Hit and bliss | Review: La Réserve Ramatuelle, France


Spa cynic Stephen Unwin thinks health retreats are largely for idiots, but he changes his tune after visiting what may be the best spa in the South of France – La Réserve Ramatuelle

Hit and bliss | Review: La Réserve Ramatuelle, France

I should start this with something pithy on “wellness”, which I believe is a made-up word. I’ve always thought it a wish-washy sort of concept – something about finding a balance of body, mind, hair, in a series of wipeable box rooms, where people in starched tunics administer designer snake oil to people with more money than other people; where Cheshire housewives, one too many HobNobs down the line, pass the time between exfoliation appointments by sipping all the green teas.

So it’s odd to find myself in a place predicated on a neologism. Where, upon entry, you give yourself to them completely then, when you leave, swishing probably, you’re a better person than everybody else. Goodbye liver disease, Hello! magazine. It’s not dissimilar to having the benefits of an all-consuming breakdown – the full physical/mental job – but with none of the downsides. We’re talking a process of abdicating all responsibility before you walk out glowing with the newness of living, but without so much as a lamb having screamed.

It’s not dissimilar to having the benefits of an all-consuming breakdown – the full physical/mental job – but with none of the downside

But of course places like La Réserve Ramatuelle don’t offer miracles with your endless suite, or a new hairline to go with your views of the most expensive part of the Mediterranean coastline. Nor do they wring out all sense of enjoyment when you’re being made scientifically more beautiful and/or healthy. They’re not those people here, even though this is a resort so special it has dumped the international hotel star rating system and become that rare thing in France, a Palace (English word, French pronunciation). There are only twelve of these, each awarded the accolade of belonging to a new super-league that scorns the ridiculousness of giving a hole more stars than heaven just because it has a lift going up and down.

La Réserve Ramatuelle, France

La Réserve Ramatuelle, France

And La Réserve Ramatuelle is exquisite. Simpler in style than the La Réserve group’s other hotels – there’s one in Geneva, also highly-regarded, but also quite dolly – it goes for stylish comfort, gentle colour palettes and soft lighting in a building that is startlingly contemporary in comparison to the enforced Provençal style of the region. There isn’t a lobby-lobby, just a lounge area with a check-in desk to your left, floor-to-ceiling windows ahead of you, and the Mediterranean beyond those. Over there is the restaurant, down the stairs, the spa, and right above you the Sky Bar. The rest of the reserve is handed over to accommodation, pool and gardens. In the form of the gardens, we have one of the Côte d’Azur’s most exclusive estates; this wonderful, intimate club stands at its core, then, beyond that, there are twelve villas, some – because it’s hard to leave – rented out for months on end. Villas aside, you have nine rooms and 19 suites to choose from. I’m in one of the latter and it takes, ooh, 20 minutes to walk from my bed to the toilet, in a good way.

And what I had slathered on my face was Crème de la Mer. Layer after layer after layer, which must’ve had a street value of thousands

And it’s beautiful round here, far enough from St Tropez that you’re not smelling Puff Daddy’s eau, yet close enough to swing by Brasserie des Arts for the scallops. Whizzing through the soft valleys with the Alps brushing the horizon is lovely and exciting; as you hurtle round tight bends that make you strain against your seatbelt, you look left, then right, then left again at electric gates that lead to, apparently, Karl Lagerfeld’s summer house that he perma-rents rather than buys.

La Réserve Ramatuelle’s philosophy is “maximising your quality of life”, so the place won’t go on lockdown if you want to wash down your seven-a-day with a vodka martini because, after all, booze makes life more fun. Unless, that is, you’ve opted for one of the bootcamps (available in various levels of hardcore).

La Réserve Ramatuelle

La Réserve Ramatuelle, France

From what you eat to what is lathered on your face, it’s all plotted out. What I ate was mostly tuna with head chef Eric Canino’s secret marinade and al dente vegetables fresh from the hotel’s kitchen garden. What I drank – seeing as you ask – was a smoky red from a château I could see from my bed. And what I had slathered on my face was Crème de la Mer. Layer after layer after layer, which must’ve had a street value of thousands.

And so to the spa. I was in there three, four times a day – for those Crème de la Mer treatments, but also for the all-over stuff like the Signature Massage which sends you tingly from top-to-toe as tracks from Now This Is What I Call Buddha plays on the Bose.

There are lots of water-based treatments, including the rude awakening that is Douche à Jet – which is good for circulation and writes its own punch line. The closest to a jailhouse hose-down as I ever want to come, the therapist – mine barely bigger than a potato – goes at it like she’s trying to fish out cocaine or some leviathan turd.

There’s also yoga every morning at 7am, but I’m not insane.

There’s also yoga every morning at 7am, but I’m not insane

There’s some performance anxiety evident within the wellness world. When even agoraphobes are demanding beauty at a cellular level and people who are nobody at all can just trot into Whole Foods like it’s some kind of SPAR, the very good life just isn’t that rarefied anymore. If people haven’t been to a spa, it’s probably because they don’t want to.

La Réserve Ramatuelle has pitched its offering to a better kind of T. What we have here is a delicate, clever coming together of nice things: gently healthy food, an amount of exercise you predetermine, beauty treatments that may or may not boldly go to epidermis levels yet to be discovered but who cares? And a pool with loungers and views and a bar. We need a neo-neologism for wellness when it comes to this place, because the original sounds like something George Lois came up with. Who knows, maybe it’s just “life”. C


La Réserve Ramatuelle, Chemin de la Quessine, 83350 Ramatuelle, France
+33 4 94 44 94 44; lareserve-ramatuelle.com