What stereotypes pepper your thoughts when you hear of Morocco? Perhaps it’s the fall-off-the-bone lamb served in a brick-red, conical tagine? Perhaps it’s the endlessly flowing and sugar-laden fresh mint tea, poured hospitably in every establishment? Or perhaps it’s a traditional Hammam experience, a hot steam bath followed by a massage that leaves you feeling cleansed and uplifted?I must admit that until my honeymoon, I had never indulged in a spa experience abroad –even now, it’s an activity I could take or leave. When Pumpkin put together a rather unexpected birthday surprise trip to Marrakech (I still don’t fully understand why but who’s going to argue), he asked me whether I wanted to try out a Hammam. I couldn’t think of a more relaxing way to celebrate (yes, celebrate not commiserate) getting older than spending an afternoon in the calm estuary of a Moroccan Hammam. I was soon to learn that “relaxing” wasn’t to feature on the menu of the day.
Hammam Rosa Bonheur, Marrakech
We booked into the charming Hammam Rosa Bonheur after reading rave reviews and were very impressed by how promptly they replied to our email. It was a reasonably long walk from the area of the Medina that we were staying in and we were asked to meet at the front of the Palace Bahia. We were late as we got hopelessly lost so if you’re visiting this Hammam, either take a taxi or allow PLENTY of time to find it, as there’s a whole myriad of narrow, unnamed alleyways around there.
Despite our tardiness, we were met with a gracious member of staff who led us to the Hammam located inside a pretty Riad. After the brisk walk, I was starving so the crunchy, almond biscuits washed down with a pot of aforementioned mint tea offered to us (see – every establishment) were gulped down ravenously. An inviting warmth drifted over by osmosis from the cosy log fire in the corner of the room. It might be Marrakech but it’s still winter.We were then led to our dimly lit twin room with a few scented tea lights in the corner, two massage beds, towels, robes and a bathroom, not dissimilar to most spa rooms. In the more traditional Hammams, men and women are segregated but many of those appealing to tourists offer couples’ Hammam experiences like this one.
The true Moroccan HammAM Experience begins..
After lifting up our slippers and robes, we were handed a pair of disposable paper thongs, pink for the lady and blue for the gent. This was to be my first warning shot. ..
And then I was taken to another room where I was to enter a hot room, rather like a sauna. Two friendly ladies stood by me and helped me to de-robe; as they did, I instantly grabbed the towel hanging in front of me to cover myself up. They stared at me with a look of combined confusion and amusement – apparently, the only one bothered by me being naked was me.
And unfortunately, the towel was for later.
Instead, I was to take my robe off and walk straight into the hot room wearing nothing except the disposable underwear. I cringed more than I’ve ever cringed about anything in my entire life, my face suffused and cherry-red with embarrassment but the dark and steamy enclaves of the sauna shielded me from public ridicule. Inside I was to find Pumpkin, who had already been placed on his bench. I couldn’t bare to face him – or anyone. My mind kept regurgitating, “someone cover me up. Please. Pretty please. Please cover me up” But my prayers weren’t being answered. Because that’s not what happens at a Hammam. Get over your embarrassment because the staff are well and truly over it – they’re excellent at what they do and they just want you to enjoy the Hammam Experience.
So I tried. And I failed, my hands unable to separate themselves from the V-shaped clasp they had instantaneously formed to cover my modesty. Yes the underwear was on but believe me, it leaves little to the imagination. As far as I was concerned, this was almost as uncomfortable as being stark naked.
Bit by bit, we were washed down by two therapists, throwing small buckets of wonderfully warm water over us, skilfully managing to avoid splashing our eyes. Then came the black soap scrubs, which were so exfoliating that I can only imagine how much skin must have been flaking off in a snowball-cascade effect – I daren’t look. Candidly, a bit of dry skin was the least of my anxieties. They left us in the room to soak for a while. The heat on the stone bench was singeing my backside and I awkwardly writhed around the bench, like a first time mother in labour.Pumpkin seemed unfazed. How is this boy ALWAYS unfazed? “Do you not feel embarrassed,” I asked, frustrated that he was able to get these niggles out of his mind so much more easily than I could. Of course he was embarrassed, he informed me. “But that’s just how it is so we might as well roll with it and enjoy it.”
Oh right. “Roll with it”. Yes of course, that’s all I needed to do. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
Eventually, after several rounds of water shoveling and soapy rubs with rough mittens, we were ready to leave this particular room, which I had Christened the chamber of embarrassment. Yes, they do scrub hard but contrary to the myths, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. And with the exception of your nether regions, be prepared to be scrubbed all over.
At that point, we were led back up to our massage rooms where things resumed an air of familiarity. The moistening Argan oil soaked into my new-found soft, skin and the therapists worked their magic on my (by now) extremely tense muscles. The massage was one of the best I’ve had – I’m a bit of a wimp and always opt for gentle. The Argan oil felt so luxurious that I bought myself a bottle from a shop in the Medina later in the trip. Do you all successfully manage to switch off during massages? I always try to but find myself daydreaming about errands to run, work, future holidays, travel wishlists, what I feel like eating for dinner, what’s happening in Neighbours whilst I’m on holiday and all other manner of distracted, fleeting and wholly unproductive thoughts.
