The Balneario de Fuente Amarga (Bitter Fountain) was established in 1867 and its waters declared for public use in 1871. It is located in the village of Tolox one hours drive inland from Marbella or Malaga at 360 meters above sea level at the entrance to the Sierra de la Nieves Natural Park and has clear air, a splendid warm climate, abundant water and green vegetation - a sheer delight in contrast to the pollution and stress of modern life.
The therapeutic properties of the water are: natural essential metals, nitrogenous, curative radioactivity, and calcium.
Therapies offered include: Asthma in children, chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, emphysema, conjunctivitis, allergies, kidney stones, diuretic cures.
Therapy methods used include: drinking water, inhalations of natural gas, balsamic inhalations, natural gas aerosols, nasal douche, eye baths, mud spray treatments.
The spa is open from the 1st of June to the 15th October.
The Spa does not have an hotel attached to it, however there are basic hotels withing walking distance in the village such as the one star Hotel Balneario plus a number of rooms to rent, the award winning three star Cerro de Hijar Hotel has 18 rooms and sits in a commanding location over looking the plains as far as Malaga.
Doctor Illuminada Corvillo has seen it all. "For example, there are the small children who suffer from asthma and come year after year and the mother finally reports that she doesn't have to take the child to the emergency room any more. Or perhaps mum had to take her little one in every day and now its only once or twice a year. Then we have older people who find they don't catch cold during the wintertime, or catch cold much less. And this is very important for them. There are others who don't need oxygen any more."
This doctor has been working on site at the medicinal spa in Tolox, just 20 minutes from Coín, for 14 years. She comes all the way from Soria just to fill the spa's need for a doctor to supervise patients from June to October. "When I studied medicine, there was nothing in the programme about balnearios - spas - but I was curious. My parents had been to spas when I was young and so after finished school I came here to see what this was all about and liked it."
Because the spa has been found therapeutic for respiratory problems as well as kidney and urinary tract conditions, these are the types of patients Dr Corvillo sees. Her job is to give each one an initial check-up partly to be sure he or she isn't suffering from any condition that could be worsened by spa treatments.
"This is not recommended for people with severe cases of bronchitis or any serious problem for that matter," she explains. "Untreated heart conditions or high blood pressure, for instance and sometimes cancer... In general you need to be in good condition to go through this because the treatments serve to stimulate the immune system. If you're not up to this, it can actually serve to make you weaker."
This might come as a surprise to those who only image luxuriating in a spa. But in fact, while some medicinal spas do offer complementary relaxation and beauty treatments, many of those in Spain tend to centre on strict medically supervised regimens.
A typical patient at the Tolox spa, for instance, stays for two weeks and might start off with between 10 and 20 minutes once or twice a day in the inhalation room. Equipped with a plastic tube and face mask, he shows up, hands the supervisor his prescription and waits for a station. Once his turn comes around, it's time to plug his tube into an outlet and breathe in the gases pumped up from the spa below. Depending on the specific condition being treated, a patient might inhale the gases through the mouth, nose or both. Many patients also drink from the spa and some are treated with vapour as well.
Manuel Diez del Rio, third generation owner of the spa, is proud that it is unnecessary to advertise the services offered. "We get excellent publicity just from word of mouth," he explains. "We have clients who used to suffocate without oxygen and now they can live without it. They had terrible quality of life but do much better after this. Some can even do without oxygen." And that is a message that gets around.
Mingling with the patients, one senses a sort of camaraderie, as if everyone knew one another. And it turns out that people from across the country return every year at the same time to reunite with their fellow patients at this fount of healing waters.
"I used to have terrible problems with asthma," explains one gentlemen from Valencia, who counts himself among the yearly faithful. "Now look at me! I'm doing great." With him are two friends, one who boldly confesses his former scepticism. Yet, when allergic desperation drove him to Tolox, he soon joined the crowds of converts.
The total cost of two weeks treatments at Tolox - including the initial medical exam - is is between 30 and 120 euros. Food and lodging is not included. For more information about the spa, ring 952 487 091.