When in Morocco… Visit a Hammam

sacks of dried herbs in the medina in marrakech

Malta to Bordeaux to Marrakech

When we booked our last minute trip to Malta it was as a result of two things 1) We had plans and had kept our diary free but those plans were cancelled…. so we had an empty calendar 2) Ryanair were selling very cheap flights to Malta… But they were also selling very cheap flights to Marrakech. We’d wanted to visit both destinations and we couldn’t quite decide which we wanted to visit most. So I checked the dates and flight times and low and behold we could return from Malta to Bordeaux and then fly out again to Marrakech; so Bordeaux if you like, was just a bit of a layover for us. It seemed like a good plan!

Rooftop Lunch

Our flight left in the early hours and we knew that we’d be too tired to do too much exploring but I’d read that a visit to a traditional Moroccan Hamman was a must. After a little more research I found a private Hamman and Spa that would allow both of us to go in together, rather than the more traditional male/female separation. I’d also read that it was a good idea to take either a swimming costume or some old undies that you can wear during the treatments.

Our flight was on time and we’d pre-booked a taxi to take us to the hotel. We’re staying in a small Riad inside the walled city of old Marrakech. We were early but they were happy for us to check-in sooner than expected. We had a coffee and talked to the manager about the world cup and life and tourists and France and the UK and generally passed the time whist our room was being prepared. Once we’d dropped our bags we set off to find some lunch and headed off in the direction of the Spa and stumbled upon a fabulous restaurant in one of the main squares. We were taken up to the roof terrace with a great view over the square and the surrounding rooftops. As we ate the sky turned a dusty orange and the waiters pulled down blinds as they said that rain was coming, in the end there were a few spots and not as much as locals were hoping for. Our taxi driver had said on the way in that they really needed rain here as reservoirs were very low.

We shared a starter of seven different Moroccan salads. Little dishes of various tasty vegetarian salads, all spiced slightly differently. We both had a favourites which thankfully weren’t the same, so there was no squabbling. The next course was spiced chicken with rice which was also lightly spiced and very fragrant. We were full and had no room for pudding but we did manage a coffee; it was very nice but we have to say it wasn’t quite as fabulous as the coffee that we had in Jordan.

The Hamman Experience

Once we’d eaten our fill it was time to move on and find our Hammam. We purchased a SIM card at the airport and I think we’ll use half the gigabytes on google maps! We spent 20 minutes following blue dots through a myriad of narrow streets and alleys, sometimes opening up to wider streets lined with shops and other times leading us to a dead end. We felt lost so decided to retrace our steps and we realised that we’d walked right by the Spa the first time and google had been right all along.

From the outside the Ochre coloured walls revealed very little of the Riad inside. We entered through an ancient wooden door and walked into an oasis of calm with comfortable chairs and a small pool and plants and bougainvillea adorning the walls and terrace. You would never have guessed from the outside that this glorious little hotel and spa existed. We were welcomed in and our booking was confirmed; I booked online via the website a few weeks ago. We were led to a small side room and were supplied with dressing gowns and slippers and we changed into our swimmers. Once changed we were led away for our Hammam experience.

In Morocco the tradition and ritual of the Hammam is more than 2000 years old. Similar to Roman and Turkish baths the Hammam is meant to cleanse the body and the soul. Our Hammam featured a Steam Bath for couples and after this a relaxing massage, it’s also possible to enjoy a dip in the Pool Bath after. The Riad Al Ksar  Spa respects the tradition of a Hammam made of Moroccan marble,  and the pool tiled with traditional “Zéliges” or ceramic from Fes, in a mix of beautiful emerald and turquoise colors. It really is a beautiful setting and reminded me very much of a Spa and baths we visited in Seville many years ago before staring my Via de la Plata camino.

Steam Bath, Water and Oils

We start in the steam bath, which isn’t a bath but more a seating or laying area where the marble seat and the walls are warm to touch. The ritual starts with a thin layer of black soap applied over your body then after resting for 5 minutes there follows a process of rinsing with hot, warm and cool water. After this the masseusse, wearing a traditional kessa glove (almost like gloves made of loofah) scrubs away dry and dead skin from your body, leaving you tingling all over (in a good way!). After this came more oil and more rinsing, and a purifying rhassoul mask which is said to absorbs impurities from your skin. There followed more rinsing and hair washing with a head massage until we were fully cleaned and ready to move on.

We were taken to another room, which smelled of incense, which I usually don’t like but this was wonderful and not at all overpowering. We had a 30 minute massage with essential oils leaving us feeling relaxed and glowing. And once we’d rested we were taken back to our changing room to put our civvies back on. Finally, we returned to the central courtyard for some hot refreshing mint tea.

Book your Hammam at Riad Al Ksar

We really had no idea what to expect; you know us, we’re pretty down to earth and we had started to wonder if this had been a mistake for us. I’d read some accounts of public hammams that made us nervous but in the end we really loved this experience. Unbelievably it’s the first time I’ve ever had a massage and it’s usually not my thing but this was so wonderful, if we were staying longer I would go back for another visit.

If you are in Marrakech I totally recommend that you reserve your place in advance. You can contact the Riad Al Ksar and Spa direct on their website, they speak excellent English and French and the process to book is very easy. We loved our Hammam Experience and it was perfect for two tired travellers.

We left the Riad and retraced our steps back to the square where we’d eaten lunch. With google maps in hand we meandered our way back to our hotel. The streets are so busy and the sights and scents of morocco fill the air and we’re really looking forward to exploring tomorrow, but for now our 3:00am start is catching up on us so we decided an early night was in order. So far Marrakech has more than lived up to our expectations!

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