The Medina Califal, Cordoba – Waterborn Heaven

Sweat bathing – be it in the form of the Finnish sauna, the Russian bania, the Turkish hammam, or an American Indian sweatlodge – is as common to the world as the baking of bread and the squeezing of the grape. These are based on dry rooms, but the Medina Califal in Cordoba in Andalucia, are designed in a typical mudejar style, where the baths are a series of pools of between 19 and 40.As you enter the baths from the changing rooms you come into a small antechamber that houses the cold room.

These are based on dry rooms, but the Medina Califal in Cordoba in Andalucia, are designed in a typical mudejar style, where the baths are a series of pools of between 19 and 40

A word of warning; do not take a first dip into the long, thin bath facing you. This is not as cool as a mountain stream – it is as jaw clenching, buttock tensing icy as a recently melted iceberg. This is stage two, after the small bath to your left, which drops your temperature to darn cold, but at least prepares you for the frozen submersion to follow.After the shock of the cold room, sinking into the delicious warmth of the first pool is like slipping into a silken robe. Sepulchral lighting comes from the tiny circles and stars that perforate the domed ceiling, casting glittering reflections on the water below. Red encased candles of the type usually seen adorning altars, flicker from wall niches or cast upward glows from the base of marble pillars. The classical dome shape of the Arab arch, constructed of alternate blocks of white and maroon painted stone, rises from the pillars to form a colonnade around the bath. Above them the walls are washed with shades of deep pink in such a way as to make it look as if the bath has been there for centuries, and transmutes the subdued lighting into a roseate glow.The muted sound of Arab music is disturbed only by the water cascading from the fonts that keep the three pools at the required temperature. (One of the delights of the gushing water is to plunge your head under a spout and feel the warmth bubbling over your body.

Aromatic oils are used, and the comforting hands of the masseur uncoil and un-kink knotted muscles and when you slither off the bench fifteen minutes later and submerse yourself into the delicious warmth of the pool half-a-metre away, the world may not be a better place, but quite frankly – you don’t care

) If the conversation of the clients rises to more than a subdued hubbub, the masseur, calmly working on the tables alongside the bath, will quietly bring a return to tranquility.From the light of the first pool a few steps through an arched entrance takes you to two smaller pools. As the size decreases the temperature rises, and the ambient light fades. Whispered conversations drift across the water as you sit on the sunken ledges, savouring the warmth lapping your body from the tiny wavelets created as newcomers walk down the steps.

(One of the delights of the gushing water is to plunge your head under a spout and feel the warmth bubbling over your body

Entering the final pool, smaller and hotter than the rest, is like settling into the comfort of your bath at home – at least it would be if it was made of marble and a metre deep. Bathed in soft illumination filtering through the Moorish arch, pinpointed by the pink radiance from the fluttering candles, disturbed by no other sound than the waterfall effect of the circulating water, this is as near to waterborne heaven as it is likely to get.When you tire of the heated pools you can just sit on the marble floor, lean against the marble walls, and sweat yourself to sleep.At some time during your ninety minutes you will be invited to stretch out on a padded bench for a massage. You choose either head, shoulders and back, or legs and feet. Aromatic oils are used, and the comforting hands of the masseur uncoil and un-kink knotted muscles and when you slither off the bench fifteen minutes later and submerse yourself into the delicious warmth of the pool half-a-metre away, the world may not be a better place, but quite frankly – you don’t care.It isn’t wise to leave the baths directly from the hot pool and you are advised to end the session by taking alternate dips between the cold bath and the first warm pool, ending with a final dip in the icy trough. It still turns your toes inwards, but the effect isn’t quite as brain numbing as before.

I am a freelance journalist living in Valencia City, Spain, although my work takes me throughout the country. My work is pretty wide ranging, both in subject and geography, but my heart lies in Spain, which is where most of writing concentrates on. I’ve written two successful guide books to the Valencian region, on Spain’s eastern coast, Inland Trips from the Costa Blanca and Small Hotels and Inns of Eastern Spain, as well as many articles for national and international press. While most of my work features the idiosyncratic side of Spain, I’ve also written extensively on wine, gastronomy and hotels.To discover more about Spain, visit [http://www.derekworkman-journalist.com] and http://derekworkman.wordpress.com.

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