Forest bathing for the Emerald Isle

By Sarah Camilleri

Ballymahon, Ireland

By Sarah Camilleri

05 February 2020

Ireland: The €233 million (£198 million) Center Parcs Longford Forest holiday village, near Ballymahon, took just two years to build on time and on budget. Set out over 395 acres of woodland, the resort offers 466 forest lodges and 30 Lakeside apartments, which can accommodate up to 2,500 guests on three- or four-day breaks all-year-round.

While slightly more compact than its renowned sister resorts in the UK, Longford Forest packs a big punch when it comes to family experiences; with 100 indoor and outdoor activities, a range of shops and restaurants, a picturesque boating lake, the iconic Subtropical Swimming Paradise and, of course, the very latest Aqua Sana forest spa.

Tucked away from the bustle of the main village, the spa is surrounded by tall pines and private gardens lined with silver birches. Covered walkways allow guests to roam outside regardless of the weather, to enjoy a heated outdoor pool, hot tubs and a cosy Scandinavian Snug.

The spa’s discreet entrance belies its impressive 2,500sqm size and the light and spacious reception area serves four key roles: guest check in; a generous express treatment area offering Elemis products and makeup and brow services from Mii; a well stocked retail area; and an area for luxury manicures and pedicures by OPI.

The discreet spa entrance at Aqua Sana Longford Forest

The changing rooms, elegantly finshed by Porcelanosa and Hansgrohe, lead onto a memorable inner sanctum that follows the Aqua Sana blueprint of providing three distinct zones: an extensive thermal area with 21 different spa experiences; the large Vitalé Café Bar and outdoor terrace; and a dedicated zone with 14 treatment rooms and two post-treatment relaxation spaces with access to a private garden.

“Health and wellness is very topical in Ireland right now and this interest in self-care presents us with a great opportunity.”

Daragh Feighery

General manager
Cosiness and comfort in the Scandinavian Snug

Closer to nature

Building upon over 20 years of spa expertise, Center Parcs’ in-house spa team worked closely with leisure and wellness professionals, including UK master architect Holder Mathias; advising consultant Don Camilleri of HL Concepts; London design studio Sparcstudio; Austrian thermal and wet spa experts Schletterer and
FT Leisure; project manager Edmond Shipway; and Irish contractor John Sisk and Son.

Together they have instilled in the spa a beautifully executed new spa concept, inspired by the Japanese tradition of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, that makes Aqua Sana Longford Forest stand out from its peers.

The brand’s thermal zone, previously presented as ‘World of Spa’, has evolved to offer four ‘forests within the forest’. These distinct zones, designed by Sparcstudio with heat installations by Schletterer, include Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest and Treetop Nesting.

Guests are encouraged to self-navigate a therapeutic journey of heat experiences, relaxation spaces, pools, hot tubs and fresh air in the garden. Each forest zone has a unique aesthetic and soundscape, inspired by the cold ice climate of the Nordic regions, Volcanic geothermal landscapes and Japanese mountain onsen.

Understanding the value of powering guests down and giving them time to relax is central to each experience. Treetop Nesting, for instance, celebrates the world’s rainforests with a Forest Glade steam room and three different relaxation zones: Forest Relax, Sweet Slumber and Deep Relax.

Treetop Nesting includes the atmospheric Forest Glade steam room

“As our newest spa, we wanted to design something completely unique and different for Ireland. We surveyed guests from all of our five spas and many said the key reason they loved Aqua Sanas was because of their forest settings. So, we realised that we had this great platform that we were under utilising.”

Kay Pennington

Group spa manager

Recruiting for success

As well as attracting the best design and build partners, recruiting an excellent spa team was another natural priority. “While the spa was being built I completely focused on finding the right team,” says group spa manager Kay Pennington. “We needed a minimum of 22 therapists for opening, as well as a strong, experienced leader. Our spa manager, Caroline Newton, was the first appointment, then we set about finding our spa team. People knew that Center Parcs was coming, so, thankfully, by April 2019 we were fully recruited.”

With 20 years of industry experience, Newton is emphatic about the role that the spa team plays in delivering a memorable experience. “The spa benefits from a total team of around 70 people, including technical services and housekeeping,” says Newton. “Running the spa we have a dedicated spa team comprising 22 therapists, seven spa attendants, three assistant spa managers and a dedicated floor manager who is totally focused on operations.

“Three assistant spa managers also have key responsibilities; one looks after retail, one deals with treatments and the third oversees the whole thermal spa. We are successful because of this structure – we divide and conquer!”

According to Pennington, pre-opening training also boosted team-building. “We trained off-site, which is quite unusual but allowed all our therapists to be together. We were very fortunate to be offered a training school in Athlone and I can’t thank them enough as this meant we were able to perform all of our product house training under one roof. Our long-term partner, Ellisons, also helped provide all the kit required for training and has delivered a great service in supplying all our Esthetix electric couches, Living Earth Crafts pedicure thrones and consumables.”

