If ever there was a hotel suited to wafting around in a floaty dress and a wide-brimmed hat, then the Gran Hotel La Toja is definitely it. The glamorous spa hotel is on the tiny island of La Toja – A Toxa in the Galician language – at the mouth of the Ría de Arousa inlet in O Salnés in the Rías Baixas in Galicia, north west Spain. La Toja’s spring water, claimed to cure everything from insomnia to cellulite, has been attracting the great and the good to the island since the 19th century.
The drive there is pretty dramatic in itself. I pootled along an isthmus flanking the spectacular Lanzada beach – 2.5 km of glistening white sand – to reach the O Grove peninsula, where the superb seafood, beaches and nature trails make it a popular summer resort. From there, I crossed a bridge with white wrought-iron railings over to the island, which set the mood for the belle époque vibe at the hotel.
The spring was discovered in 1840, when a donkey at death’s door miraculously recovered by rolling in the mud on the island – or so the story goes. The mud was analysed and was found to be rich in minerals with astounding healing properties. A small factory was set up to turn the mud into bath salts and soap, and a hotel was built for the well-heeled to come and indulge themselves.
The original Gran Hotel La Toja hotel has been largely rebuilt since then and is now run by Eurostars but the old part still has lovely art nouveau touches, such as floral stained-glass decoration and huge rooms that you enter through arched doorways. This time I stayed in the newer part, where the rooms are less dramatic but sumptuous all the same, some with big balconies overlooking the Ria de Arousa.
The spa, as you might expect, is pretty lavish with lovely indoor and outdooor pools. Treatments using La Toja mud include soaking in a bath of rust-coloured water, which does wonders for body and soul. It may look like cold tea but is soft, warm and soothing. You could also have the mud slathered all over you or have a body scrub with La Toja salts.
At dusk, languishing against the balustrade in a fluffy white bathrobe, feeling like a celeb in rehab, I gazed across the ría, where an eerie indigo mist was drifting in and out from the Atlantic. Wooden rafts, used to cultivate mussels, floated gently on the water. If only I could have stayed there for a month.
Double rooms start at the Eurostars Gran Hotel La Toja start at €115 including breakfast.
For more information on La Toja and the area see O Salnés.