Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Reader Travel Awards -

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

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