What Exactly Is A Hammam Anyway?
While in Morocco I was told that I absolutely must experience a local Hammam.
Not knowing exactly what a hammam was, I decided to look up a definition.
"A Hammam is an Ottoman style hot steam bath typically followed by a massage."
Well that sounds delightful. I really should experience one of those.
However, still being unsure about how one of these things worked I decided to wait until my good friend Heather arrived so we could both go.
Experience #1 - Traditional Hammam
The hammam places are everywhere but we decided to go to a small, private one called Jnane Mogador housed in one of the riads where we liked to have breakfast.
We arrived at our scheduled time and they took us down to a nice room with padded benches and low lighting. They didn't really tell us what was going on other than gesturing to put our clothes in a little cabinet. The first question that arose was exactly how much clothing were we supposed to take off? As we pondered that for moment we could hear the sound of lots of water being splashed around the next room. We decided that less clothing was probably a good idea and opted for panties but no tops.
When we were ready we were led into a steamy, room with an arched ceiling, a small fountain, and a couple of candles. Our attendant (who I will call Fatima so I don't have to keep saying the "lady that helped us") tossed something like a yoga mat on the ground for me to sit on and pulled up a small stool for Heather to wait for her turn. I was entirely unprepared for what happened next. Fatima grabbed a bucket and started dumping hot water all over me. This was not a delicate process and included getting water dumped over my head and in my face with almost zero warning. Then she handed me a handful of surprisingly smooth black gunk that smelled like olive oil to rub all over my skin.
It is called black soap and it is made from the seeds of olives, after this experience I noticed big piles of it at every apothecary.
Fatima motioned for me to lay down on the mat as she slipped on what I can only describe as a sandpaper mitt. She proceeded to use it to scrub every inch of my body, all the while dumping more hot water every couple minutes. Flip. Same thing on the back. I couldn't help but laugh the whole time. Now I know how my little girls must feel when I give them baths. When she was finished and it felt like there was no skin left on my body, she rubbed me down with mud and told us to switch places.
While Heather was getting scrubbed up, I sat covered in mud, leaning against the very warm wall wondering how they got them to be so warm. The next thing I knew she was done and covered in mud and sitting on her own little plastic stepstool. Fatima splashed some water around the room to make some more steam, cleaned up the floor then left.
It seemed like she was gone forever. We sat relaxing in our mud covering trying to figure out what on earth had just happened. It was a bonding experience to say the least. At this point I figured we were probably about finished.
Fatima came back, sat me in the middle of the room, dumped more water over my head, scrubbed off the mud, lathered up with shower gel, washed my hair with some good ol' Head and Shoulders, tossed a couple buckets of water in my face for good measure then sent me back to my stool to wait.
Finally when she finished with both of us we were given huge fluffy robes to put on and towels to wrap up our hair before we headed off to our massages.
We were led off to our separate massage rooms and gently rubbed with oils for an hour which was lovely. The funny thing was the room I was in was so small there wasn't really any room for the masseuse to walk around the table so every time she needed to move around to the other side she'd just scoot the table (with me on it) the other direction.
After our hour was up we got dressed and headed outside and in the light we realized how amazing our skin looked!! It was bright and smooth and awesome. It kind of makes me wonder...have I ever even really bathed properly?
We decided that, even though it was a bit outside our comfort zones we would actually like to get a hammam about once a week. Seriously though, do you think they have these in Los Angeles?
Experience #2 - Upscale Spa Hammam
Johnny and I enjoyed the effects of our first hammam treatment so much that after Antonio and Heather headed home we decided to go to one of the really nice, more spa-like hammam experiences. We left the girls with Billy (our trusted manny who traveled with us for a few months) and headed to a nice resort called Les Deux Tours in the Palmeraie.
We arrived early so we could take advantage of their pool and explore the beautiful grounds of the resort. It was a really pretty pool but still a bit cool for me so I just soaked up the sunshine for a while and Johnny took a quick dip.
This was a great way to start our experience, because by the time we even walked in the door to the spa we were already totally relaxed.
Upon arrival we were led to a nice room with lounge chairs, big fluffy towels, robes and disposable undergarments to put on. We got ready, then slipped into the robes. Our lovely young guide came in, laughed and said to take the robes off. Those are for later.
Next we were led into this crazy beautiful room with benches along the edges and what looked like a stone massage table to our right and a small square pool with rose petals floating on top to our left. The room was warm but not hot. We kept going through a second door into a hot steamy room that smelled of Eucalyptus.
All of the rooms were lit from above by natural light streaming in though star shaped holes in the roof of the domed ceilings.
Functionally, the hammam was about the same except the products used were all natural and made from ingredients found in the Atlas mountains.
After we were finished with the scrubbing and the mud and the rinsing we were told to go sit in the pool with the roses.
Oh how nice, I thought.
Wrong. Not nice. It was freezing cold! Not like ice bath cold but definitely more cold than cool. This works to close up your pores which makes sense but was certainly not what I had expected.
When we were finished soaking we were given cucumber water, wrapped up in robes and allowed to lounge in the room we started in for a bit.
While it was at its core the same thing as the first hammam, I felt like this was how I would do it if I was royalty or something.
After our hammam we stuck around for a late lunch at La Pergola restaurant near the pool. The food was excellent but other than the olives on the table you would have never know we were in Morocco which was a bit of a bummer. I think if I had stayed there during our trip it would be a bit disappointing as far as food and culture goes because you'd just be surrounded by other foreign people instead of immersed in the culture of the area. Good to keep in mind for next time.
Overall, I enjoyed both hammam experiences way more than I had anticipated! If you're in Morocco its a local tradition that you really should try.
PLANNING A VISIT?
You can find a hammam about every ten feet in Marrakech but I loved the one at the Hotel Les Deux Tours (Circuit de la Palmeraie - BP, 153 Douar Abiad, Marrakech 40000, Morocco). It's about a fifteen minute taxi ride from the medina.