One of the things I most wanted to try when I was in Morocco was a traditional hammam. Unfortunately, we were travelling as a couple, and most of the community hammams separate men and women. For a shy girl like me, the thought of standing around on my own, naked, in a room full of strangers was quite terrifying.
Luckily, the manager of our hotel in La Palmerie was able to recommend a very good private spa and hammam in a hotel he used to work for, the Ryad Mogador Menara in the Nouvelle Ville.
The traditional hammam experience (my knowledge is based on guidebooks and the novel Hideous Kinky) involves dark, steamy rooms with bare stone floors, where buckets of water fly out of nowhere to rinse down unsuspecting guests. Don’t expect anything like that from the spa at the Ryad Mogador Menara. Yes, I love traditional, and yes, normally it’s so much better to experience a country’s culture rather than the watered-down modern version. But when it comes to exposing my girl parts in public, I’m just too much of a prude.
So the Ryad Mogador Menara, as well as most other high end spas at hotels and resorts in Marrakech, is perfect for tourists. The Nouvelle Ville is good for spas, and resorts in the Palmerie area serve up a bundle of luxury and style, but come with a matching price tag.
The spa package I went for, which was discounted as I was a customer from Hotel Las Palmeras, was fairly reasonable at Dh600 (about £45) for hammam, gommage, clay mask and a full body massage. The immaculately presented staff led my down a dimly lit corridor and, once I’d changed into a thick white dressing gown, to the hammam, which is made up of three small rooms of varying heat. The hammam is a bit like a sauna, but with no steam, just intensely hot, humid air. Starting in the hottest room, I took off my bikini top (so relieved to be keeping my bottoms on), and stood in the heavy, sweetly scented air while a tebbaya (bath attendant) poured water over me from a wooden bucket. She then lathered me up with a sweet, citrus scented oil in exactly the kind of distant and professional manner I needed to stay just under the threshold of embarrassment. A lot of people I’ve described the experience to have made a face or said it sounded creepy, but I have to admit; being washed in a dark, warm room is very comforting – like being a kid again!
Still lathered up, I lay down on a warm stone slab and was left alone to relax for ten minutes or so, before rinsing off under cascades of warm water from the bucket again. After that we moved into the next room, which was less hot than the first (I can’t really describe it as ‘cooler’). After another ten minutes feeling drowsy in the hot, sweet air and listening to the eerie sounds of running water in the silence, the assistant came back and began the gommage. This is a centuries-old berber exfoliating treatment using savon-noir (natural black palm soap) and a wiry, rough-textured exfoliating glove called a kessa. I was scrubbed vigorously and unforgivingly from head to toe; the sensation isn’t painful, nor is it particularly pleasant. However, the feeling which shortly replaced this was that of being cleaner than I’ve even been in my life; the assistant showed me huge grey clumps of dead skin coming away from my poor, previously sun-burnt arms. I felt brand new.
After shedding my skin, I was rewarded with a deliciously soothing clay mask using natural Rhassoul clay that had an earthy, wood smell with notes of lemon. My new skin smoothed down with a slippery, green-grey mud, I was left alone again in the warm and dark, feeling incredibly comforted.
This was followed by further splashing down with the buckets, before another relax in the “coolest” room, this time just comfortably warm as opposed to hot. After almost nodding off on the squishy, reclined lounger, I was led to another room for a full body massage. I’ve never had a professional massage before and this was really what I’d been looking forward to most. The assistant used a gorgeously orangey body oil which filled the whole room with a deliciously sweet scent, and massaged my entire body; front and back, legs and toes, fingers, neck, and face. I lost track of all thought and slipped into a relaxation-induced coma of the mind, feeling any last trace of stress or worry melt away.
After a last ten minutes of down time, I headed back to the pool to meet Sam. Wrapped up in a heavy, soft dressing gown, I felt cosier and more comfortable than I have ever been. It’s the feeling of being bathed and dressed in your pyjamas as a child, of being clean, warm and safe. I never wanted to put my clothes back on, or go back outside where the traffic fumes could dirty up my empty pores again. Alas, all good things must come to an end, but an hour in the bar afterwards certainly added to the warm glow of relaxation radiating from inside me.
The whole experience lasted around two hours including a swim, and left me feeling smooth and soft, and smelling incredible. And for me, it was so worth paying more than a traditional community hammam to avoid the kind of public nudity that would, for me, have been the opposite of relaxing. Sometimes, a modern take on a classic is better than the classic; for me, the Moroccan hammam experience is one of those times.
InformationRyad Mogador Menara Tel – +212 (0)24 33 93 90 Boulevard Mohamed Vi
You can recreate the hammam experience at home with some rhassoul/ghassoul clay, like this Organic Natural Rhassoul Clay, a tub or bar of African Black Soap and a bottle of high-quality Argan Oil. Grab your exfoliating mitts and treat yourself!