The Hesperia Isla de la Toja Spa Hotel – I was feeling a little off colour and had been invited to go to a health Spa in North West Spain to a place called “The Hesperia Isla de la Toja.” I didn’t need to be asked twice.
What a discovery the area of Galicia is – definitely Spain’s best kept secret. It is very green and lush, not the parched landscape I had expected, and I was amazed at how many uninhabited beaches there were at every turn – no English pubs, no discos, no England V Germany for the best spot by the pool – in fact I don’t think I heard any language other than Spanish being spoken whilst I was there.
Galicia is off the normal tourist track, and where the Spanish take their holidays. The Isla de La Toja (pronounced “tocka”) or to the locals A Toxa (“tosha”) lies at the far end of Galicia. After a drive of about one and a half hours from the airport we arrived at O Grove, the town on the mainland that links to the Isle de la Toja. It is a thriving family resort and fishing village. O Grove itself was once an island before the wild grasses bound together the sands and created dunes and a peninsula. Further afield lie a wealth of fishing villages in the fiord-like rias which punctuate the coast line. Several larger towns such as Pontevedra, A Guarda and Ourense offer shopping and fine restaurants – mainly specialising in fish, as you might expect.
As we crossed the 19th century road bridge from O Grove to Isla de la Toja I was surprised to see how far the tide went out, revealing acres of sand bank, which were being raked and dug by the local women and fishermen. It looked very hard, back breaking work, but this way of harvesting the bounty from the sea has been going on for time immemorial and isn’t about to change. It is very eco-friendly and I am told the locals have never been let down. Every time the tide goes out there are always mussels, clams, lobsters, and crabs galore. They use some of the smaller catch as bait for line fishing, which is done from the road bridge when the tide is high. I had learned something new. This was the heart of the Spanish Seafood paradise, and a festival is held to celebrate this bounty every year in O Grove.
The island is also known throughout Spain for its healthy climate and spas have been created here for centuries – but the finest is probably at “The Hesperia Isla de la Toja”
In the Spa and Thermal club at the hotel for rest relaxation and recuperation there are indoor and outdoor pools in the Spa and Thermal Club and a long menu of spa treatments. The extensive (4,000 sq metres) facility offers breathtaking sea views and an ultra-luxurious experience. Guests can choose from mineral baths, massages, mud treatments, algae wraps, pressotherapy (lymphatic draining) and aromatherapy, and enjoy complete tranquility and renewal. I tried the mineral bath, followed by the mineral rub, a massage – the famous island spring water is used in the mineral baths that I sat in. It is also used in the bubble beds that I lay on, under the Vichy showers and the numerous pools and Jacuzzis. For the more energetic there is also a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Needless to say I didn’t partake in the more energetic activities on offer – after all I was there to relax and rejuvenate.
After all that pampering, time for a bite to eat. The hotel combines gourmet dining on the finest local produce with its fantastic spa and wellness centre. This is four start luxury but with amazing prices. There are world-class restaurants to suit every whim. El Acueducto offers a gastronomic tour of Galician cuisine – much of it based on combinations of rice and seafood. La Lanzada (which translates as “a thrust with a spear”, or “in the mood for love”) offers a simpler menu while still retaining the themes of local produce and seafood, with a fixed price buffet-style. Cafes and bars offer a wide range of snacks and faster food.
The most famous symbol of the island is an amazing tiny church covered entirely with seashells. I am told that the seashells act as a very good defence against the elements. Many people come to see this church and names are written on the seashells, not as an act of vandalism but as an act of prayer. Opposite this is a soap museum, which harnesses the mineral-rich waters of the island – it’s been a spa centre for centuries – to produce a unique range of grooming products for men and women. In the week visitors can play on the nine-hole golf course, or tennis and there is also a marina for sailors – everything seems to be catered for.
Even to the Spanish, Galicia is something different. The Galicians held out against the Romans, hid in the hills to avoid the Moors and largely ignored Franco. They have their own take on the language and culture, which shows in their food and drink – Spanish but with a twist.
The regular rainfall, which is a feature of the winter months, ensures that the mountains and valleys further inland are lush and green.
Galicia may not be an obvious place for your holiday – but those who prefer the subtle to the obvious, who do not expect every request to be understood and catered for, who are prepared to do more than lie on a sun-lounger, it offers a tantalising counterpoint to the national stereotype.
Prices from 75 Euros per night.