A sensory journey along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Keem Bay Achill ISland

Succumb to the siren song of the sea as we explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Slippery tendrils of seaweed curl around my ankles, dragging me deeper and deeper into the water until, after taking one last gasp of air, I’m completely submerged.

I make no effort to escape this disorienting dance of tangled strands and sunken limbs. Indeed, the siren call of the seaweed is so strong that as I reluctantly burst out of the water to take a breath, I half expect to find a mermaid perched on the edge of my bath.


Seaweed soak


Soaking in seaweed at The Ice House Hotel in Mayo Ireland

The tub, resting on an open deck overlooking the serene flow of the River Moy at the Ice House Hotel & Spa in Ballina, Co. Mayo, is full of organic, hand-harvested Atlantic seaweed (Fucus Serratus to be specific). No ordinary bath, it is a ritual, a surrender to the ancient wisdom of the Irish west coast. And as I luxuriate in its warmth, the crisp kiss of the icy Atlantic air nipping at my cheeks, it takes on an almost meditative quality.

For hundreds of years, seaweed bathing has been a tradition in the west of Ireland, touted for a surprising array of potential health benefits. Recent scientific studies suggest that they’re on to something, as bathing in the underwater foliage not only lowers body stress but also relieves a range of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The warm embrace of the seaweed bath, coupled with its mineral content, may also offer relief for tired muscles and stiff joints. And for those seeking a circulation boost, the warm water and potential vasodilatory properties of certain seaweeds might just hold the key.


The Ice House 


The Ice Hosue Hotel Mayo Ireland

It’s dark when I emerge from my seaweed sanctuary, skin silken and limbs languid, to further explore the Ice House Hotel. This stunning contemporary hotel, with its remarkable spa, had a former life as an ice storage facility for the Irish fishing industry in the early 19th century. Strategically positioned on the Moy Estuary, it housed a pioneering natural refrigeration system. During the cold winter months, blocks of ice were meticulously cut from the river itself and stored within the thick walls of the Ice House. This ingenious method kept fish fresh for extended periods, allowing them to be transported to distant markets like Dublin and Liverpool.

Fast forward to today, and the Ice House has transformed into a luxurious retreat that, while paying homage to its roots, embraces contemporary design and décor to create an atmosphere as refreshing as the crisp breeze off the water.

The hotel offers 32 beautifully designed rooms and suites, each with stunning views of the River Moy and the surrounding landscape. The rooms are furnished with bespoke pieces and feature luxurious amenities such as super king-sized beds, rainfall showers, and floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the spaces with natural light.

Complementing the luxurious experience, the Ice House Hotel boasts an award-winning restaurant, 54° 9°. Here, fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from local farms take centre stage. From succulent seafood, a nod to the hotel’s riverside location, to delectable Irish meats and inspired vegetarian options, expect beautifully presented dishes that showcase the culinary artistry of the chefs. For an indulgent afternoon, consider their renowned afternoon tea, a delightful ritual enjoyed with breathtaking river views.

But the real gem of the Ice House Hotel is its award-winning Chill Spa. The menu of seaweed treatments, from baths to wraps and facials, using nourishing organic, seaweed-based oils, gels, and creams, creates a truly unique and transformative spa experience. The spa’s sauna and eucalyptus steam room unlock stress, while outdoors, guests can soak in sunken Jacuzzis or indulge in one of those seductive seaweed baths overlooking the rolling river.


Seaweed snacks


Foraging with Dr. Prannie Rhatigan in SLigo

While it’s the unctuous Fucus Serratus that is most coveted for bathing, Dillisk is probably Ireland’s most widely used seaweed variety. Once a staple ingredient in Irish cooking, this and other varieties of seaweed are now making a comeback, from professional kitchens to household tables, for their umami hit. My quest for knowledge leads me to Lucianne Hare of Nourished in Nature Ireland, a seaweed savant who specialises in hiking and foraging trips that can be tailor made for individuals and families. Joining her on the wind-whipped beach for a seaweed identification walk, talk, and taste, we forage sea spaghetti, peppery dulse, crunchy carrageenan moss, sea lettuce, and the briny and curiously named bladderwrack from between the rocks. Along the way, Lucianne teaches about sustainable harvesting and the nutritional value of the slippery gems.

We learn that edible seaweed varieties are low in calories, high in fibre, and support healthy digestion with their prebiotic content. They’re also packed with essential minerals like iodine, copper, calcium, and iron, and they offer a vitamin boost with folic acid and vitamin K.

It turns out that seaweed tastes good too. Each variety, Lucianne explains, holds a universe of flavour and potential. Back on dry land, she proves her point with oat crackers slathered in seaweed butter and seaweed stuffed chocolate brownies that are a salty, sweet surprise.


Banshees and black face sheep


free range sheep Achill Island

On Achill Island, even the livestock are partial to a little seaweed. Freely roaming the island’s soaring cliffs, beaches, and rolling hills, Achill’s Blackface Mountain Sheep are nourished by a diet untouched by human intervention. They graze on the island grasses and sweet heather that carpets the wild, uncultivated landscape and eagerly devour nutrient-dense seaweed tossed upon the shore by the Atlantic. The result, savoured as we munch on succulent salt marsh lamb cutlets at Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb, is tender, tasty lamb with zero carbon footprint, infused with the flavours of the earth and the salty sea breeze.

The largest of Ireland’s offshore islands, Achill Island, like much of the Wild Atlantic Way, is a place of strange, savage beauty. Connected to the mainland by the Michael Davitt Bridge, the island is a paradise for hikers and cyclists, with a network of trails that offer breathtaking views of the island’s coastline and interior. The Great Western Greenway, a 42-kilometre trail that runs from Westport to Achill Sound, is one of the most popular routes, offering a scenic and relatively easy ride or walk through some of Ireland’s most stunning landscapes. Consider hiring an e-bike from Achill Bikes (they also offer children’s bikes, trailers, tag-alongs, and child seats) to make the journey easier. For those interested in history and archaeology, Achill offers numerous sites to explore, including the ghost village of Slievemore. It consists of nearly 100 stone cottages abandoned during the mid-19th century, and now inhabited only by those seaweed-slurping sheep.

But it is Keem Bay, a stunning horseshoe-shaped beach with crystal-clear waters, that is Achill’s biggest star. Best known for its star turn in the brilliant Irish film The Banshees of Inisherin, Keem Bay was home to Colm’s (Brendan Gleeson) cottage and served as the beatific backdrop for many of the film’s beach scenes.

While Brendan has long moved on and his cinematic digs (originally an old whaling cottage) have been restored back to their original form, visitors might find themselves bumping into the odd basking shark or dolphin. The stunning spot was named the number one wild swimming spot in the UK and Ireland in a survey compiled by Ocean Bottle, for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant underwater life. But as I watch the frigid waters lap at the shoreline on this windy winter day, I’ll take their word for it. Pretty though it is, the warm, watery embrace of a seaweed bath is more this traveller’s speed.


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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