I don’t know if I mentioned that I’ve just come back from Marrakech? I think my friends and family are pretty close to banning the m-word I’ve been raving about it so much.
What to expect visiting a Moroccan hammam
One of my favourite experiences in Morocco was visiting a hammam, which is somewhere between a spa, a public baths and the doctor. It’s a relaxing and you feel amazing afterwards, but don’t expect it to be anything like a spa in the west! You’ll be steamed, scrubbed and pummelled to within an inch of your life.
In a public hammam you take your own soaps, scrubs and even your bucket and just wash yourself down, but as I don’t speak Arabic, French or Berber and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I decided to choose one of the tourist-friendly hammams in Marrakech.
Choosing a hammam in Marrakech
I visited Hammam Ziani after scrupulously checking Tripadvisor and other bloggers’ reviews to find the best tourist hammam. As far as I understand it’s a kind of middle ground between a cheap local public hammam and a posh hotel hammam. There were only a couple of options to choose from but the man on reception spoke fluent English, so communicating wasn’t a problem and I chose a 270dh (£20ish) package. It included the hammam as well as a 40 minute massage – a bit of a bargain if you ask me.
Finding anywhere in the Medina is pretty tricky, but relatively speaking it’s easy to find Hammam Ziani – walk out of Jemaa el-Fnaa square and under the sign for ‘Souk Kessabine’, take the first right after you come out of the other end of the roofed bit and keep going for about 10 minutes, until you see the camel mural above – the hammam is directly opposite. Alternatively, if you’ve got internet access, google maps will get you there.
The hammam experience
Once I’d paid up I was led away by an assistant in a western-style beauty therapist outfit, who took me into a changing room and showed me where there was a locker I could store my clothes in. I’d been given a pair of disposable paper undies, but having read up online beforehand, I’d come prepared and was wearing my bikini bottoms.
It was a little bit awkward because the attendant just sort of stood there and watched me take off everything but my bikini bottoms – I was REALLY happy that I didn’t have to change those too. There’s only so much awkwardness a prudish English girl can bear!
I’d gone on my own because the friend I was travelling with wasn’t up for it, which made walking around with my boobs out a bit less weird – but only a bit! I was led into a steam room which was totally empty except for me, and not that hot when we went in.
Not for long though! The attendant left me there, something near the room started chuntering, and suddenly the room was filled with a LOT of steam. Like, can’t see more than a metre or so thick. I imagine if you were there with friends it would help to dial down the awkwardness that your wobbly bits are mostly obscured by steam.
I was left there to chill out (not literally!) for almost 20 minutes as I sweated out most of my body weight. I was pretty woozy by the time the attendant came to collect me, and she led me into another room where she sluiced me down with lovely hot water – even though it was hot it felt really refreshing after the close atmosphere of the steam room.
Using rudimentary sign language (because of the language barrier) she asked me to climb up onto a bed, where I laid on my front and she used a pumice stone, a wiry mitt and a healthy dose of black soap (savon noir) to scrub me within an inch of my life! It wasn’t exactly painful but it wasn’t the most comfortable either – I’d describe it as smarting rather than hurting. When I laid down on my back my attendant showed me some of the massive, disgusting bits of grey skin that had come off me – extremely satisfying!
She scrubbed absolutely every bit of my body, including my underarms, my boobs and even my face, which scared me a little bit because of the coarseness of the mitt! It made me feel like a little kid, being scrubbed up and washed down by a motherly figure, and despite my grave concerns about the public nudity, it didn’t really feel awkward at all.
All of the yucky dead skin was washed off me, and then I was led into another room with soft music and low lights for a whole body massage.
It took about 40 minutes and was the most thorough massage I have ever enjoyed! Starting at my feet, the therapist massaged every inch of me, from the balls of my feet to my scalp. It felt more remedial than wholly relaxing, but was a new woman when she was done! She had stretched my calf muscles out to release tension I didn’t know was there and even worked on the palms of my hands.
After she’d left me to relax for a few minutes I was led back into the scrubbing room where I was soaped down and rinsed off – my attendant even washed my hair, which was left feeling silky smooth because of the argan oil that my scalp was massaged with. I even had help drying my hair and getting into a bathrobe, then I was led back into the changing room and on to the lounge to sip mint tea.
One of the only parts of the experience I didn’t like was that my assistant/massage therapist asked for a tip when we were done. I’d been told there were strictly no tips allowed and had no money with me besides what I’d paid with – plus because of language barriers it took me until I was changed and sipping mint tea in the lounge area to realise what she’d been asking. It wasn’t a big deal but it played on my mind and made me feel a little guilty, spoiling the end of the experience a little bit.
That aside, I loved surrendering myself to the hammam ladies and I felt relaxed and renewed, not to mention extremely soft, when I left. It’s pretty awkward to start with, but well worth getting over the cringe to enjoy an authentic hammam.
I visited Hammam Ziani in Marrakech Medina, where packages are between 270dh and 350dh, or £20-30ish.