A land not readily associated with pampering, Ireland seems an unlikely setting for a destination spa. Indeed, Sámas, a Gaelic word pronounced saw-vas, may be the country’s only such establishment. Yet spend a session floating in the spa’s vitality pool, and it becomes clear that this is not such an odd place for the “indulgence of the senses”–the English translation of the term sámas.
The unsettled weather here in County Kerry in southwest Ireland, normally the bane of every traveler to the Emerald Isle, only enhances the spa experience. From the glass-walled pool, set high on a wooded knoll next to the Park Hotel Kenmare, bathers sample a wide range of hydrotherapy treatments while they watch curtains of rain showers progressing across Kenmare Bay far below. Beyond the expansive Kenmare River, fingers of fog probe the passes of Killaha Mountain. This is a landscape made for contemplation. The same Kerry mists that for centuries were the source of countless legends now aid in the spa’s professed goal of unifying body and spirit.
Many believe the Vikings established the first spas in Ireland sometime during the 10th century. Ravaging the entire island paid dividends of silver and gold, but this was demanding and stressful work for the weary warriors, who found respite in that Scandinavian invention, the sauna. Today, the pursuit of crank–the Irish term for fun–in the island’s staggering number of pubs seems to be the preferred form of reprieve from life’s daily pressures. But frequently in these taverns, a visitor is confronted with the country’s dark history–and even darker poetry. On any given night, the room lights will dim, the jigs will give way to a ballad, and the patrons will yearn in vain for the song to end on a positive note, if just this once. In such a setting, thoughts of indulgent pleasure are as out of place as a poorly drawn Guinness.
After spending an evening at such an establishment, it might come as a surprise that Sámas, which was built from timbers and rocks gathered on site, places any emphasis on its Irish elements. Although treatments include a combination of disciplines from East and West, all begin with a traditional Irish foot massage, and the aroma therapy, especially noticeable in the steam and treatment rooms, approximates the scents you would smell on a hike through the dense Kerry woods.
Sámas remains accessible only to guests of the Park Hotel Kenmare. The reserved gentility of the century-old hotel, its impeccable service, and excellent restaurant menu qualify it as a treatment in and of itself. Following a morning at the spa, the hotel’s Garden Room is the perfect spot to enjoy a late lunch and to continue viewing those changeable Kerry skies, knowing that you surely will spot some rainbows among the clouds.
Samas (Park Hotel Kenmare)