How to shed your inhibitions (and your clothes) at a Moroccan hammam

Morocco is a beguiling destination, but sightseeing amidst the heat, dust and tightly packed old-town streets can be exhausting. Fortunately, as the sun sets and pleasurable tiredness sets in, Morocco provides a lovely day's finale at the hammam.

Visiting the hammam is a Moroccan social custom centuries old, possibly introduced by the Romans. These baths aren't just venues in which to relax but to socialise and even network for business. Villagers attend public baths that might occupy a couple of simple rooms. Those with the means visit sophisticated private hammams which might be housed in elaborate, historic venues decorated in tiles and stained glass, and heated by wood fires beneath the floor.

Hammams are segregated, so shed your inhibitions and clothes, though you can retain your underwear. Bring your own towel, hammam glove and soap, which can all be bought cheaply in the souk. You'll probably be given a bucket and a mat to lie on.

The central part of any hammam is a low-lit, warm room where you acclimatise before heading through to a second hot room, designed to open the skin's pores. Indulge in some pensive perspiration. Then return to the first room and slosh yourself with water before lathering up in black soap made from olive oil scented with orange blossom or eucalyptus.

Linger a while as the oil penetrates the skin and runs in black dollops down your legs. Soapy Moroccans will sit and gossip for 10 minutes or more. Then use your rough-surfaced hammam glove or loofah to scrape away the soap and several years of clogged pores before dousing yourself in warm water.

If you're after eternal youth, you could then coat yourself in ghassoul clay from the Atlas Mountains. Lie for a while like a horizontal terracotta warrior, then arise from your muddy cocoon into a new life of soft, buttery skin.

In upmarket hammams you need make no more effort than a Christmas ham, since you're basted by an attendant. You'll be vigorously scrubbed in intimate places, unceremoniously flipped over and finally drenched in buckets of water. It's an indignity, but feels fantastic.

In upmarket hammams, you can follow up the core treatment with a massage using essential oils derived from rose petals or argan from the kernels of native trees. Then sashay off feeling taut and terrific, back into the colourful melee of Morocco.

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