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

WHEN they said you could swim in the lake – a real lake, presumably with fish – on a late summer spa break in Finn Lough, I have to admit my first thought was, “No , thank you, I would rather have a nice sterile swimming pool where I can smell the chlorine and see what is swimming with me.”

But, as for the “Lake diving” track – an optional extra in the Finnish sauna experience that features in the resort’s “Elements” forest spa trail – sitting in a hot sauna a few minutes earlier (the one of the hottest days of 2021) called for a major cooling, fish or no fish.

This unplanned dip in the vast, empty, mirror-like lake proved the highlight of a two-day trip to the forest refuge of Finn Lough in the deepest part of Co Fermanagh, famous for its transparent bubble domes of l space age in which guests can doze off. sleep looking at the stars (from the luxury four-poster bed).

Situated near 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 get there it’s quite an impressive arrival.

Tall wooden doors open and close silently behind you (a special access code is given by staff upon check-in) causing a distinct feeling of being both cut off from the outside world and locked in something else entirely: a new otherworldly landscape half bathed in water and filled with forest, space and sky.

As the aforementioned domes were booked that particular weekend, our accommodation had to be in one of Finn Lough’s stunning ice-white lodges with its own driveway, lovely wooden deck (authentic striped sun loungers already in situ) and a vast garden that extends to a wild lawn: a long green strip that winds along the water’s edge.

The interior of this three-story, three-bedroom lodge had all the modern “wow” factor you could want – even for a “back to nature break” in the middle of a forest. A spacious living room on the ground floor leads to the kitchen (coffee machine and dishwasher included) and the dining room on the first floor, where a bay window extends over one wall, perfectly framing the garden scene below.

A bottle of Prosecco and free bags of popcorn were waiting on the kitchen island, but the celebrations would have to wait. Our forest spa trail was booked for three hours and with each experience a time-limited event – an hourglass or flashing light signals you need to move forward – showing up on time is part of the program.

The aforementioned Finnish sauna (with ‘dip in the lake’) was just one stop on this two-hour adventure that begins with a heated indoor flotation pool, progresses to an aromatherapy sauna – using heather, locally sourced rosemary and birch – a private hot tub and relaxation room with reading area, bottled water, various herbal teas and nibbles.

Equipped with reusable water shoes and a fluffy spa poncho (organic cotton, of course), we happily strolled through the forest to taste each one in turn. It was a totally private experience with enough time (20-30 minutes) to enjoy each ‘stop’ in turn – even being dimly aware of the hourglass silently swallowing sand somewhere in the background.

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

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

The weather, thankfully, wasn’t something we needed to worry about on this brilliant blue August day, whether we were soaking in the bubbling hot tub overlooking the lake or gazing lazily through the huge picture window of the sauna. , his sturdy stepladder leading to unknown depths below.

My daughter, who accompanied me to Finn Lough, also enjoyed a quick swim, but the float was her favorite part of the trail. In what was a rather small and rustic enclosure it was not possible to lie down and look up at the sky – a glass roof would have been perfect – but it was fun to swing weightlessly over the water in our own little Red Sea cave of Epsom salts.

A thermal trail through a forest is an innovative concept and fits perfectly with Finn Lough’s philosophy of enjoying nature away from the madding crowds. And, as cliché as it sounds, there’s an almost tangible sense of peace here; a joyful absence of noise with human chatter replaced by the chirping of birds and the sound of water lapping on the stone.

In terms of catering, unfortunately there was a Covid outbreak among the small team during our stay last year and this meant that we were unable to eat in the main restaurant. But again, thanks to the weather, our evening meal turned into an atmospheric outdoor event right by the lake.

The Lakeside Bar had a laid-back, minimalist beach bar feel (a feeling made worse by the lively background music) but there was nothing mixed in with the food, despite arriving in disposable cardboard boxes.

We nibbled happily on the chef’s specialty hake (cooked in aromatic spices) while seated at a wooden table, watching the evening sun do one last dance on the calm water – affectionately known as ‘Finn Lough’ (Fair Lake) by the locals – which separates the peninsula from the neighboring island of Boa.

The next day, after breakfast (delivered to the lodge in a basket and containing yogurt and granola, juice, a breakfast bap with egg and bacon, and pastries), we embarked on a kayak of sea for two – with comfortable elastic backrests – and enjoyed a few hours of bliss gliding aimlessly across the Fair Lake itself.

Mountain bikes are also provided – free of charge – and once on dry land we finished the morning with a cycle through the forest, stopping in a shady clearing or two to take in the view (again) and take a paddle barefoot in the shallows.

Perhaps a few more additions to the spa trail and perhaps some spa treatments would further enhance the appeal of the resort – certainly the prospect of a new indoor swimming dome being talked about would be a welcome addition to the resort. global offer.

Yet however this resort evolves in the future, the philosophy will remain the same for owners Gillian and Michael Beare who are committed to respecting the local environment. The resort town of Finn Lough is as far from a bustling hotel spa experience as you can imagine, but there’s a warm, mystical glow here that even the gnats, fish and the odd spider can’t diminish.

:: Finn Lough offers a range of accommodation including upscale domes and lakeside villas. In addition to the thermal trail, activities include kayaking, paddleboarding, biking, waterside yoga, gin and whiskey tasting, and vintage movie screenings. Various packages are available for 2022.

Richard F. Gandhi