The sea and sun are a powerful combination – you can’t help but feel better as they work their magic. In the mid 19th century, French doctors saw their therapeutic benefits and seaside sanatoria were soon being built across Europe. Thalassotherapy – involving the use of water, sea products and a coastal climate – became a favoured treatment for tuberculosis (TB)
In 1929, the religious order of St Juan de Dios from Barcelona opened a sanatorium for young TB patients at El Vendrell on the Catalan coast. For 40 years the monks treated sick children from the city – and provided a medical service for their own neighbours.
As health improved, the need for the hospital declined and it closed in 1969, eventually becoming derelict.
Salvation came in the late 1990s when a Catalan businessman had the vision to transform the site.
Today it is Le Méridien Ra Beach Hotel & Spa, the Costa Dorada’s only five-star hotel.
Completely rebuilt, the beach-front building pays homage to the old hospital, and the spa complex uses those same natural therapeutic resources. Yet the buildings added in the rebuild mean there’s an edge to that original ethos.
The Explore Spa has everything your health might require – fitness, beauty and spa treatments; there’s even an on-site doctor overseeing the Ayurveda treatments.
The roof-top seawater pool is a sophisticated sister to its various steam rooms and the chaise longues on the outside deck are the perfect place for quiet contemplation.
Budget or boutique?
This is a top end spa hotel with international clientele.
My modern room overlooks a glittering mirror pool, but from my terrace I can see the wide sandy beach. The room is spacious with thoughtful touches (like the waterproof carrier bag to take my towels to the beach). Although unique, the room has Le Méridien’s international signature so there’s the familiar Malin & Goetz body wash in the walk-in shower and the housekeeping is immaculate.
Wining and dining
Intense flavours are Chef Jordie Guillém’s speciality and his inventive presentation means his plates are a joyful experience – with two restaurants on the terrace from which to chose.
We are greeted with exotic home-made ice-cream served from a cute Citroën van and the food that follows never fails to surprise. We sample what must be the prettiest tapas ever: fish under a pansy parasol; tomato infusion with lobster guacamole… a tuna lolly. Chef’s imagination knows no bounds.
In a cookery masterclass, we learn how locally grown rice can be turned into exotic paella with the addition of oysters, seaweed and cava.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s a good mix of activities to pick from: stargazing, cooking classes, ceramic workshops and free massages on the beach make the hotel a place to linger.
The Explore Spa is the Ra’s raison d’être and it’s easy to while away time in its calm space. After one of its signature treatments I sip a cleansing infusion in the lounge as water gently runs down the slates beside the bamboo. If the Thalasso Body Journey – seaweed wrap and facial massage followed by full body massage – hasn’t been relaxing enough, this calm oasis is the space to linger while the hydrating oils soak in and the muscles remember how to act.
If something more invigorating is required a smart gym is on hand but making use of the iodine-rich water in the roof-top pool and steam rooms is just enough effort to invest.
However, if you really have to leave Ra’s beach and spa environment, then Barcelona is 40 minutes by train and the popular beach resort of Sitges is half the distance away.
The hotel’s promenade neighbours are authentic Catalan beach-front towns and the Penedès wine region is its hinterland.
Le Méridien’s Au Soleil programme means your stay comes with a flavour of the Côte d’Azure and the hotel group’s French roots.
Life really is better by the beach as Manuel Araujo, the hotel’s general manager, likes to say.
Price per night in August from €349; in September from €249. Thalasso Body Journey at Explore Spa – 120 minutes €165. Le Méridien Ra Beach Hotel & Spa, Avinguda Sanatori, 1, El Vendrell, 43880, Spain, Tel: (34) 977 694200, www.lemeridienra.es