Does it sound strange to say I cried shortly after arriving at the Shandon Hotel?

Well, let me assure you, it isn’t because of a run-in with an unpleasant member of staff, it isn’t because I pranged my car in the carpark, and it definitely isn’t because I stubbed my toe!

Instead, they were happy tears as I settled into 24-hours of relaxation, stunning views and a sense of really getting away from it all in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way.

The last time I had been in this part of the country was around 40 years ago and my memories are obviously sketchy, stretching only to vague images in my mind of an afternoon horse riding on a beach with my mum.

Of course, Donegal is synonymous with rugged, gnarly coastline and the setting for the Shandon Hotel is no exception.

As I turned off the main road from Letterkenny onto the narrow road leading to the hotel, it set the scene for my stay at the hotel.

To the right was the sea and the green hills of Downings and beyond, but there was also a quiet buzz as children arrived for surf lessons, cars parking up on the side of the road.

There is a small coffee shop on the left – I didn’t stop in on this visit as I couldn’t bring myself to the leave the hotel – but I definitely want to call in on my return trip to the Shandon.

I arrived early to the hotel, before my room was ready, to make best possible use of the spa facilities.

While they are tucked away to the side of the building, inside they offer the same stunning views across Sheephaven Bay as the rest of the hotel.

The changing rooms are well appointed and the receptionist immediately offered me a €1 coin I had forgotten to bring as a deposit for the locker.

A quick change later and I was taken to the spa – and this is where I found myself quietly crying during a treatment.

By way of explanation, as is the case for so many people, the daily grind takes over and the last time I enjoyed a proper spa treatment was 11 years ago, on my honeymoon in Thailand.

As I lay in the darkened room, breathing in the aromatic oils, it transported me right back to that wondrous time in Ko Pha-Ngan – and I had a little, quiet, happy cry, feeling utterly grateful to be reliving such a special time.

The spa at the Shandon Hotel offers a long list of treatments to cater for men, women, mums-to-be and even cancer patients.

I went for the Wild Atlantic Wellness package, which includes a 90-minutes long session in the thermal spa, aromatherapy shoulder and neck massage and an express facial and scalp massage.

The thermal spa is fantastic, with ground to ceiling windows that bring the outside in, I enjoyed time in the hydro vitality pool, getting lost in the views over the coastline.

The pool, with its powerful water jets, was an especially welcome experience given my chronically tired and aching neck muscles.

Unusually for me, I also loved the sauna and managed a few sessions, interspersed by the themed showers.

They offer a choice of gentle rainfall or rainforest downpour in alternating temperatures and colours – I’m going to be honest and admit I went for the more relaxed option as I avoid heavy, freezing cold showers at all costs.

They bring tears to my eyes – and not the happy sort!

That’s the reason why I didn’t give the ice fountain a go either – I’m sure it’s a favourite of many and I know the fantastic benefits it brings after a sauna but for me, I prefer my ice to be in my drink!

However, I can confidently recommend the salt grotto, which is filled with a mist containing mineral salts.

I was reliably informed as I was shown around at the start of my session that the salt grotto is beneficial for people with respiratory ailments such as asthma, and while I don’t have any such issues, it was certainly a refreshing, yet calming experience.

This was followed by the massage and facial and scalp massage, which is probably the most relaxed I have been in years, and I can only hope I didn’t snore or snort throughout the treatment.

If I did, the therapist looking after me was too kind to mention it.

Perhaps the highlight of my stay, however, was yet to come and that was a long soak in one of the outdoor Bayview tubs, which offer an elevated and private view over the coastline.

A very welcome addition – and a very much decadent addition for a mum who is lucky to finish a cup of tea while it’s warm – was the glass of prosecco, with the only sound breaking the silence that of the fizzing bubbles of the hot tub.

I was lucky enough that the rain threatened by the grey clouds didn’t materialise, however even if it had, I actually think the experience would have been just as enjoyable.

But, as with everything in life, all good things must come to an end, although it was hardly a wrench to spend a few lazy hours in the restaurant, enjoying a lunch of salt and chilli king prawns, once again taking in the views over Sheephaven Bay.

By this stage, I had well and truly unwound.

Perhaps for those feeling slightly more energetic, a session in the fitness suite would have been in order.

The state-of-the-art facility boasts a 20m swimming pool, kids’ pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, and fully equipped gym where you can easily work up a sweat.

However, given that I feel like I spend most of my life on a treadmill, I opted to check out my room instead.

Luxurious fabrics, king size bed, a welcome plate of shortbread, truffles and muffins, and an uninterrupted view of the wild Atlantic Ocean made it the perfect place to chill out before dinner.

The grey clouds had given way to a perfect blue sky as well and it was hard to eventually drag myself away for a hot bath to wash off the oils from my spa treatment.

Returning to the restaurant later, there wasn’t a spare table and the atmosphere was buzzing, despite it being a midweek evening.

Dinner was as good as lunch – my choice of Greencastle hake, parmesan champ and white wine and smoked pancetta sauce was cooked perfectly and the waiting staff were quick to replenish my glass throughout.

In fact, nothing was too much trouble.

This can-do and friendly approach by all the staff extended throughout my stay at the Shandon Hotel.

As I got ready for bed that night, I made the decision not to pull the curtains.

Instead, I wanted to waken up to the view I had enjoyed the afternoon before and, once again, I was not disappointed.

As I had the day before, I found it difficult to leave as the time came to get ready for check-out.

The hotel offers a huge range of choice for breakfast – pastries, cereals, breads, fruit, yoghurt, bacon, sausage, egg all feature on the menu, so you definitely won’t go hungry.

However, after a night at the Shandon Hotel, you really do leave wanting to come back for more.