SECRETS OF THAT MONART MAGIC
For the last two years, you voted Monart as Ireland’s Favourite Spa in our Reader Travel Awards. So, what goes on behind the scenes to make the Wexford retreat so special? Orla Neligan checks in to find out. Portraits by Fran Veale
Master of hospitality: Mark Browne, General Manager at Monart
Imagine a place perfectly poised between ponygrazed meadows and wonderful woodland, where lavish meets low-key, where no request is too outrageous and the word “no” doesn’t exist, and where you can wander all day from restaurant to spa to garden dressed simply in a bathrobe. The place exists, and it’s called Monart. It is not a boutique hotel, although it feels intimate. It is not even a hotel in the typical sense, although it has all the hallmarks of a great one. Instead, it defies categories, where life revolves around the spa, the heart of the property.
Whether or not you buy into the idea that a day spent in a bathrobe is appropriate, there’s no doubt that a little whiterobed nirvana is good for the soul. Ireland’s first destination spa is as idyllic a retreat as you’ll find, just 10 minutes from busy Enniscorthy. It’s morning as I arrive and the sun is twinkling through swaying trees as it rises over Vinegar Hill. Horses canter in a paddock below the old house and a family of ducks waddles through the woodland on their way to the pond. The atmosphere is a hushed one; the pace slow. “Guests regularly ask whether we put something in the air down here,” laughs General Manager Mark Browne. “Once the gates close behind you it’s like you’ve entered another world, and that’s the point.”
Browne, of course, is one of the reasons Monart is continuously ranked as one of the world’s leading spas and has been named ‘Ireland’s favourite spa’ for two years running in our Reader Travel Awards. He is reluctant to divulge any celebrity guest names, preferring to keep their privacy, but prac- tically squeals with delight at the memory of Roger Moore asking for a Martini — shaken not stirred — on his arrival at Monart. Like all great managers, Browne is a master of hospitality, insisting on greeting guests personally while maintaining an eye on every corner. It’s not easy to offer immaculate service and be disarmingly down to earth at the same time, but he and his 150+ staff at Monart manage the trick with aplomb.
Before I turn the key in the car engine, Michal, the uniformed concierge, is opening the door with a million-watt smile, escorting me inside with friendly ease while his colleague parks my car, setting the tone for service that is old school, yet full of Irish warmth (even if he is Polish). Behind the front desk, Karen O’Leary emerges proffering a plate of mini Bakewell slices while she runs through check-in. Behind me a group of women are exchanging hugs with some of the staff. It’s an unusual scene, but I soon learn it’s one that is familiar and somewhat synonymous with Monart: 75pc of guests are repeat visitors, many of whom have become part of the Monart ‘family’. “It’s one thing I love about working here,” says Food and Beverage Supervisor Margaret Kiernan. “We have so many repeat guests that we really get to know them very well. Recently, a regular guest arrived and came straight up to give me a big hug. There was a long queue behind her of people waiting to check-in, some of whom looked a little surprised. I had to tell them not to worry, that I don’t hug everyone... unless they want one, of course,” she laughs.
One of the hallmarks of a successful hotel is the length