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An ace up the Slieve

Kerry McKittrick enjoys serious pampering in this Co Down luxury hotel's Couple's Retreat

Where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea is where you'll find nestled the palatial Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle, Co Down. And while the popular luxury retreat and wedding venue already boasts a well-known spa, there's a special treat in store in the run up to Valentine's Day, as it will be offering loved-up couples the ultimate in romantic getaways.

Although the spa is segregated into male and female areas, the clever folk down in Newcastle have set aside a special treatment room for a new Couple's Retreat.

Invited to be the very first to try out the luxury pampering facility this week, my other half Dennis and I jumped at the chance.

On receiving a warm welcome at the reception we were shown around the two levels. Downstairs is a gym and swimming pool, complete with hot tub, sauna, steam room and loungers to relax in. Upstairs is for treatments, with dedicated male and female areas that include the changing rooms, another hot tub, sauna, steam room and relaxation area complete with fruit, water and a selection of teas. There are nice touches to be found everywhere, such as refreshing jugs of iced water with slices of orange or lemon and baskets of toiletries beside the sinks in the changing rooms.

Following our tour, Dennis and I went off to change into robes and slippers and have a couple of minutes of quiet time in the respective relaxation areas. We were then collected by our therapist, Nicola Davis, who brought us to the Room With A View for our treatment.

The Couple's Retreat consists of a 30-minute massage lesson and use of the treatment room for two hours. On arrival you'll receive a fruit platter and some delicious smoothies from the spa's own juice bar. We opted to upgrade our package to include a glass of bubbly and some nibbles. The Room With A View looks out over the sea but, being one storey up, also manages to retain a private feel.

Our massage class was straightforward enough - Nicola massaged each of us in turn while explaining what she was doing, so the person looking on would be able to replicate it another time. Both Dennis and I chose a soothing massage but also available are energising and fitness treatments, which have a warming effect for tired muscles. After a glass of Prosecco and a relaxing deep back rub, though, I'm not entirely sure how much of the instructions actually went in!

Both Dennis and I found ourselves lounging around, while nibbling on our fruit platter and taking in the view. For busy couples hoping to relax and spend some time reconnecting, this is the perfect opportunity.

After our treatments we were left alone for a while to make use of the room. We finished off our snacks and listened to some tunes coming from the iPod dock in the corner.

Those availing of the Couple's Retreat are also entitled to make full use of the spa facilities so we decided to check out the pool. It's full-sized and even has a lap-lane roped off for serious swimmers, but being deliciously warm you'll be more likely to float around taking advantage of the various hot water jets. That is before you discover the vitality pool - a huge hot tub, again looking out over the sea.

After our dip Dennis and I headed off to our separate changing areas. He decided to take advantage of the steam room in the men's area, which he loved, while I wound down my experience with a magazine and a cup of green tea in the female relaxation room before heading for a rainfall shower. All of the products, from the oils used in the massages to the shampoo in the showers, are from Espa so even having washed off the oil I came away smelling deliciously of the same lemongrass scent used on me that afternoon.

The Spa at the Slieve Donard is one of the largest and best equipped I have been to yet. Having spent hours there we didn't even manage to visit the gym or juice bar. The staff are nothing but warm and friendly.

We didn't spend the night but couples taking advantage of this package are also being offered a special room rate to make their experience all the more special. Its location in Newcastle means its both close enough from Belfast for a pleasant afternoon and far enough away to make spending the night worth your while.

Traveller's guide

Staying there: The Couple's Retreat at the Spa at Slieve Donard is priced £60pp. The package consists of a 30-minute massage class and use of the Room With A View for two hours as well as full use of the spa facilities either before or after your treatment.

The package also includes welcome smoothies and a fruit platter. For an additional £15pp you can upgrade your package to include a glass of prosecco and nibbles.

For couples wishing to add an overnight stay and breakfast, the Slieve Donard are offering a special rate beginning at £55pp.

The Couples Retreat is available on the run-up to Valentine's Day and for the rest of the year, early booking is recommended to avoid disappointment.

More information: For details, visit hastingshotels.com

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