Until that moment when I finally fall asleep, which has happened to me more than once during massages.They let us take all the time we needed to get showered, washed and ready after the massage and our Hammam experience ended with another serving of tea and biscuits by the fire. Despite a bit of a language barrier, the staff were beyond friendly and so patient with my overtly-shy and awkward behaviour, whilst still coaxing me into experiencing the Hammam the way it should be lived.
I know for certain that given how self-conscious I felt, I personally wouldn’t be suited to the Hammams used by locals, where you often sit equally naked in a room full of other women but if you can get past this aspect of it, you can be certain to leave with glowing skin and floaty muscles and whatever you end up making of it, it really is an experience worth experimenting with in Morocco.
Have you ever visited a Moroccan Hammam? What was your experience?
67 thoughts on “A Moroccan Hammam Experience in Marrakech: A Birthday in my Birthday Suit”
Ha, this happened to me on honeymoon, only I was one of the entirely clueless sitting in a room full of other similarly nude women wondering exactly which alternate universe I’d stumbled into!
No way! So do you mean you literally walked into the room basically nude without realising there would be a whole host of strangers in there?! If so, that makes my afternoon seem normal
Yep exactly what happened! But since id been asked to take my contacts out, it took me a moment to realise what was going on. Husband thought it was quite the funniest story ever!
How much does the hamam treatment cost? The Turkish ones are pretty expensive!
I had to look this up as my hubby arranged and paid for it all for my birthday but here’s the link to the price list. There are plenty of cheaper ones though – this was just one of best reviewed ones and catered for couple’s massages so that’s why we picked it. I’ve never visited Turkey – I would really love to go one day….but I’m not sure if I can put myself through the embarrassment again! Thanks so much for reading!
Wish I had done this when I was in Marrakech! 🙂
Next time Becky! I just wish I’d known about the relative nudity before I went
There’s something rather freeing about hanging out in your birthday suit right? Lol. I love hamams.
Hahaha…yes “freeing” is certainly one way of describing it! To be honest, the soap scrub and massage really were relaxing so I can see why people love it so much – just wish I could have sat back and relaxed without feeling so self conscious! Thanks so much for reading Claire ☺
Sounds like it at least could have been relaxing, haha! I got a massage in Bali once, where they asked me to remove my bra. No biggie, I was laying on my belly. Then when they flipped me over they basically did a boob massage. I was pretty much like you, trying to be modest and all relaxation went out the window! haha! From then on out I made sure to specify – no frontal massage 🙂
Hehe! I managed to escape the frontal massage in Bali (and everywhere else prior) but in Marrakech, that all changed so I think I’ll take a leaf out of your book Katie and be sure to specify next time ☺
Ooh I’m interested in a Hammam when I eventually make it over to Morroco, but I’d be embarrassed too. I know it’s no big deal because they’ve bathed/massaged hundreds of people, but I’m so prudish when it comes to public nudity (though would get over it in the name of a good spa experience)! There are some Korean baths back home that I was interested in checking out, but they’re all no-bathing suit type bathhouses, and I can’t imagine walking around completely nude! I think the paper underwear would make me feel better though.
Hehe – it would have made me feel better too Anna if it was more underwear and less thong!! But I know exactly what you mean – I spend my working life reassuring people they don’t need to feel self conscious and yet when the shoe’s on the other foot, I’m the biggest prude! At least I can say it was one of those memorable experiences
We’re off to Marrakesh in a few weeks but I really not sure this is something I can brave (the getting naked bit, I’m down with the rest of it ;))
DO IT! I need to read more blogs about this, it’s brilliantly hilarious 😀
Alright Frankie has twisted my rubber arm; forget what I said – do it, do it! Let’s compare embarrassment levels – I want to know if yours can beat mine
Haha, I don’t know what to recommend! It really was beautiful, a perfect massage and a lovely setting – but boy oh boy was it embarrassing?! I’ll leave this decision to you Emma but it’s certainly an unforgettable experience
This post made me laugh (sorry!). I’m glad you survived your ordeal. 😉 I hope your skin felt baby soft so that it was worth it!
I went to maison spa:mk in Marrakech and loved it. Yes, you strip down, but you’re in your own treatment room with just one therapist. They have some Moroccan treatments that have been fused with English ones, if you’re not ready to go the ‘whole way’.
Oh that’s so strange Char – you’re obviously a girl after my own heart as my birthday dinner a few hours after this Hammam was the tasting menu at Maison MK & itwas lovely!! Did you eat there after your spa?
Great minds think alike! No, I had a cocktail on the terrace. I guess I’ll just have to go back to try the food 😉 Supposedly Jamie Oliver has used the terrace to film one of his shows.
The massage sounds nice especially the Argan oil, I love that stuff! Though I’m not sure about the being washed by strangers bit, sounds rather awkward. I am actually planning a trip to Marrakesh in April, really excited! What else would you recommend?
