A bather inside La Hedionda.
Can a spa be gratis? Malaga province has natural baths with a centuries-old history

Can a spa be gratis? Malaga province has natural baths with a centuries-old history

From the last days of June to mid-September it is necessary to register online in order to access the Baños de la Hedionda in Casares, but it is still free of charge

Javier Almellones

Friday, 17 May 2024, 15:19


The spa is located in the municipality of Casares, but is best accessed from neighbouring Manilva. From the A-7, which runs parallel to the coast, there is an exit that leads to the so-called Camino de los Baños. At first it is a narrow, tarmac road, then it turns into a dirt road. This is your warning to look for a parking spot. Not only is it not the best road surface for some motor vehicles, but it is also because cars and motorbikes are banned from entering the land where Baños de la Hedionda, one of the spas with sulphurous waters in the province, is located.

Keep a cool head, there is plenty of parking space in several designated and well-signposted areas just before the sign expressly prohibiting vehicular access. From these authorised parking areas to the Baños de la Hedionda site, next to Manilva river, it is just over half a kilometre to walk, a gentle uphill stroll, although the lack of shade means it is best avoided at midday in high season.

After passing the shrine of San Adolfo, look for a small path on the right that leads directly to the bathing area, which is very popular for its spring with waters that are used to treat certain skin conditions. These are ferruginous sulphurous waters, easy to identify by their colour - somewhere between light blue and turquoise - and, most noticeably, by using your nose, as there is a smell of sulphur, like "rotten eggs", as some bathers comment. Still, this does not stop many of them from bathing to take advantage of its benefits.

In fact, the properties of this spring are enjoyed daily by dozens of bathers when the weather permits, although there are always those who brave the change in temperature to take a dip on the coldest days of the year. It is to be expected that, as spring turns into summer, the number of people increases. You don't have to pay a penny to go in and bathe. All you have to do is respect the simple rules stipulated on several signs.

Summer bookings

The influx of bathers in the summer season had led in recent years to overcrowding at this small spa. This situation and the historical value of the baths forced Casares town hall to regulate and restrict access to the site in summer. Thus, from 2021, between the last days of June and mid-September, it is only possible to enter this enclave with a prior reservation, which can be done online. Casares Tourist Office will publish details for 2024 summer season in the coming days.

The restriction in recent years has been for a maximum of 24 people to be able to use this space from 12 noon to 19:00 from approximately the official start of summer until the middle of September.

All these restrictions are in response to the need for proper conservation of a unique place with a long history. Moreover, it is now protected as an Asset of Cultural Interest and as a unique beauty spot (Rincón Singular) in Malaga province. In the interior of the baths you can see today a spherical vault with pendentives (curved, vaulted ceiling forming a triangle) and two barrel-shaped vaults, which are the result of re-modelling carried out between the 18th and 20th centuries. The waters have been in use for centuries during both Islamic and Roman rule, the latter period being possibly from when people started to use them.

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This archaeological hypothesis probably inspired the legend that states that these baths were ordered to be built by Julius Caesar after he was cured of herpes, a skin disease that allegedly beset him after the battle of Munda. Another fantastic tale is that the devil breathed his last breath there when he was expelled by Santiago. But they are just that, legends, wild imaginings prompted by the unique surroundings of this beauty spot.

The local environment

This old spa, located next to the Manilva riverbed, is at the foot of the Utrera karst mountain range. In fact, close by the Baños de la Hedionda there is a straight, uphill path that crosses one of its 'canutos' (rocky outcrops). It is a relatively tough route that should be avoided in very hot weather.

In the area around the baths you can also see a rather curious bridge that also serves as an irrigation channel. Some even call it an aqueduct. Its construction probably dates back to the 16th century. Nowadays its waters offer a curious contrast with the more colourful and 'fragrant', sulphurous waters flowing from Baños de la Hedionda.

Somewhat further away are the remains of what was once a hostel for visiting bathers. It is the first and only building for housing bathers to have been built to date.

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