After a long day in an exotic city, nothing is better than a tranquil sanctuary to revive your tired feet and senses. Marrakech is bursting with secret urban retreats; in the heart of the bustling Medina, hidden doorways lead to tranquil courtyard hotels (riads) where pools shimmer in rooftop lounges, and you’re likely to find the famous Moroccan spas (hammams).
The Moroccan hammam ritual, commonly known as a Turkish bath, is an ancient cultural tradition that has been updated for modern tastes. Some all-inclusive Marrakech holiday deals include private spa treatments in the price – have a look when you book to see if your hotel has its own hammam.
So what should you expect when you visit a hammam in Morocco?
First things first – you do not have to strip off completely! Visitors should wear underwear or bikini bottoms in the hammam, but women are not expected to wear a top. Men and women are nearly always separated, so you will have privacy as well.
The process differs at private hotel hammams compared with public hammams, but the basics stay the same: sauna rooms, hot and cold plunge pools, and a seriously vigorous scrub.
Each Moroccan town and city has a public hammam, which is the centre of social life. You can bring your own towel or rent one for a few dirham, and make sure to bring flip flops. Once inside, change into your underwear, grab a bucket for water, and buy a scrubbing glove (kiis) and some famous black soap; this dried Moroccan clay is mixed with olive oil and herbs, and turns into a rich soap and shampoo when mixed with water.
Each marble steam room gets progressively hotter, with a gurgling water fountain in the centre of the room. Fetch a bucket of water and sit around the outside of the room, soaping up and rinsing off with the hot or cold water. Make sure to seek out a scrub from the hammam attendant, and be prepared to lose a few layers of skin. Don’t expect rose petals or zen spa music, but all this will only cost between 2 and 10 euros and you’ll feel like a new person!
Many hotels and riads offer luxury hammams, some of which offer private rooms. Upon entering the hot marble steam room, an attendant will douse you with hot water, wash you with the black olive soap and give you a perfumed scrub-down. After rinsing you again with hot water, this will be followed by a Moroccan Rhassoul clay mask or aromatherapy massage. Any stress will be rinsed away when you step into the cool plunge pool, and are given a final rinse with perfumed water and a glass of mint tea. A revitalising cleanse and spa treatment generally costs between 10 and 50 euros – a fraction of what it would cost in the UK.
Marrakech weather in December is still comfortable, with high temperatures in the teens and twenties, so emerging revitalised from the spa into the warm fresh air is a real treat for winter-weary visitors. It may be a completely new experience you’re after, or a relaxing break from your hectic life, but visiting a hammam is a must for any visitor to Morocco.