The Forest Garden is a place of calm at the spa’s centre

Key partnerships

Aqua Sana has built close relationships with its key suppliers over the years to ensure a comprehensive menu of face and body treatments, and the brand’s debut in Ireland provided the opportunity for the spa team to create a new menu.

“Elemis was a natural choice as our headline brand, reflecting it’s leading position in Ireland, as well as being a respected British brand,” says Pennington. “We also selected Voya as an increasingly popular Irish wellness brand that provides restorative and balancing treatments. Voya also offers completely recyclable packaging, which is popular with our environmentally conscious guests.”

Newton continues: “On the menu, guests can select from 50 treatments and each brand has its own signature offering created especially for Longford Forest, such as Elemis Deeply Nourishing Face and Body. Brands that are organic, vegan or attained through natural products are also winners here in Ireland. Voya offers its Restore and Rebalance signature – a detoxifying treatment designed to rebalance and restore moisture to the body.”

British organic brand Made for Life was also selected for its Cancer Touch training. “We wanted to reflect the treatment menu we have in our other five spas, focusing on wellness treatments,” says Pennington. “Our therapists have really engaged with the Cancer Touch training and guest feedback has been fabulous.”

The chromotherapeutic Forest Rain Walk

Future forest vision

This new Aqua Sana is something fresh and unique for Irish spa lovers, with its unique forest spa concept and exceptional wellness design that draws on the natural beauty of the surrounding woodland.

“We’ve got so much to play with at Aqua Sana Longford Forest because we’re surrounded by beautiful forest and have such a comprehensive spa offer,” enthuses Pennington. “Of course, we will continue to innovate our treatment menu and retail, but the key revenue driver for us are our spa sessions, which account for 60% of our revenue. They offer exceptional value thanks to our vast range of therapeutic spa experiences.

Spa Statistics

Aqua Sana, Center Parcs Longford Forest

+353 1890 812820

CEO: Martin Dalby

Development and construction director: Paul Kent

General manager: Daragh Feighery

Group spa manager: Kay Pennington

Spa manager: Caroline Newton

Opened: September 2019

Spa investment: €10m

Spa size: 2,500sqm

Treatment rooms: 14

Main contractor: John Sisk and Son

Project management consultant: Edmond Shipway

Architect: Holder Mathias Architects

Advisory consultant: Don Camilleri, HL Concepts

Interior design: Sparcstudio

Facilities: 21 experiences including saunas, steam rooms, relaxation rooms, footbaths, hot tubs and an outdoor heated hydrotherapy pool

Pool design and installation: FT Leisure, Devin Consulting

Thermal experiences: Schletterer

Tiles, sanitary fittings: Hansgrohe, Porcelanosa,

Furnishings and indoor planting: Andy Thorton, Green Interiors, Alexander Rose, Atmosphera

Product houses: Elemis, Voya, Made for Life Organics, Mii, OPI

Treatment room textiles and sundries: Esthetix Electric, Living Earth Crafts, Ellisons, Mitre Linen

Management software and cashless system: Elite and Pro-access

Behind the project: Wellness design

How a long-term relationship with designers at Sparcstudio has led to the creation of high-level wellness design at Aqua Sana Longford Forest.


Based in London, Sparcstudio has built a glowing reputation over the last ten years  by realising some of the UK’s leading spas. These include notable recent projects such as The Spa at South Lodge and Sopwell House, as well as award-winning projects including Dormy House and Calcot Manor.


The company has also gained significant experience and high levels of trust from working with Center Parcs to create previous Aqua Sana spas.

“Center Parcs has taken us under its wing, nurtured, valued and embraced our creativity, and the results speak for themselves,” says co-founder Neil Fairplay. “Designing the latest Aqua Sana gave us a chance to combine all the experience we gained in developing spas at Woburn Forest, Sherwood Forest and Longleat Forest in a new build project.


“I think we have created an intuitive, sensory experience; a relaxing environment with little need for signposting as the guest instinctively responds to the flow of the spa.”


According to Fairplay, one of the key design roles was to create an environment that would encourage guests to decompress and relax quickly; one example of this is the Nordic Sauna in the Nordic Forest experience (pictured below). “It has a huge picture window on to the woodland,” he says. “You almost feel like you are taking a sauna in a glade out in the open air.


“We also love the swim-out pool and how this body of water seamlessly connects the inside and out. Another stand-out area is the Forest Garden at the centre of the spa (above left). This is a double-height space with natural light streaming in from a central skylight and air plants hanging over a water feature – a perfect place to unwind.”


To find out more about Sparcstudio, please visit

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Made for Life Organics

To find out more about Made for Life Organics, please visit

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To find out more about Elemis, please visit

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Living Earth Crafts

To find out more about Living Earth Crafts, please visit

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Mitre Linen

To find out more about Mitre Linen, please visit

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