In 2015, I spent a month traveling and studying flamenco in Andalucia and had the chance to visit 2 locations of Hammam Al Andalus (Granada and Malaga) as well as 2 locations of AIRE Ancient Baths (Barcelona and Seville). I loved these atmospheric places of relaxation. I found Spanish hammams to be great mid-range spas. They are more luxurious than some of the bare bones communal “everyday” spas I have visited, e.g. cheap Japanese sento or Korean jimjilbangs, yet still much more affordable than comparable experiences in North America (AIRE Ancient Baths has locations in New York and Chicago but they are $$$$!).
So, when I found myself back in Spain this year, visiting hammams was at the top of my list of things to do. My first stop was Madrid and I was happy to find that Hammam Al Ándalus has a location here. This hammam is centrally located, a short walk from the heart of Madrid (and indeed, the centre of Spain) – La Puerta del Sol. It’s easily accessible be Metro or Bus and ideally located for pre/post-spa tapas, shopping, or sightseeing. I highly recommend the nearby Casa Patas flamenco tablao for live music and dance performances.
I made my reservation a few days in advance using their online reservation system, which was easy to use. Like all locations of Hammam Al Andalus, you must reserve in advance even if you are just using the waters and not booking any massage or gommage services. This is because there is a limited capacity and guests are booked in 90 minute circuits (slots are available every 2 hours, from 10am-10pm), then there is a 30 mins. break between slots where they clean everything.
Pro Tip: Try to arrive 15 minutes early because if you are lucky, you can enter the spa a bit early and maximize your time inside. Also, consider that when you book a service (e.g. massage) it eats into your time in the spa. I usually do the 15 minutes massage package so that I still get lots of time in the waters and steam room. I have done the 30 minutes massage package too, but it feels a bit more rushed. I believe if you book a 60 minutes service they may let you stay a bit longer.
This hammam is no secret to travel guides and tour books, so staff are used to dealing with foreigners and at least one person will be able to speak English (as for the massage therapists, their English can be more limited so it’s not a bad idea to brush up on your spa Spanish — espalda = back, piernas = legs, etc.). When I arrived, I had to check in and then wait for a few minutes. You get a bracelet which is colour coded based on what service you booked. You also get little surgical-type booties to go over your street shoes to keep the floors clean. They take people in small groups into the spa, providing some instructions and orientation to the facilities. If you aren’t comfortable in Spanish, just wait for the English group. From the moment you arrive, it’s like entering another world. Everything is serene, candle-lit, and smells amazing. Stairs take you to an underground oasis of calm.
After changing into your swimsuit and taking a hot shower, you’re ready to head into the main spa area. It’s not too big, so it’s easy to find your way. You get a plaid hammam towel (thinner than regular terry cloth towels) and there are lots of hooks, just try to remember where you put yours! I saw some people tying their towel in creative ways to be able to easily spot it. They do not allow flip flops/slippers in the spa, most people go barefoot (the website says you can purchase special shoes but I didn’t see anyone do that). I don’t love this, as I get paranoid about warts and other communicable diseases that are more easily spread on damp surfaces, but at least the place IS spotless and kept very clean at all times.
There is a large warm bath, which is a good place to start. From there you can go to the steam room or hot bath until it’s almost too hot to bear. Then you can dip in the cold pool, which feels incredible! Rest with some tea in the relaxation area and repeat. There are no clocks. You can enjoy the soft music, fragrant aromas, and rays of light shining through the patterned windows. It is a really meditative experience.
When it’s your turn for your massage or other service, a staff member will just come get you by calling your name. You don’t have to worry about waiting in a designated area. When the 90 minutes is over, a bell rings and everyone gets out. They really enforce the silence/quiet policy, which I appreciated on my solo visit here. I also went on a weeknight 10:00-11:30pm when it is their “quiet hammam” time which probably helped (they further limit the number of guests for this time slot and gave me a soap to take home as a gift).
I had a 15 mins. massage and it was fabulous. I suggest picking one or two areas to focus on, since it’s impossible to do a full body massage in such a short time. The massages are done in a large room, so you may be beside a stranger. You are in your swimsuit and lying on a table. So if you have a bikini top with a clasp or tie at the back (instead of a pull-on sports bra-like one), that will make it easier. You can choose your massage oil scent (e.g. rose, red amber, lavender). In the relaxation area, they have samples you can smell and descriptions of their therapeutic benefits. After your massage, your hammam towel is switched for a terry cloth towel that you will use at the end for your shower.
There can be a bit of a wait for the showers since everyone is leaving the spa at the same time and there are only 3 showers in the women’s change room. But everyone seemed to be aware of this and took fast showers. There are individual stalls for changing in case you are shy and plastic bags for your swimsuit. They really think of everything. You will leave feeling the cleanest you have felt for a long time!