The Ballymahon-based resort’s best kept secret may be that it’s just as much fun for mammies and daddies and their nipper-free friends.
All sploshy water slides, tree-top adventures and chocolate-making classes, since opening in Longford Forest in 2019, it’s become a must-visit for families across the country.
But the Ballymahon-based resort’s best kept secret may be that it’s just as much fun for mammies and daddies and their nipper-free friends.
Specifically, I’m referring to its Aqua Sana spa, which — after a frustrating stop-start time over the past two years — has now fully reopened with bells on.
Set just a little past the busy cycle centre, where the latest bunch of arrivals are getting all saddled up for their stay on a bright autumn Monday morning, the standalone spa gives parents the chance to take a much-deserved breather from all the archery, mini-golf and zip-lining.
But — and here’s the bit you mightn’t know — it’s also open to non-residents for relaxing day and overnight packages at surprisingly reasonable rates.
With its own car park and separate accommodation, in fact, were it not for all the roof box-laden Tucsons and Qashqais after turning off the main road into the sprawling forest, you mightn’t even know you were in Center Parcs.
Unfolding over 2,500 square metres, the spotlessly clean spa — the biggest in the country — boasts 21 different experiences throughout four zones all inspired by the healing power of nature.
Robed up and ready to wind down, I started, as recommended, by dunking my tootsies in a bubbly reflexology footbath in the Sole Therapy room.
Leave your mobile phone in the changing room locker — ingeniously opened and closed by a wristband rather than a fidgety key — as the spa is mercifully a selfie-free zone. More spas should be.
Next, it was on to the fiery Volcanic Forest to warm up in the bone-dry heat of the sauna and stress-melting steam room, before cooling back down again under a refreshing tropical mist in the waterfall shower.
In the Nordic Forest, there’s a snooze-inducing Scandinavian snug, a wooden sauna with floor-to-ceiling views of the forest, an ice cave and an Alpine steam room bursting with rose essence to clear the head and get the blood pumping.
Around another corner in the varied escape, you can sink into squishy waterbeds, perch on faux tree stumps while breathing in warm eucalyptus vapours, or recline on a comforting lounger as the sound of trickling water washes over you.
Although you really don’t have to splash out on a treatment to make the most of the relaxing getaway, those staying overnight especially (who have full access to the spa on both days) may feel like treating themselves. And what a little bit of luxury the new Heart of Ireland treatment is.
Exclusive to Longford Forest, during the hour-and-a-half add-on, I was gently scrubbed, soothed and slathered into a state of bliss by therapist Renata using luxurious Voya products.
I’d love to tell you more about the top-to-tip treatment, which includes a warming seaweed foot wrap, cleansing face mask and soothing scalp massage, but by that point I was already transcendent.
Back on terra firma, the onsite Vitalé Café Bar has a selection of fresh pastries, paninis, pastas, coffees and cocktails to rival not just any hotel spa, but any cafe in the country.
There’s also an affordable afternoon tea option for €21.95 per person.
Outside, simmering in one of two hot tubs in the verdant Hot Springs Garden, I’m kicking myself for not cottoning on to the destination spa in the Hidden Heartlands, a 90-minute drive from Dublin, sooner. Incidentally, older children over the age of 14 are allowed access to Aqua Sana with an adult — but, shhh, don’t tell them that.
Believe me, no one is more surprised than me to be awarding Center Parcs’ forest escape a perfect zen out of 10.
CENTER PARCS LONGFORD FOREST See aquasana.ie ■ Aqua Sana offers spa day and overnight breaks from €79 per person. ■ The Heart of Ireland spa day for two starts from €219pp, including access to the spa from 9am to 5pm, a 90-minute Heart of Ireland treatment each and lunch in Vitalé Café Bar. ■ Separately, the Heart of Ireland treatment costs €149.