Today my skin is baby soft, and the typist knots in my shoulders have unravelled a little. That’s because we spent yesterday morning at Les Bains de Marrakech, one of the most recommended hammams in the city. As we discovered when we tried to book at a day’s notice, it is always fully booked, so that’s another thing to book before you arrive in Morocco. However, we did manage to score two 9am slots on Sunday – New Year’s Day, which suited us fine, as we were checking out of our hotel at midday, and we didn’t go out on NYE.
Of course there are any number of cheap and cheerful hammams in the city, but I appreciate a few more luxe trimmings as I get older, and Les Bains is a perfect compromise between local bathhouse and luxury spa – a la Dior Institut at the Hotel El Saadi or the Mamounia’s legendary pamper palace.
So at Les Bains the building is a traditional riad, with Moroccan lanterns casting a roseate glow through the corridors. There are flower petals scattered everywhere, soft chaises on which to lounge in between treatments, little glasses of sugared mint tea to keep your strength up, and massages in dimly lit, gently fragranced private rooms.
We had booked a hammam & gommage for two, followed by a massage each. (There was an option to have the massage together, but I prefer my privacy.)
Although a maillot – swimming costume is obligatory, the moment we got in the hammam room, we were sluiced with buckets of hot water and asked to remove our suits. (We were in a private hammam for two people.) Of course you can keep yours on if modesty dictates or you are in a bigger hammam. If you don’t want to get down and naked with your friend, sister or partner, then make sure you request a private, personal session. Or keep your suit on.
(I also spotted a few local ladies in the changing rooms wearing shower caps for their hammams, which hadn’t occurred to me. Even with two hair washes, I had hideous oily hammam hair for 24hours afterwards so kind of wished I had worn one too.)
After the sluicing there is relaxing in the dim heat, then there is the application of black soap, more relaxing, then the gommage. (Exfoliation with a very raspy mitt. OUCH.) Although it is very satisfying to watch the curls of old grey skin appear. Then more relaxing, then an application of some more goop, then more relaxing.
Then you are done, and it’s time to shower and wash your hair in the adjacent cubicle. (If you are only having a hammam, I’d just wash cursorily, and then head to the changing room to shower thoroughly.)
After some more relaxing, this time on a chaise with mint tea, we were led off separately for very good massages. At this point I do recommend heading for the loo whenever you get the chance – you need to drink lots of water before and after a hammam, and I had to sprint for the changing room downstairs halfway through the massage, which rather killed the mood.
I had a very thorough relaxing massage – none of that stroke-y, stroke-y aromatherapy nonsense but a skilled, therapeutic, un-knotting one, and lil’sis had a draining one, which concentrated on lymphatic drainage and the stomach.
The whole process – hammam, gommage & massage took exactly two hours, and cost 500 dirhams each – 150 for the hammam & gommage, and 350 for the massage. here are lots of other treatments available, from facials and wraps to mani/pedis, as well as lots of packaged treatments and day programmes.
Things I wish I’d packed (but didn’t): a purifying shampoo – they provide their own, but even washing my hair twice didn’t get rid of the massage oil, hair conditioner, body moisturizer & deodorant for afterwards. I also wish I had slipped a comb into my robe pocket at the start, as there wasn’t an opportunity to go back to the changing room between treatments and I had a wet, tangled birds nest on my head after the hammam shower.
Les Bains de Marrakech are open every day from 0900-1930hrs. Book well in advance.
There is a very good website with treatment & price menu at www.lesbainsdemarrakech.com