Have hammam, will travel: a Marrakech must-do

Marrakech is one of those places that gets under your skin: so it’s not surprising that the people of this glorious city have hit upon the world’s most perfect way of scrubbing you until you sparkle.

I first visited the city on a last-minute deal of a holiday, precisely the sort of trip you turn your nose up at as a wanderlust-filled, backpack-toting teenager. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that after a few years limping through the world of work, you start to appreciate holidays where someone tells you which bus to get on, how many drinks you can have at the bar, what the exchange rate is and so on. It’s a little like holidaying with your parents again, but without the overhead emotional baggage.

marrakech-at-dusk

Following that first guided break, the chef and I have now visted the city under our own steam twice in the space of a year. We joke that we keep going back because we have no imagination, but really it’s because Marrakech is utterly, positively glorious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.

As this is a beauty-focused blog, I didn’t want to bang on about devouring every last scrap of tangy, mouth-watering preserved-lemon, olive and chicken tagine; or half-laughing as you haggle for antique turquoise, coral and silver Berber necklaces; or absent-mindedly stroking butter-soft, jewel-coloured leather bags while ambling through the overwhelming, trinket-laden shopping paradise of the Medina’s souks.

Nope: I want to tell you about the traditional Moroccan bathtime – a hammam spa – which, after a few days of getting lost in the dusty, amber stone-walled streets, any visitor to the city will definitely appreciate. There’s nothing quite like it for removing grime.

My favourite hammam so far is found at Les Bains De Marrakech, one of the first private Moroccan spas to be set up in the city: it’s tucked away down a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blind alley, but its secretive location only serves to heighten the feeling of exclusive luxury you experience once you step inside its panel-less doors.

I had been treated to the two-person hammam and massage package as a birthday gift during our second trip to the city, and at the time, couldn’t wait to experience this uniquely Moroccan pampering treatment. A small sign on the way into the spa politely asked us to refrain from using mobile phones during our visit, so sadly there’s no photos of our cleansing (though that’s probably for the best) – you’ll just have to take my word for it.

After robing up in the spa’s opulent changing rooms, the chef and I were led to a small, dimly-lit tiled chamber with a vaulted roof and two low stone-clad beds on either side of the room. A friendly yet fiercely efficient Marrakechi woman greeted us, then barked the word “OFF” and gestured at my bikini top – be warned, you’ll end up topless, so if you’re going in with a friend you’d best be on good terms with your hammam buddy!

I was then doused in gallons of deliciously warm water, and the woman set about vigorously smothering my limbs with sticky, black, eucalyptus-scented soap. Once lacquered in the stuff, I laid down on the warmed tiles while she turned her attention to the chef, covering him in a similarly thick layer of the aromatic goop. She then left us to marinade (which could have been five minutes or twenty), which naturally we spent giggling, and making squelching noises with our backs against the tile. So restful.

Our hammam lady returned to the chamber, carrying two exfoliating mitts, or kessa: I’d seen these colourful squares hanging everywhere in the souks, but until that moment, had no idea what their purpose was – which was, apparently, to help her remove every single inch of spare skin on my body. It was masterfully done, teetering on the edge of being painful while also awe-inspiringly satisfying, especially when you look down at yourself to see the dead skin (yick) piling up, before being sluiced away with another blast of warm water. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as clean as I did in the moment immediately following this stage of the experience.

My squeaky-clean skin was then daubed all over with a mineral clay mask called ghassoul and I was left to infuse once more, while she set about scrubbing and sloshing the chef. Another period of rest followed before she returned for a second drenching to ensure the majority of the clay had been removed, before smilingly leading us out of the hammam chamber and into the showers for a final clean.

We were then taken to a small, warmly-lit courtyard and invited to relax on recliners, before being brought mint tea and small pastries to recharge before the hour-long massages began. When the time came, the chef and I were led upstairs to a double massage room and two masseuses set to work on our newly-scrubbed bodies – the chef picked the ‘draining’ massage, while I chose ‘relaxing’, and… well, I basically went to sleep for an hour, and woke up perfectly moisturised and glowing from the inside.

A final round of mint tea-fuelled reclining followed before we headed to the changing rooms, clambered back into our disappointingly grubby clothes, and stepped back into the city. This is me, at that precise point: LOOK how happy I am.

blissed-out-in-marrakech

I spent the short walk back to our riad completely distracted, obsessively stroking my own arms. The first dust cloud we encountered made me shriek with horror as my almost spiritually-cleansed skin returned to everyday levels of grub.

At 600DHS per person – about £40 at current exchange rates – I’d say this hammam for two should be worked into every visit to the city, especially when you can eat like a king for next to nothing elsewhere in the Medina. Go. Now. Oh – and booking into Les Bains de Marrakech is essential, so make sure you get your name down well in advance of your trip.

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