No trip to Morocco is complete without having tried the typical Moroccan hammam.
Hammam means "spreader of warmth." It is a bathing retreat that has its origins over a thousand years ago in Rome and is still found today in Morocco as well as Turkey and Spain. This detoxifying body treatment brings the whole body to a state of balance and well-being and leaves your skin as smooth as a baby's bottom!
Guests often combine a visit to the hammam with a relaxing and energizing massage or other luxurious beauty treatments.
There is no better way to de-stress and de-tox than visiting the hammam. The floors and walls are heated with steaming water running through pipes under the surface.
Enter the hammam naked (if you are in a private hammam), fill up the basin with hot water and sit and absorb the heat, which will help relax your muscles. After about ten minutes, test the water and adjust to what is comfortable for your skin. Then use the containers to pour water over your head. Scoop up a palm-sized blob of black soap* (more a beautiful dark amber), and cover all your skin with the soap. Allow it to sink in for about ten minutes.
Then use the exfoliating mitt to scrub the skin, stripping away all the dead skin cells. You can see the skin peel off you like tiny rolls of dirt. This exfoliation is both painful and pleasurable; it's like a chemical peel without the chemicals.
Use plenty of hot water to rinse, leaving your body cleaner than you've ever been in your life, and your skin as smooth as silk. The water in the basin should be left clear. You use the cups or bucket to scoop up clean water and to throw over you. All used water thus falls directly on the floor to be evacuated through the floor drain.
There are bath robes to slip into when you leave the hammam and enter the relaxation area. It is recommended not to undertake strenuous activity after a hammam. Instead choose a relaxing activity, maybe even have a massage or other beauty treatment.
* Black soap has 100% natural ingredients from the olive tree. It removes impurities from the skin, while hydrating and nourishing. It does not foam but becomes a cream as soon as you add (warm) water to it. Your skin will feel super clean and soft. It is particularly recommended for dry skin and for the treatment of acne.
It gently cleanses, detangles and strengthens the hair by giving volume and brightness. It can be used like and instead of shampoo. Your hair will have more volume, a healthy shine and will be soft. Can be used on all types of hair.
Riad Ariha has its own private hammam. Massages and other beauty treatments can be arranged in both Riad Ariha and Riad Chi-Chi.
Most Moroccan dwellings do not have their own bathroom so going to the hammam is a part of daily life. They are also incredibly cheap.
Hammams are also a great place to find out the latest gossip and even find future daughter's-in-law. To visit a public hammam is a truly authentic Moroccan experience you won't forget so quickly. It adds a colourful, humorous touch to your repertoire of "Moroccan" tales.
You can normally spot the hammam if you see a donkey cart piled high with sawdust waiting patiently, see a communal bakery nearby (they share the heating facilities) or people walking by with buckets full of toiletries. You may even smell it as burning the sawdust and wood gives off a pleasant, smoky smell.
To save you the embarrassment of not knowing whether to take all your clothes off or how else you are expected to behave, read on.
The tradition in Morocco doesn't usually involve getting nude, with the exception of small children. Both men and women tend to wear only their underwear, go topless but leave the g-strings at home. Foreign women who insist on wearing their bras while bathing will look and feel ridiculous.
Bring something to cover your wet hair when you leave. Moroccans are convinced that the quickest way to catch a cold is a bare, wet head (even if it is 30°C outside), and if you don't cover yourself on the way out, someone will do it for you and who knows what with!
For a more authentic experience, first hit the souk to buy the traditional black soap or ghasoul and the exfoliating mitt, really a black scratchy glove called a "kiis". Both cost next to nothing. Look for plastic buckets filled with sticky black goo – this is the "black soap".
Also take what you normally use in the shower - shampoo, conditioner, razor, towels. If you plan to get scrubbed down by the hammam attendant (the highlight of any visit), be sure to take your black soap and "kiis". Buy a small plastic bowl for dousing yourself with water inside the hammam.
If you're a clean freak, bring a small plastic stool or mat to sit on to avoid placing your derriere directly on the hammam's stone floor.
Women and men are segregated and usually have different times to visit the hammam.
Don't expect anything luxurious - rose petals on the floor and fluffy bathrobes are not part of the real deal. There's a small changing area near the entrance where you can hang your towel and clothes.
The baths consist of several rooms centered on large cisterns with gushing water. The further you venture into the hammam the closer you get to the wood fire and the hotter the water in the fountains gets. Everyone sits on the floor, against the walls, to bathe. Buckets are provided, but usually it's up to you to collect the water from the hot and cold fountains and mixing them for the perfect temperature back in your area.
The hammam ceiling is usually domed and pierced with small holes to allow natural light to stream in. This has the added advantage of putting your body in a very flattering light!
It's not always as tranquil as it sounds, however, as mothers attempt to lather up their screaming children while gossiping at high volume.
The scrub-down experience is quite something – be prepared for one seriously abrasive massage. You lay down on the stone floor and the attendant will rub your skin until several layers peel off like strands of dirty spaghetti. You'll be amazed and slightly put off by your own filth falling off your body. At the end you will feel like a new person and will literally leave in a new skin.
The hammam floors are slightly sloped for drainage, so spend a few seconds when you first arrive watching which way the water flows to make sure you don't sit where all the dead skin is floating down!
Don't take more than two buckets for water as other bathers consider this greedy and will give you dirty looks.
If you decide to douse yourself with cold water at the end of your visit, be careful not to splash the people around you - a fierce verbal lashing is pretty much guaranteed if you give a fellow bather an unexpected icy shower.
This will be an unforgettable experience!