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A guide to Turkish baths

If you're planning a holiday to Turkey, or other Mediterranean countries including Greece, Spain and Morocco, you'll more than likely get the opportunity to experience a Turkish bath or hammam. This once-in-a-life-time experience can be enjoyed in an ancient building, a luxury hotel or purpose-built complex.

It's always a good idea to visit a Turkish bath at the beginning of your holiday, as not only will it prevent any unwanted tan loss, but it's also a great way to exfoliate in preparation for sun-filled days and any other activities you may have planned.

The origins of Turkish baths

The concept derives from Ancient Greek and Roman baths and focuses on the ritual cleansing and rejuvenation of the mind and body.

The ornate, marble interiors and, in some cases, vast domed buildings add to the grandeur of the experience.

The Roman way was to submerge yourself in a pool of cold water, a tradition also followed at Roman baths in the UK. However, this is less favourable in other traditions, and in countries such as Turkey there is a full cleansing process, covering exfoliation and massage. Turkish hammams are often located near mosques for those who want to perform a deep cleansing ritual.

The ultimate spa experience

Cleopatra was famously attended to by male servants, who would give her Roman baths to keep her skin young and fresh. And although they're not decadent, Turkish baths can certainly be described as the ultimate spa experience. You often get the opportunity to top it off with an aromatherapy massage, or even a chocolate body wrap. It's certainly worth devoting a half-day to pampering yourself.

Your introduction

Depending on where you bathe, men and women might be separated, go in at alternate times, or be allowed to bathe together. After that, the ritual is familiar. Firstly, you'll be escorted to a locker room to store your valuables and collect your slippers and peshtemal – a traditional towel that's thinner and prettier than you might be used to, but easier to carry around and just as absorbent.

Hot and steamy

You'll relax in a hot, steamy sauna, before being taken to the hararet, the main space and focal point of the ritual, which is made entirely of marble, softly-lit and hot. The heat is intended to prepare your skin for exfoliation. You'll be asked to sit near one of the marble sinks, where you can run warm water into the bowls provided to pour over yourself.

All over scrub

Now it's time to sit back and relax while the work is done for you. Then, you'll lie down on a warm marble slab, known as a gobekasi, this will be located in the middle of the room. With your head face down on a cloth, an assistant will continue to pour warm water on your back, arms and legs, followed by an all-over body scrub to remove any dead skin.

Full body massage

At this point, you'll be massaged by a cloth sack filled with bubbles of olive oil, soap and water, used to cleanse. The bubbles are released to leave you gently covered in soap, and this is the optimum time for your soothing full body massage, intended to work out any knots. At the end, bowls of refreshing cool water are poured over you, before you retire to a cool room or garden area for a period of relaxation.

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