Have you ever been in a Hammam on your world travels? Maybe you have, maybe not yet. If you have, then you don’t likely don’t need convincing to go again, so this post is mainly aimed at sharing my experience at Asmana Wellness Spa – since it was a new experience for myself – for all of our readers that have never been and wonder whether to try it or not. If you have done a Hammam in Marrakesh or elsewhere in Islamic countries, then consider that the Hammam at Asmana is a different experience.
So what is a Hammam?
While a Hammam is generally a hot steam bath followed by a massage, in various steps of undress, the Hammam at Asmana has been Westernized to make us feel comfortable in our own skin. I think this is an important thing to point out since you are not bathed and massaged unless you want to. You also keep your bathing suit on the whole time. Asmana offers the “Hammam Ritual”, which I did try and will tell you more about, as an extra option should you wish to book it. I suggest you do, we’ll get to that in a minute.
What precisely is a Hammam? In a spa center such as Asmana, you will find saunas and what we in the Western world generally call “Turkish” baths. It is a tradition spread across the southern Mediterranean and Middle East that once you try, you actually enjoy. It might take some time to get used to the baths as they require some tolerance to high heat and high humidity.
Do you like massages? Those also require getting used to them, to let someone else touch and massage your body. There are some people that can’t tolerate others touching them much so the experience of whether to get touched – or not – is available at Asmana. I think that’s why I and everyone who has been there has really loved the experience.
The Hammam at Asmana
The Hammam at Asmana is mixed genders, you all keep your swimsuit on. It is a dedicated area at Asmana, with various rooms that you should actually follow in order. The idea is to get your body slowly used to the heat so the first step as you arrive is always to start warming up (spa rules are that you should take a quick shower and dry yourself as soon as you come out of the locker/changing area). I always have cold feet so I love starting with a foot bath and then I go into the Grotta before going into the heated pools. Last time I tried the pools before the Grotta: I felt colder so if you go into the pools, don’t go into the Grotta.
After getting warmed up, I headed upstairs to the Hammam where the first stop recommended is the Tepidarium (the first room as you enter to the right). It is a warm room at 35°C but with low humidity at only 30%. It serves to get you ready for the higher humidity in the air later on, the recommended time posted outside is 10-15 minutes in here. I love this room!
Next stop is the Purifying room, a steam bath with 100% humidity and quite hot at 45°C! If you can manage it, stay here 15-20 minutes. Sweat is your friend, sweat is a good thing in a Turkish bath! Sweating makes you eliminate any toxic substances from your liver and kidneys, and also purifies your skin. When you’re done, however long you’ve been inside, follow it by a cold shower. I admit this is the hardest part for me as I love the heat and hate the cold but I make myself do it and I feel better after. Studies say one of the positive effects of Turkish baths is precisely this alternation between hot and cold which makes your vascular system go through “gymnastics” which in turn builds up your immune system and improves circulation. So remember going to the Hammam is good for your health! 😉
If you arrive at the “right” time, which is when there is a “ceremony” in these room (there are several, take note of times outside the steam room to go at the right time), a member of the staff will come and distribute salts with essential oils for you to scrub yourself, walking around and moving the hot, humid air around the room (as seen in the pic above, this is for illustration purposes since once the bath is active, you don’t see much in the room, given the amount of steam inside).
At this point, after the “purifying” bath, you should sit and relax: the stone benches in this area are heated to make sure you stay warm while relaxing but another option is the heated pool at the center of the Hammam. Another great option is the “Soap Room“, where it is warm and the faucets at the corners can dispense both water or soap foam. You want your body to rest for a bit before continuing on.
Here is where the “Hammam Ritual” fits in perfectly if you want to include a massage into your visit.
The “Hammam Ritual” Experience at Asmana
Traditionally, the Hammams include someone bathing and scrubbing you. The Hammam Ritual is precisely that. At Asmana, groups are limited to up to 5 people, offered Monday through Friday two times a day. For this reason, it is best you call ahead and book your spot.
During this relaxation break is precisely where the Ritual starts. I was told to wait at the entrance to the Hammam at a specific time, then our masseur led us straight to the Soap Room. Since she is one person and we were 4, we took turns. We relaxed and drank an herbal tea she brought along while the first person lay down on the heated stone and tile slab in the middle of the room and got scrubbed and massaged all over. We got a special facial scrub to apply on our own face as we waited. I was a bit nervous at first but as I sat, drank my tea and massaged my face, I slowly relaxed. By the time it was my turn, I was ready. The masseur uses a Kessa glove and black olive oil soap to scrub as traditionally used in Hammams, we get to keep the glove to take home ;-).
As each person finishes being scrubbed all over, which can be a bit of a shock to your skin if you don’t often use scrubs to exfoliate (which I would like to do but never actually do, being often in a hurry), you are sent next door to the “Sensorial” steam bath for 15 minutes or as long as you can. It is again 100% humidity at 40°C heat. It is hard to see inside with so much steam in the air, but there are chairs to sit on. Make sure to rinse where you sit on before and after, just to make sure it is clean. Remember I’m still covered with the soap at this point, the steam should open my pores up and let the properties of the soap benefit my skin. I actually enjoyed being in here after the scrub; while it was hot, by this time the scrub/massage had really relaxed me.
If you decide to not do the Ritual, after your rest period you should also head into the “sensorial” steam bath for 15-20 minutes. Follow this steam bath with a cold shower, and then head into the Soap Room.
Here, once we got back, our masseur uses the soap from the faucets to give us a gentle massage while seated. Head, back, legs and arms: it was heavenly! While I like massages in general, I think the experience of a massage with soap foam is much more relaxing. A warm shower afterward completed the ritual. We were told to head off to take a nap or just relax in one of the many relaxation rooms for at least 30 minutes.
I thought the whole experience was marvelous and I loved it! I think it makes perfect sense to incorporate it into your visit to Asmana and the Hammam, particularly if you’re not doing any other massages while there. I felt like new, my outer layer of skin was certainly scrubbed off and a new layer exposed. I felt renewed and the feeling stayed with me the rest of the day!
Ready to book?
If you want to add the Hammam Ritual to your visit to Asmana, call 055 77 67 71 to book your spot ahead of time. Cost is €35 per person in addition to the cost of entering Asmana which is not much for a scrub and massage. Arrive at the very least an hour before hand but, in retrospect, I would recommend even 2 hours before, so that you have time to change, go in and warm up and do the first few steps of the Hammam before the Ritual. You’ll be at the perfect “spot” of relaxation for when the Ritual starts. Note that it is recommended you do not enter the steam baths on an empty stomach, nor on a full stomach. So plan appropriately!
First time at Asmana? Make sure to read our general presentation to prepare:
Please Note: I cannot take photos inside Asmana, for privacy reasons, of course, so in order to illustrate what the Hammam and Hammam Ritual experience “looks” like, I have used Asmana’s own press photos. Obviously the people in these photos are models, I am in none of them ;-).
About Lourdes Flores
An American living in Florence for over 10 years, Lourdes continues to explore and discover new places in Tuscany with the eyes of a tourist but with the experience of living in Italy. She shares her experiences on this blog and website, particularly offering lots of travel planning help on the Forum!