels, filled with heated sea water and this nutrient rich, organic harvest, where visitors can breathe in the views and ocean air and let the warm water soothe away the body’s wear and tear and rejuvenate the soul.
The barrels are mobile, so they can appear along any Wild Atlantic Way beauty spots from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher – or from Wild Atlantic Seaweed Bath’s home base along the spectacular west Cork coastline. The units are pristine and the company uses a fully sustainable model to yield the seaweed and seawater.
Finn Lough’s vast lakeside estate is the place to lose your bearings on its weaving, pine scented trails only to rediscover your better self on a weekend retreat along Lough Erne’s shoreline. The Fermanagh fairy-tale setting, deep in the forest without the bad wolf, is all about lowering gear and inhaling the undiluted forest air. Meander by sensory cabins, each one designed for wellbeing, like the aromatherapy room which uses the woodland’s plants or a timber herbal sauna overlooking trees.
Then move onto the ridiculously picture perfect outdoor hot tub setting before ending the trail with a splash. A lake plunge from Finn Lough’s decked platform or a gentle easing into the unspoilt water followed by a stimulating, hovering experience in a Floatarium – before settling by the heart-warming glow of a fire, can melt away anxiety and manifest a sense of wellbeing that lingers for weeks to come.
The shock of a sudden plunge into cold water followed by an equally quick thaw by the heat of a sauna has oft-cited health benefits, yet it might not appeal to everyone. However when the setting is in the glorious countryside on the shores of the historic River Boyne, Hot Box Sauna might have the remedy to sway even the thinnest skinned outdoor enthusiast to embrace the invigorating qualities of the experience.
There’s a short scenic stone walkway leading to the pontoon where visitors can plunge into the water and retreat just as quickly to the snug timber quarters of the sauna. Afterwards there’s the option to nestle into a hot tub and embrace the riverside views and the great outdoors while the warm water offers a sheltered sanctuary from the elements.