I recently returned from a fabulous trip to Marrakech, a town that assails the senses with an often bewildering mix of the modern and the medieval. Expect impeccable wi-fi connectivity and salons of splendor within ancient fortress walls; muezzins calling next to perfectly coiffured Frenchwomen drinking perfectly palatable Moroccan wine; scents of rose, argan and patchouli with the less alluring ones from the sewer. Donkey carts jostle for predominance with motorbikes on tiny cobbled lanes; and everybody stays in wonderfully restored courtyard houses or riads.
For spa aficionados, a trip to the hammam is not to be missed. A hammam is a traditional Middle Eastern variant of a steam bath or wet sauna and serves as a place to socialize and cleanse. Before the advent of modern plumbing, hammam were invariably public bath houses, but today many riads have a private hammam attached. Even though the word translates from many dialects of vernacular Arabic as “bathroom” or “toilet”, it’s a misleading term. Many hammam are architectural gems: think fluted arches and domed ceilings and a riot of mosaic tiles in gem colors.
Rituals vary, but generally you’ll be encouraged to lie in the steam chamber (with temperatures often rising close to 50ºC) for ten minutes or so to allow the skin’s pores to open up. Then, you’ll be doused in hot water a few times before an attendant covers the body with a smooth paste known locally as “black soap”. Made from processed olives, it has a slightly slimy texture, but isn’t unpleasant.
The next part of the process can be a bit unpleasant, however. My pain/pleasure threshold was veering rapidly up the pain scale, while
my partner started hyper-ventilating from the heat — and had to take a brief rest outside! Nonetheless, I clenched my teeth and endured the most abrasive body scrub with a glove that resembled the equipment
I use in the kitchen to scour my saucepans … afterwards, though,my whole body tingled delightfully, a sense exacerbated again once the attendant threw bucket after bucket of freezing cold water all over me.
Once I was fully rinsed, I was led to the tranquil courtyard of our riad, wrapped in soft towels, given beautifully scented mint tea in an antique glass and a carafe of water — and advised to rest for a while. This was an excellent tip, as the whole hammam experience is not for the faint-hearted: Your skin feels super soft, your head is seemingly weightless on the top of your neck, you feel relaxed, but energised — but you’re also seriously dehydrated. If you do opt to hammam — remember to rehydrate well. http://www.riadflam.com