Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Arab Baths of Granada

Sitting huddled around the heater with our vino tinto and Manchego cheese, wrapped in blankets for extra warmth – we hatched our escape plan. We were tired of being so cold! You’d think we were in Antarctica – and not the Costa del Sol.

The Costa del Sol in southern Spain supposedly has over 300 days of sunshine a year – not that it wasn’t sunny. It was just so cold that the town now appeared devoid of people virtually turning into a ghost town overnight. A local bar owner told us that it was just too cold - the Spanish were staying inside.

Our lovely beach weather from mere days before had taken a turn for the worse – plummeting from a pleasant nineteen degrees to a very chilly six. Unheard of for this part of the country, even at this time of the year!

My husband Curtis (of Flashpacking Life) and I had spent the last two weeks in Nerja with friends who were visiting from home. Just as they were leaving, my friend Athena arrived from California, leaving behind scorching temperatures and raging forest fires.

When the cold snap struck, the three of us couldn’t stop thinking about the Arab baths in Granada. We made it our mission to go soak in the hot baths and finally thaw ourselves out.

The Aljibe Banos Arabes must be booked in advance. Each session lasts for an hour and a half; if you pay an extra nine euros, you’ll also get a 15-minute aromatherapy massage. For the baths only, it will cost you 17 euros, so the full deal with massage is 26 euros (if you visit on a weekend or holiday, you’ll pay an extra two euros).

The sessions start every two hours beginning at 10:00 am, with the last session at 10:00 pm (they close at midnight). Towels and lockers are provided free of charge, as are water and the tastiest sweet mint tea ever.

We arrived in Granada hours ahead of our scheduled bath session so that we could wander the streets and enjoy a tasty lunch before our soak. Wandering around the Albayzin – the North African part of town - with its narrow cobbled streets, shops full of colorful clothing and intricate carvings, and the endless choice of restaurants sporting hookahs, we felt like we were in Morocco.

Slipping into one of the restaurants where the smell of incense wafted about, we took a seat at a table tucked into what felt like our own secret nook. We had to duck under the archway (well, not Athena, who’s about the size of a Smurf) to get to the beautifully inlaid table awash in candlelight.

We ordered a delicious pot of Chai tea and the lamb with couscous – which was absolutely to die for!
With full bellies we continued our wander – eventually stumbling upon the perfect spot for a breathtaking view of the Alhambra, with the snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background.

And then it was bath time! The free map that I had picked up from a tourist info booth helped us navigate our way to the small street (which looks more like an alley) that houses the baths.

After changing into our swimsuits, we heaved open the heavy wood and iron door and entered a different world.

There are seven different pools: six of them ranging from warm to hot, with one cold plunge pool. The idea is to alternate between the cold and warm pools, never letting your body get overheated. The cold pool sits at the centre of the room, lit from below and backed with a beautifully tiled wall. Marble and tile reign here and the room is designed to provide some privacy in the nooks and crannies of various baths – some of which are hidden by arch ways or columns.

The number of guests per session is limited, which is great. There were eight people in total in the baths during ours, so we never even had to share a pool with anyone else. The atmosphere is tranquil, relaxing and romantic. If you speak, it’s in a hushed whisper.

We were all given a number upon arrival, and when it was time for the massages, the cute masseur wandered the baths, softly calling out a number in Spanish.

When my turn came, I was given a choice between a back/neck massage and a leg massage – so, of course, I chose the back. As I lay on my stomach on the massage table, the masseur untied the strings on my bikini and covered me with beautifully scented oil. Then his big strong hands worked their magic as I drifted deeper into the relaxation. The only thing keeping me from falling asleep was the occasional drip of cool water against my warm skin, the condensation from the ceiling.

Those fifteen minutes were over too quickly – but they were worth every penny. After a quick shower to wash off the oil, I slipped back into the baths as Curtis began his 15 minutes of fabulous pampering.

Twenty minutes later, a man in a white lab coat appeared. He looked very serious and important as he snaked his way through the baths. But then he pulled out a flashlight, flashing each pool of people with his blinking light several times.

We bathers looked at each other questioningly, barely suppressing giggles at this weird sight. After a moment of confusion, we guessed it must be the signal for the end of our session.

The flickering flashlight finished our time in the hammans but we left our newfound paradise of warmth and tranquility filled with a spiritual sense of ahhhhhhhh.

Lindsie and Curtis are traveling the world for a year - follow their adventure on Flashpacking Wife.


Curtis said...

I wish Burgau had some baths... man, do I miss those.

Lil' Boozie said...

Wow, that looks amazing. I'm so jealous!

Thank you for taking the time to contribute to our blog, Lindsie. We really appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Hello,nice post thanks for sharing?. I just joined and I am going to catch up by reading for a while. I hope I can join in soon.