A visit to the inland thermal spa town of Alhama de Granada is worth the demanding journey to discover it. From the coast one must take the northbound road from Velez Malaga, which winds and climbs past the man-made lake of Viñuela, and on through the spectacular Zafarraya mountain gorge, marking both the frontier between Malaga and Granada provinces but also the advancing Christian territory of the 15th century Spanish Catholic Monarchs. The higher, fertile valleys are full of small scale market gardening, artichokes, lettuces, vegetable greens and beans grown up rustic canes cut from nearby river banks.
Finally, after more than an hour on the road from the coast, one catches site of this ancient town, its distinctive Church, with striking bell town dominating the view. The old town has some real charm, clinging as it does to a rugged mountain gorge or 'tajo', and surrounded by rolling pastures. Crumbling mills remain along the river that snakes through the gorge, whilst period public buildings and terraced homes crowd the narrow streets above.
In addition to the ecclesiastical buildings, there is a castle, jail and historic hospital building that are worthy of a visit, but is the spa that is the main draw of the town.
A few kilometres from the centre, past an ancient Roman bridge is the Balneario de Alhama de Granada. The mineral rich, thermal waters were a favourite amongst the Romans and later the Arabs. In fact, the village name is based on the Arabic for baths, 'al-hammam'.
Forced up through the earth, the waters are well over 40 degrees centigrade when they reach the surface and are recognised for their therapeutic, relaxing qualities.
During the fifteenth century the Arabs constructed baths on top of the earlier Roman spa; their stunning Caliph style arches and bath remain, although protected behind a glass barrier. These are no longer used and instead the present day baths use an adjacent spring discovered in the nineteenth century. A hotel has been built over the original baths in the 17th century and this now modernised building offers 3 star accommodation for guests that wish to make more of their spa visit.
The property has a distinct health-focused, sanitarium feel, with professional staff dressed in white who offer a range of thermal water treatments. The water is said to not only relax the body, but also to help with removing toxins, cleaning and moisturising the skin and relieving arthritis and rheumatism amongst many other attributes.
The spa circuit is escorted, so a member of the team is with you for each stage.
It starts with classic water jets called 'Chorros a Presión'; one stands in a bathing suit in a private cubicle as powerful hoses are carefully and precisely directed at major muscle groups to relax, and tone.
Then it's a good 10 to 15 minutes in a large bubbling spa hot tub, the 'Baño de Percussion': and then further time to relax and even meditate in the hot 'Baño de la Reina'. This is a large, shallow pool of hot thermal water, constantly refreshed by a bubbling source spilling out over lava rocks in the centre of this dimly lit, centuries-old space. One can cool off in large walk in circular showers.
To end, there are a range of additional services including a personalised mineral bubble bath in a huge, antique marble tub, hewn from a single, huge piece of marble. Therapeutic massages and facials are also available, as well as a salon dedicated to the inhalation of the water vapours.
In addition to a day visit, the Balneario offers residential health breaks, including all meals, a selection of treatments and access to the spa's large outside swimming pool.
Tel: (+34) 958 35 00 11