I came across a spa that offered many global experiences within its complex and decided to give it a try. Aqua Sana Spa is part of the Centerparcs Complex in Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire and there are others at the main Centerparcs at Sherwood Forest, Penrith and Suffolk. It had been the “World of Spa” that appealed with around 15 different experiences including a Turkish Hammam and Balinese bath so I had to try it out.
Booking is easily done online and if any other beauty therapies are required you need to ring and book them beforehand. The whole complex is within a wooded holiday park making a very pleasant drive. After being welcomed I was shown around and given a short talk on the day. I got changed- and it is bathing suits and robes at all times – and made my way to trying the spa.
There were a whole collection of steam rooms at varying humidities and all designed to make one sweat. They ranged from the Balinese Multi Steam Bath to the Japanese Salt Steam Bath and and Indian Blossom Steam Room. There was a Tyrolean sauna and a Turkish Hammam as well as some reflexology footbaths.
It was very pleasant wandering about getting steamed up and then cooling down and swimming to the outdoor spa pool. I did however miss that mystique about an authentic hammam or thermal bath that you find overseas and there was something missing- the attendants with their scrubbing brushes and black olive soap.
The place is spotlessly clean and the staff very welcoming. It is an excellent place to chill out for a day. If you want the real thing and not just middle aged couples wandering in and out to steam rooms in bathing costumes then think about something a bit more authentic.
I would return and recommend it- but compared to an authentic hammam or banya , a swim in an icy river or a thermal bath- te experience is not quite there.
Hungary is a real magnet for those wanting to embrace the spa culture. Blessed with thermal waters the city has many baths, some built by the Ottomans. Who would know on such an unassuming street in Budapest that a thermal bath lay beyond the doors. Kiraly is the oldest bath in Budapest and was built by the Turks in 1560. I just had to investigate.
Kiraly Baths have separate ladies day and so I ventured inside to be met bu a lady at a kiosk who spoke only Hungarian. Here if you want to use the baths and have a massage afterwards you need to arrange it there before bathing. I was led down some stairs to a changing area and told to undress, emerging in a bikini to clucks of disapproval from the attendants who proferred a mini “apron” designed to cover the private area. Wondering whether it was meant to be worn to cover virtually nothing – I wandered through to the pool to nods of approval from the ladies. The thermal bath or pool was set in a cavern type setting with a beautiful domed roof. Ladies bathed nude which was fabulous and in complete peace and tranquility. And so, keen to experience the wonders of Hungarian thermal bathing, I slipped into the water and bathed in a delightful setting and the nudity was just the most natural thing in the world.
Afterwards a massage given with vigour refreshed my muscles which had been carrying a rucksack around Europe. I felt squeaky clean and refreshed, and able to take on the world.
In Hungary the baths are very different and some allow nudity in single gender sessions. Most are mixed and a bathing suit is required.Check the etiquette carefully before you bathe.
Fő Utca 84, 1027, Budapest,Hungary
Looking for somewhere to experience the hammams like North African and the Middle East in London? Just a few minutes walk from the Edgware Road or Warwick Avenue underground stations lies Casablanca Spa, a North African hammam run by Tunisian born Helen Murphy and it really is an oasis in the middle of Central London.
I rang the day before to book my session which was a hammam and massage, and this was fortuitous as the hammam does not accept people off the street for security reasons. Booking by email or phone is therefore highly recommended if you don’t want to be disappointed.
I was warmly welcomed into a tranquil area decorated with luxurious cushions and candles and offered mint tea in the reception area . Soft music played in the background and it all felt very relaxing.
I was led downstairs lit with tea lights to the basement and another world. After getting undressed into a swimsuit the attendant led me into the steam hammam room where I sat in the mist for a good twenty minutes as the sweat began to appear. Not too long to relax though as the female attendant entred and splashed cold water all over me which was refreshing and I returned to the steam as the vapour completely obliterated everything in the chamber. Next the black olive soap was rubbed all over my body and left to do its job as more steam enveloped me. In came the attendant once more with the kese brush and rigorously removed dead skin from my body with very deft movements and then I showered. My skin felt heavenly as I relaxed on the couch with some fresh fruit and mint tea afterwards.
For the massage this is done in a quiet room where I was covered with a towel. This was done very professionally by a male masseur who found aching muscles I never knew I had. A blissful experience and one which left my skin glowing.
The whole place felt intimate and very clean, and was also a very tranquil place to chill out.
For someone wanting an authentic hammam in London the Casablanca Spa at 439 Edgware Road is hard to beat and very good value compared to similar experiences in London. As a single woman I felt safe and very welcome and also respected and it really was a fabulous experience that I will repeat. Remember to prebook, and take a swimsuit for the hammam as it can be mixed. The massage is done in a private area and worth it after the hammam. This is the perfect place to come in London to have a good hammam and to relive that exotic holiday.
