Morroco and Turkey – Hammams, or bath houses, are the key to health and beauty in both of these countries. A trip to the hammam is a common therapeutic and social event, normally introduced in childhood and repeated throughout adult life. These bath houses are similar to the Russian Banya in the concept of heating a cooling the body, but add another dimension – the exfoliating body wash. If you’ve never experienced something like this before – you are in for a special treat (and so is your skin!)
The ritual usually has you start in the main part of the hammam which is a large marble or stone steam room with cold showers located in the corners or off to the side. Some of the more traditional hammams consist of a giant domed room with teeny “skylights” and fountains running both hot and hold water for bathing. Even the most basic hammam still makes you feel like you are stepping back in time…like a Roman Goddess of sorts.
Most bathing patrons, depending on which part of the world you are in, choose to go nude or in their underwear only (the hammam is usually separated into two areas for men and women, or sometimes scheduled for all male or all female days.) Modern hammams will sometimes offer the suggestion to bring a bathing suit if you are modest (mostly in the U.S. as this would seem a bit silly in Europe and the Middle East.)
After drenching yourself in hot and cold water baths and soaking up the hot moist air, your skin is ready for exfoliation. A kesse (kiis) is a mitt used for exfoliating skin traditional to Morocco. This is the secret weapon of the hammam attendant. You will be vigorously massaged all over with the help of this little rough mitt and watch as layers of your skin fall to the side, revealing skin so soft and clean, you will think yourself reborn. It is traditionally used along with a pine tar soap to aid in cleansing, and is sometimes followed by a moisture-rich application of natural oils or a milky lotion.
Depending on the specific hammam, mint tea is sometimes served before, during or after your time in the hammam as it aids in digestion and calms the stomach and the mind.
Want to see two modern examples of hammams? Read up on The Standard Miami and Les Bains du Marias.
BIEN TIP: if traveling abroad to parts of Europe or the Middle East, research areas offering some sort of hammam or bath house…this was one of my favorite spa adventures while studying in Paris.