Elbow Room Escape's Do Feck All weekenders don't exactly beat about the bush.
It's past midnight and I'm sat in a hot tub with complete strangers, drinking wine and enveloped in a cloud of pungent woodsmoke beneath a canopy of trees and stars. Sure, what else would I be doing on a Saturday night?
We're stewing away somewhere in deepest, darkest Co Wicklow - Donard, specifically, some 20 kilometres south of the better-known Blessington - and these ?complete strangers? have actually become fast friends at the Elbowroom Escape, the rural outpost of Stoneybatter's eponymous wellbeing centre. Its owner Lisa Wilkinson divides her time between here and Dublin 7, and you can see why: wild deer romp in the neighbouring woodland, sheep graze freely on the hillside, the views from the Sugarloaf mountain (not to be confused with its east Wicklow namesake) are nothing short of spectacular - and the tomato plants in her new greenhouse are so abundant that they can't serve them quick enough.
We're all here for one of Elbowroom's quarterly ?Do Feck All Weekenders?, which, as the name suggests, offers licence to doss over two nights and three days. Not that manager/yoga teacher Amanda Marren and team are dossing - they are busy behind the scenes making our shameless lassitude possible, all the while concocting future plans with Lisa for pottery sheds, camomile lawns and themed retreats. It's a deceptively serious business, managing the individual expectations of strangers thrown together in the middle of nowhere. But with Amanda's light, convivial touch, we are kept fed, watered and plied with an arsenal of gin.
Wilkinson purchased the ex-hikers? hostel, and its sizeable land, around a year ago, transforming its dated, pine interiors into something far more chic and conducive to holistic therapy devotees. It can accommodate up to 16 guests in smart, incredibly comfortable en suite bedrooms (doubles to dorms), and the former common room is now a yoga studio cum chillout space cum whatever you want it to be, and where we intermittently slob around on giant corduroy beanbags. A wood-burning stove is the focal point of conversations that ebb and flow around whatever reading material we've each brought with us and whatever herbal tea, coffee or honesty-bar-goodies we've pilfered from the cosy wood cabin, where all our meals are served.
Between freshly prepared vegetarian dishes, we're free to do whatever we please, be it hill walking, yoga, reading, writing, chatting, binge-watching Ozark in our rooms. Come Saturday afternoon - after a challenging but incredibly rewarding hike up the Sugarloaf - I've gone the full sloven and am wafting around in my pyjamas. In fact, I don't take them off until it's Hot Tub O'Clock. Why bother?
I do, though, make time for a massage administered in a spare guest room, the existence of which is signalled by the welcoming, unmistakable waft of lavender essential oils. It is Sue's chamber of chill. Her treatment table is heated, creating a cocoon-like effect from the inevitable downpour outside. Warm hands with slow, considered movements ease my knotty shoulders - as if I could possibly be any more relaxed. But then, at this exact moment, I don't know that I'll later conclude a glorious weekend drinking wine in a hot tub in the woods.
Elbowroom Retreat's next Do Feck All Weekender is on November 24-26 and costs €199, including all meals and soft drinks. BYOB is perfectly acceptable. A 60-minute massage costs €60.?the-elbowroomescape.com
This feature appears in the upcoming October/November 2017 edition of Cara magazine, the inflight publication of Aer Lingus. aerlingus.com