Untold Stories

How to keep cool during the hottest Madrid summer on record

18 June 2017
A man drinking from a botijo by Cibeles (photo credit: Urbancity.cc)

Madrid’s weather is breaking record after record this year, and the heat won’t be letting up any time soon. As everyone frantically Googles ‘innovative ways to stay cool’, we look back in time to our ancestors – and there are many lessons we can learn from them, all of which include one very simple ingredient: water. 


This technique has saved lives. Wet and wring a light scarf and wrap it loosely around yourself, or even just around the back of your neck – a part of you which is less sensitive but highly effective in cooling down the rest of your body.

You could also put your clothes on straight out of the washing machine – they’ll dry by the time you reach the metro station and it’ll be a much more pleasant walk.


This technique dates back thousands of years and is based on the principle that, when liquids evaporate, they take in heat from their surroundings. Water evaporating in hot air produces two things: water vapour and cool air.

Homes, libraries and temples in India take advantage of this effect by sewing together jute or vetiver grass (khus-khus) to create a mat-like blind, which is then hung up and periodically splashed with water. Multiple windows are kept open to create a wind tunnel, sucking hot outside air through the wet blinds and producing cool indoor air. In the case of khus-khus, the blinds also release an exotic woody fragrance.

Traditional grass blinds in Cordoba (photo credit: Flickr: Marco Polo)

The very same blinds are found in Andalucía! (photo credit: Flickr: Marco Polo)

The no-frills version is to wet a pair of curtains, or a large towel hung in front of your window. Keep them damp, and sustain a flow of air through your home to maintain a constant cooling effect.


Masala Chai on a boat in Kerala

Masala Chai on a boat in Kerala

Sweating is your body’s natural climate control, but sometimes it needs kicking into action. In many hot countries, hot drinks such as tea and coffee are consumed all year round for this reason.

In India, a very popular sweat-triggering tea is Masala Chai. Here’s a recipe taken from Kerala, a tropical state in South India where temperatures hover at around 30˚C all year.

Masala Chai (Serves 2)
  • 1 tbsp. loose-leaf tea or 2 black teabags
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 cardamom pods, seeded and crushed
  • 2 whole cloves
  • ½ tsp. cracked black pepper

Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil for 1 minute, then serve in small cups and get the fans ready for your personal evaporative cooling effect. All of the ingredients, including tea, can be found in Where to buy Indian Spices.


Salt lassi with mint

Salt lassi with mint

You lose a lot of water through sweating, but also a lot of vital salts. To keep up your minerals, here’s a long-established smoothie recipe from the street-side lassi bars of India:

Salt Lassi (Serves 4)
  • 2 pots of plain yoghurt
  • 2 cups of cold water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 10 finely chopped mint leaves
  • a pinch of turmeric (optional)

Mix well and serve immediately to keep you cool, hydrated and nourished throughout summer.


A man drinking from a botijo by Cibeles (photo credit: Urbancity.cc)

A man drinking from a botijo at Madrid’s Cibeles fountain

A botijo is a traditional Spanish container made of porous clay used to store and cool water (and often wine). It also works by the evaporative cooling method (like the blinds above), where the water inside filters through to the outside, where it evaporates and therefore cools the container. It’s even more effective at cooling water when placed in the sun because the sun’s heat increases the rate of evaporation.

The botijo is perfect for taking to the park – an area of the city which is fortunately already around 5˚C cooler – because you can fill it up at a drinking fountain and it’ll keep producing cool water with a temperature as low as 12˚C all day long.

Botijos have been used across Spain for hundreds or years and are still a popular option. They can be bought in many local ferreterías for as little as €15.

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