I paid the following: Hammam £45 Massage for 1 hour is £60. Several packages are available and on the spa website.
Details: Casablanca Spa is at 439, Edgware Road, London W2 1TH
Morocco is one of the best places to try a hammam and you can choose from a traditional communal one or a riad or hotel based establishment which will be more expensive. Remember to take a hammam kit of you go to a communal one and find out the timings for ladies.
Once you have agreed your treatment package you will be guided to a changing room where you undress but keep your knickers on. This is why you need a dry pair!In Morocco total nudity is not acceptable and this varies from country to country.
Relax with a towel in a steamy haven which is often domed along the benches and let the perspiration begin as your pores open. This takes around 20 minutes, but don’t be hurried. A tebbayah or bath attendant will come along and take you to the lather you with black soap. Then you will experience the gommage where a kesa brush is used to exfoliate your skin. Expect to see a considerable amount of dead skin as the ladies are vigorous in their work. You will then be rinsed off with tepid water and massaged with oil, leaving you blissfully clean and relaxed.I always feel on top of the world afterwards.
A glass of Moroccan tea usually finishes off this exquisite experience- which comes highly recommended.
Sometimes in a different country or even in your own country it can be a challenge to know what to do when visiting the hammam. Having been to a few these are my top questions to ask when experiencing any of these establishments for ladies. Believe me they are all taken from experience and are things I wish I had known before getting undressed.
1. When are the opening hours for women? Make sure it’s a women only session- unless you are comfortable with a mixed one.
2. What do I need to bring with me? Is everything supplied which it may be in a more upmarket hammam, or do you need to consider a wash kit, towel, flip flops etc.
3. What is the etiquette of the hammam? Do I need a swimsuit, will I just have my underwear on (in which case you need a spare and dry pair), or will I be totally nude (sometimes the easiest of all)?
4. What is included in the price? Do you want the attendants to wash you , do you want a massage etc. It is much easier to agree this when you arrive than halfway through. Many hammams include the washing and massage as one fixed price.
5. How long is the experience. Never rush a good hammam.
I am planning to start reviewing hammams and other traditional ways of bathing in the next few weeks. What I aim to do is to find the best and most authentic experiences so that women travelling can go to an establishment be it Budapest or Marrakech, London or Istanbul and know that the place isn’t a pick up joint, or something sleazy but a decent place to relax and participate. I’m just an ordinary woman who wants to enjoy these experiences in safe and respectable surroundings and to embrace the tradition that has been in existence for hundreds of years.
I think what would be interesting is to find out what is actually available in the United Kingdom itself as there are many visitors who wish to experience a Turkish bath, hammam or sauna and there must be good places to go. This is also something that a lot of British people do not do so the whole experience will be a fascinating one.
Wish me luck on my journey- and if you have any suggestions of places to visit I would appreciate the information.
When I first saw a tub of Moroccan Black Soap it looked like something used for waxing skin and decidedly dodgy. However therin lies a secret. Take some to a hammam and the paste made from olives and oil turns creamy as it exfoliates without the particles and moisurises. It is totally natural. Once it has been applied to the skin it should be left for five minutes and then taken off with a loofa leaving the skin wonderfully soft.
Consider trying this beauty secret from Morocco next time you visit a hammam.
It all started on the midnight train from St Petersburg to Moscow over glasses of black market champagne. The guide regaled tales of the Siberian wilderness and the beauty of Lake Baikal, the yurts we would stay in which came complete with a sauna. A week later and after a journey on the Trans Siberian Express we came to our camp on the Baikal shoreline for some hiking.
With no showers the only place to wash was the sauna, my first experience of the Russian variety. My tour group, all strangers, decided that we had to experiment or stay dirty and as we women sat in the dark and worked up a sweat the cosiness and intimacy was one I will never forget. It’s where you can really get to know your fellow traveller and yet be as distant as you like. As the birch twigs swished in the way our guide had shown us we laughed as we cleaned ourselves in this new environment. All too soon we had to leave and cool off. Where else but the river adjacent to the sauna where we all jumped in with shrieks. I had never felt so clean and refreshed. One of the ladies, an English vicar’s wife remarked to her appalled husband that they really should get a sauna for the garden.He of course stayed away from the sauna.
Two nights later after a wonderful supper we sat taking and the S word came up again. This time some of the guys joined us in the cabin, all of us covered in towels and just soaking up the peace and the joy of the heat on a cold Siberian night. More water on the fire and more steam. We sweated away and yet felt so relaxed with the odd nervous giggle. Birch twigs swishing away in the night and the smell of pine and woodsmoke. Then the heat was just too much for us all to bear and we all ran quickly to the icy river where a very quick plunge and a scream awaited us as the water cooled us down.
There are some parts of a holiday that stay in the memory for a long time and some of the strongest are the shared experiences of something very special indeed.
If you are invited to share the sauna or the banya- take the opportunity and enjoy.