I must admit that I hadn’t heard of the Ice House until last year. From the moment that our trip was arranged, I was intrigued by it…not least because of that unusual name, and the hotel’s promise of luxury, comfort and relaxation.
Also, we like Ballina. I’ve never felt the urge to follow Big Jack Charlton into Ballina waters, some salmon to land, but the former Republic of Ireland soccer manager certainly put the town (further) on the map with his fishing exploits there in the 1990s and for many years after.
Around the time that Big Jack was doing wonders for the Ballina tourist trade, we spent a very enjoyable weekend there. We didn’t get into the angling, but we liked Ballina for the other non-fishing reasons that would have appealed to Jack: the people, the pubs and restaurants, the easy atmosphere and gentle pace of life.
Now, many years on, we’re heading for the Ice House – located on the edge of Ballina – for a weekend treat.
When we located our destination, I was struck by how relatively modest the exterior of the building is. But what a location! The Ice House is tucked into a corner, hugging the peaceful and serene Moy Estuary.
On arrival, we felt that sense of anticipation that you feel on arriving at a hotel for the first time.
Walking to the entrance, we were greeted by a sight that would become familiar over the weekend; the Ice House overlooks the Moy Estuary, and there in its midst, knee-deep or more in water, stood a small number of fishermen, alone with their fishing rods and their solitude. It is quite a sight: a picture of contentment and timelessness, an antidote to a fast-moving world.
We enter the Ice House…and it’s immediately obvious that behind the exterior is a beautiful, luxurious ‘retreat’ – a partly-hidden gem is being revealed.
I’m tempted to pause straight away, as the first room we enter is a cosy and quaint area with warm, classy furniture, and an inviting choice of newspapers. But we have business to do; well, to check in, and to explore. The lady ‘at reception’ is friendly and welcoming, and moments later we are opening the door of our suite.
It’s one of a number of Riverview Suites in the Ice House, and it’s fabulous…sheer luxury complemented by a spectacular view of the Moy River and Belleek Woods.
As we were soon to find out, a major aspect of what the hotel has to offer is its award-winning Chill Spa.
There’s an entire floor devoted to Spa treatments and there’s even a Spa Garden terrace, where guests can relax outdoors while enjoying the beautiful views of the peaceful River Moy. There’s a thermal suite which features outdoor hot tubs, a barrel sauna, steam room, relaxation rooms, etc.
A team of expert therapists and masseuses offer an extensive treatment menu with wonderful therapies designed to relax and rejuvenate. You can avail of revitalising organic seaweed-based VOYA creams, gels and oils, and an indoor-outdoor blend of soothing therapies.
We duly availed of this Spa service on the Sunday evening, and it was wonderful.
Later, Dinner with other guests from the media industry was preceded by a visit to the cosy bar, where we began the inevitable ‘shop talk’ about our never-dull newspaper industry.
Over Dinner, we heard about the history of the premises. In centuries past, part of what is now the Ice House hotel was used as a giant cold store for salmon exports. You do feel that sense of history…of the building’s closeness to Ballina’s status as a salmon fishing haven.
The food, meanwhile, was delicious, and the company was excellent too. It was a very enjoyable evening. Next morning, we had a lovely breakfast in the Pier Restaurant, which also overlooks the river.
On Monday morning, I took a stroll through some of the relaxing reception areas in this most laidback of hotels. Surrounded by easy chairs, books, newspapers and artwork, you feel time stopping – and yourself relaxing. I didn’t want to leave.
The management has impressively succeeded in marrying contemporary chic and traditional elegance. They have complemented the building’s historic status by creating an atmospheric, relaxing and soothing environment, in which guests can unwind and let the stresses of modern-day living ebb away.
While you can obviously call into the Ice House for a drink or a meal, to fully embrace and benefit from this Wild Atlantic Way gem, you really need to stay for a weekend or midweek break and treat yourself to the Chill Spa facilities. If you can, put it on your ‘to do/to visit’ list.
We loved it, with its mastery of timelessness, its wonderfully soothing ambience. We left with reluctance, and suitably wowed, just pausing for one more envious look at the timeless fishermen, knee-deep in their contentment!