Holidays&Travel

Soaking up the silence at Finn Lough on a Fermanagh spa trail through the forest

Spa breaks have never been more popular - or more needed - and what better way to indulge in a little 'me' time than sitting in a bubbling hot tub in the middle of a forest. If you fancy retreating away from the madding crowds, take a visit to Finn Lough in Co Fermanagh, says Gail Bell

Gail Bell

WHEN they said you could swim in the lough – an actual lough, presumably with fish – during a late summer spa break to Finn Lough, I have to admit my first thought was, "No, thanks, I would rather have a nice sterile swimming pool where I can smell chlorine and see what is swimming with me."

But, when it came to the 'Lake plunge' bit – an optional extra in the Finnish Sauna experience which features in the resort's 'Elements' forest spa trail – sitting in a hot sauna minutes earlier (on one of the hottest days of 2021) called for a major cooling down, fish or no fish.

This unplanned dip in the vast and empty mirror-like lake proved a highlight of a two-day trip to Finn Lough forest hideaway in deepest Co Fermanagh, famous for its see-through space-age 'bubble' domes in which guests can nod off to sleep while gazing at the stars (from four-poster bed luxury).

Lying close to the Co Donegal border on the shores of Lower Lough Erne, it was the definitive long and winding road to get here, but when you do arrive, it is quite the impressive arrival.

High wooden gates glide open and click quietly shut behind you (a special access code is given by staff on check-in) eliciting a distinct feeling of all-at-once being cut off from the outside world and cocooned inside something else entirely: an other-worldly new landscape half-bathed in water and filled with forest, space and sky.

As the aforementioned domes were booked out this particular weekend, our accommodation was to be in one of Finn Lough's stunning ice-cream-white lodges with its own drive, attractive decked area (authentic striped deck chairs already in-situ) and extensive garden stretching down to a wild grassy area: a long green fringe snaking around the water's edge.

The interior of this three-storey, three-bedroom lodge had all the modern 'wow' factor you might want – even for a 'back-to-nature break' in the middle of a forest. A spacious ground floor sitting room leads up to the kitchen (coffee machine and dishwasher included) and dining area on the first floor, where a showpiece floor-to-ceiling window stretches across one wall, perfectly framing the garden scene below.

A complimentary bottle of Prosecco and bags of popcorn awaited on the kitchen island, but celebrations would have to wait. Our forest spa trail was booked for three o'clock and with each experience a time-limited event – an egg timer or flashing light signals you need to move on – showing up on time is integral to the programme.

The aforementioned Finnish Sauna (with 'lake plunge') was just one stop on this two-hour adventure which begins with an indoor heated flotation pool, progresses to aromatherapy sauna - utilising locally sourced heather, rosemary and birch - private hot tub area and relaxation room with reading snugs, bottled water, various herbal teas and nibbles.

Kitted out in reusable aqua shoes and fluffy spa poncho (organic cotton, of course), we strolled happily through the forest to sample each of these in turn. It was a completely private experience with ample time (20-30 minutes) to enjoy each 'stop-off' in turn – even while being vaguely aware of the egg timer silently swallowing sand somewhere in the background.

There are twigs underfoot, the earthy damp of a forest and various insects scooting around in their natural habitat – the midges were out in force that night and we had to rescue a giant spider crawling up the curtains – but if you appreciate the great outdoors (and reduced environmental impact through the use of captured rainwater), this spa journey is for you.

Ambling through a real forest, inhaling its natural scents has its own peculiar charm, although you imagine the romance might fade slightly on a cold and rainy day in winter.

The weather, thankfully, was not something we had to worry about on this brilliant blue-hued day in August, whether submerged in the bubbling hot tub overlooking the lough or gazing lazily through the huge glass window of the sauna, its sturdy step ladder leading to unknown depths below.

My daughter, who accompanied me to Finn Lough, enjoyed a quick dip too, but the float bath was her favourite part of the trail. In what was a rather small, rustic enclosure it wasn't possible to lie back and look up at the sky – a glass roof would have been perfect – but it was fun, bobbing about weightless on the water in our own little Red Sea cavern of Epsom salts.

A spa trail through a forest is a novel concept and fits perfectly with the Finn Lough ethos of enjoying nature away from the madding crowds. And, cliched as it sounds, there is an almost tangible sense of peace here; a joyful absence of noise with human chatter replaced by birdsong and the sound of water lapping over stone.

In terms of dining, unfortunately there was a Covid outbreak among the small team during our stay last year and that meant we couldn't eat in the main restaurant. But again, thanks to the weather, our evening meal turned into an atmospheric, al fresco event right beside the lake.

The Lakeside Bar had a chilled, minimalistic beach bar feel (a feeling compounded by the lively background music) but there was nothing thrown together about the food, despite its arrival in disposable cardboard boxes.

We chomped happily at the chef's special of hake (cooked in aromatic spices) while seated at a wooden table, watching the evening sun take a last dance over the quiet water - affectionately named 'Finn Lough' (Fair Lake) by the locals - that separates the peninsula from nearby Boa Island.

Next day, following breakfast (delivered to the lodge in a hamper and containing yoghurt and granola, fruit juice, breakfast bap with egg and bacon and Danish pastries) we took ourselves off in a two-person sea kayak - with comfy springy back rests - and enjoyed a blissful few hours gliding aimlessly through the Fair Lake itself.

Mountain bikes are also provided – complimentary – and once on dry land again, we finished off the morning with a cycle through the forest, stopping off at a shady glade or two to admire the view (again) and take a bare-foot paddle in the shallows.

Perhaps a few more additions to the spa trail and maybe some spa treatments would boost the resort's appeal still further - certainly, the prospect of a talked-about new indoor swimming dome would make a welcome addition to the overall offering.

Yet, whatever way this resort evolves in the future, the ethos will remain the same for owners Gillian and Michael Beare who are committed to respecting the local surroundings. Finn Lough resort is as far removed from a busy hotel spa experience as you can imagine, but there is a warm and mystical glow here that not even midges, fish and the odd spider can diminish.

:: Finn Lough offers a range of accommodation including premium domes and lakeside villas. In addition to the spa trail, activities include kayaking, paddle boarding, cycling, waterside yoga, gin and whiskey tasting and vintage cinema screenings. Various packages are available for 2022. Finlough.com

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Holidays&Travel