In the recovered salt flats of Castro Marim, that originated in Roman times, we find not only salt flats, but also a spa inside a salt flat, a truly innovative feature which has many therapeutic and relaxing benefits. Furthermore, taking a bath with this amazing view from inside a salt flat, containing thousands of years of tradition, is an incredible experience.
Around 300 tonnes of salt and 13 tonnes of fleur de sal are produced annually by these salt flats which were recovered in 2008. This recovered salt flat, named Água Mãe (Mother Water) is one of the salts flats in Castro Marim that has opened again.
The name of the salt flat has great symbolism. The company’s name, Água Mãe, comes from the mother waters of the previous season that are used as the basis for the production of the new season. It has a very high salt content and is very important to the process.
When I arrive to visit the space, Daniela Vaz, member of the Água Mãe team, and another two colleagues received me in a rustic building while they were undertaking maintenance.
A legacy that continues over time, passing from generation to generation. From the time of the Phoenicians, passing through to the Romans and on to the present day into the hands of the team that openly confesses that this is hard work. “We keep the techniques used by the Romans. It is heavy work because the tools are heavy, in addition the work is done under the sun, as it is in the summer that the salt production reaches its maximum potential for harvesting”, said Daniela Vaz.
Phoenicians fished and conserved the fish in salting tanks. “There are a lot of rich fish here”, explained Daniela Vaz.
“This is where the first salt production came from. Years later, when the Romans populated Castro Marim, they left a legacy which included the increase in the relevance of salt within society as a whole. Romans paid salt rations to soldiers in the army, hence the term salary, afterwards when the Portuguese conquered this land, many documents were found that specified the detailed techniques of salt production”.
Visitors can have a therapeutic, relaxing and fun experience at the spa where they can take a bath in an artisanal salt flat - prepared for this purpose - while looking at the Spanish city of Ayamonte.
The 35º c water has a high concentration of minerals, more than eighty, including phosphate. “When we are in the water, on the one hand, the salt exfoliates the skin and on the other hand, the body absorbs the minerals that are here by osmosis. Then there is a renewal of our plasma, in contact with these areas”, explained Daniela Vaz. According to Daniela the treatment also benefits bones and muscles in the body while these chemical compositions also increases the production of Oxytocin which relaxes us. By osmosis, there is water exchange in our cells. It is a relaxing and therapeutic experience.
Salt makes us float effortlessly, highlighted Daniela Vaz. After the bath comes the second part of the treatment. “When people get out of the bath they use mineral black argil, they are self-contained argils that we remove from the bottom of the branches. They are very moisturising black argils and they have important therapeutic properties at the dermis level. But they also have anti-inflammatory properties”.
Artisanal salt v industrial salt flats
The artisanal salt flats were not able to compete with the industrial ones and this is what led to their closures. In 1985, only five traditional salt flats were still active “and they were run by older people who were not going to last many more years and the younger population did not want this job because it is very hard work”, she explains.
“The population started to consume what existed already on the market and were increasingly opting for the cheaper options. The price of artisanal salt is a bit more expensive, but the difference is not huge, the artisanal salt coasts €1 for 1 kg of salt, but the quality level is incomparable. The chemical composition of artisanal salt preserves the chemical composition of water, preserves the minerals that water has”, she said.
Daniela Vaz adds: “The chemical composition of industrial salt is very different. The salt itself contains 97 percent sodium chloride and the rest is the other minerals. When we talk about industrial salt this three percent is already gone, so there is a big difference in the chemical composition”.
This difference can be felt in the taste, because artisan salt has more minerals which allows a person to be able to use less salt while having a stronger taste of salt which in itself has health benefits. According to Daniela Vaz, the problem isn’t the salt; the problem is in the kind of salt we consume.
Despite being hard work and an economic activity unable to compete with the industrial production, many young people have been motivated to continue working in the salt flats. “Since 2000, training actions were organised to attract young people and to help set them up in Castro Marim, for the production of salt, and nowadays young people go to work for salt easily”, she concluded.
The Spa and tours are now on hold until the spring, however you can find out more about by visiting www.aguamae.pt.