A chance glance at a map highlighted some Roman baths in the Casares hills just a 15 minute drive from home – perfect for a Sunday outing!
As well as the baths, there are some excellent walking trails in the area including this hike in the Canuto de la Utrera.
Los Banos de la Hedionda
Translated from Spanish ‘Los Banos de la Hedionda’ means Baths of the Stinking Place and, walking up the path towards the baths, I could certainly smell them before I could see them.
There’s a sulphur spring flowing into the valley but it’s only when sulphur is combined with hydrogen that you get the typical rotten egg smell which, from schoolgirl chemistry, I remembered was hydrogen sulphide. The smell isn’t overpowering here (if you’ve been to Rotorua in New Zealand you’ll know all about how pungent that is!) but it’s definitely in the air.
The baths themselves are housed in a small white building with a domed roof. This building is a modern addition which was built to help preserve the remains of the original Roman structure.
There are no proper changing facilities so you might want to come prepared with your swimming gear already on. There is, however, a small open area with built in seats so you can at least dry off after your dip (which never takes long under the Andalucian sun). We were even lucky on one of our visits to be serenaded by an old man practicing his violin as he dried off.
There are two small entrances leading into the bath. The water’s cold at first but it soon warms up and it can be a bit slippy underfoot so be careful getting in and out. There are several tunnels in the chamber leading to underground caverns (and the source of the water) but we’ve yet to explore these.
Leave any valuables at home and make sure to take off any jewellery too as the sulphurous water will most likely damage it. Flip flops are handy to have if you plan to walk down to the mud walls as it’s rocky underfoot.
Adjacent to the baths are a couple of pools of sulphurous milky blue water flowing into a small stream. I paddled across the shallow stream to a wall of clay – great, a free face and body mask! I was expecting it to be soft so thought I’d be able to scoop great handfuls onto my body – wrong! It’s actually really hard so I had to get a stone from the river and use it to scrape the mud off the wall to mix into a paste with water from the stream.
It’s worth noting that since my first visit there are now signs asking visitors not to take any clay from the bank although this didn’t seem to deter everybody.
Apparently Julius Caesar, the famed ruler of Ancient Rome, visited the baths sometime around 60BC to bathe in the sulphur springs as a cure for his psoriasis. Whether that’s true or not, I will say that after a dip my skin did feel lovely and soft (even if it did have a slightly sulphurous odour to it!!).
Given the fact that I’m not very good with directions (check out my tales of hiking in the Sierra Bermeja) I did wonder if we’d manage to find the baths but it was a fairly straightforward journey.
If you’re driving from the south on the A7 you should turn inland at the roundabout by Lidl in Sabinillas onto Camino los Banos, and carry on up this road until you drive underneath the motorway. There’s a restaurant on the right called Roman Oasis – carry on past this down a steep gravel path on the right and you’ll come to the official car park (in reality, not much more than a piece of cleared land).
From the car park keep to the main path, and it’s a short walk past the small San Adolfo chapel on the right.
A word of warning. If you’re going on a Sunday morning expect lots of traffic – not to the baths but to the Sunday market in Sabinillas. It’s held in a big car park on Camino los Banos and there are traffic police directing cars in and out so the wait shouldn’t be too long but, if road rage does take hold of you a dip in the baths is the perfect antidote.
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