Ash | Liakada Travel
The argan oil really did wonders for my skin Ash – I wish I’d bought more! I’ll try and get more posts up soon but highlights were souks, Koutoubia mosque, main square at night, marjorelle gardens and there’s a fabulous food tour we did called Marrakech food tours. Oh and try and spare a day to head to Atlas Mountains by car or with a private tour is also lovely! Let me know if you want any more info ☺
Hahaha! This was hilarious (sorry, but it was). I would much rather be completely naked than be seen in disposable knickers! Those are just nasty 😉
Hehe, well I’m glad my shy awkwardness has put a toothy grin on your face Frankie – Lord knows I’ve certainly had that expression on after reading many of your posts I had just about made my peace with disposable underwear at spas – the thong is a most unnecessary addition to the set up!
haha this really made me chuckle – love your writing style! I’m looking to go to Marrakesh with my boyfriend later this year so am quite sure we’ll give this a miss. We’re probably the most easily embarrassed people out there so just the thought of getting half-naked is horrendous 😛
Emily, thanks so much for your very kind compliment – really made my day ☺ Is it your first visit – you’ll love Marrakech with or without the Hammam experience – it’s such a vibrant place & I’d never realised how easy it is from England! But yes, the Hammans really don’t cater for the easily-embarrassed-like-to-be-covered-up-when-stranger-is-throwing-water-on-you crowd!
I’ve never visited a Moroccan Hammam but from your experience it sounds like something I would like to experience.
Once I get over the embarassment of being nearly naked then I’m sure I’ll enjoy the experience.
Lol, yes that was pretty much exactly how I felt that day! Despite the embarrassment, I’m kind of glad I did it though – I have a feeling it’ll turn into one of those funny travel stories that comes up in conversation at dinner parties
I’ve done the hammam thing in Turkey before – what an experience!! Definitely recommended!! 🙂
Oh really?! I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! I haven’t been to Turkey but my hubby went to quite a basic Hammam when he was in Turkey & don’t think he liked it that much – apparently they scrubbed quite vigorously so I’ll try and pick a good one in Turkey if I ever make it there and am brave enough to try a Hammam again!
Oh my gosh, I don’t know how I would feel about this, but I would totally try it given the opportunity! I love all of your adventures — you are always trying new and different things!
Thank you Carolann – so kind of you ☺ I hope you do get to try it out one day -despite the embarrassment, I’m glad I tried it – I think we definitely made the right call booking in for one a couple’s massages – there’s no way I’d have been able to go through with it if I’d had to sit in a steam room full of other practically naked strangers!
Lol! It’s quite an experience. So glad you tried it? Now the question is would you do it again? xx
Haha, well…..the jury’s out on that one!! I don’t drink but I do sometimes wonder if a couple of glasses of wine would work wonders in these situations x
Wow, what an awesome experience! I really wish I was there! Adding it to my bucket list so fingers crossed I can make it there soon… :*
Thanks Agness! It would have been more awesome if I felt a little less shy but yes, if you can get past that, it’s definitely a great experience to try!
We went to the hammam in Turkey last year, I’d been to one before but my husband got a bit of a shock, what with the tiny underwear they give you and them pouring cold water over you to rinse everything. He loved the experience though!
Suze | LuxuryColumnist
Haha, yes that must have been quite a shock to him Suze – and I wouldn’t have coped well if the water was cold I don’t think! Embarrassment aside, it was quite an intriguing experience!
I had a similar experience in a Turkish hammam – only I was on a work trip, so the others in the room were colleagues. Sooo embarassing, especially when I couldn’t get my bikini top back on easily afterwards as my hands were too slippery. Not quite as relaxing as I’d hoped it would be, but I did feel very clean after all the scrubbing!
I shouldn’t chuckle Laura but that comment really made me laugh as I can only imagine how utterly embarrassing that must have felt! You’re right about the slippery thing – I felt like a recently varnished bit of furniture all covered in Argan oil! It did really work wonders in my skin though! Thanks so much for reading ☺
Ohhh that’s amazing!! What a wonderful birthday gift! I wish ❤ I have never heard of Hamman before, but I would love to try it, especially the traditional one in Morocco… oh well, sometime! 😀 thank you for sharing how the process works, good to know!
Thank you Allane! Yes the boy did well with the birthday surprise 🙂 The Hammam was certainly a unique experience so I’m glad I gave it a try! Hope you get a chance to give it a go one day!
Yes he did 😀
I hope to try it sometime!! Im curious!
Hahaha! This is a really great account. I think I would have felt just the same, but I guess you do have to just roll with it! I didn’t have the money for one when I was in Morocco, but maybe another time soon! Wait for a birthday maybe!
Hehe, thanks Katie! So glad you liked it ☺ I figure I may as well share the awkwardness I felt! There are so many different types of Hammams ranging from basic to luxurious so hopefully you can catch one next time you go there – if you can tolerate the embarrassment that is!! Hope you enjoyed your time in Morocco!
Hahahaha I can just imagine you there because I know that I would be exactly the same!! At least you had a couple’s thing though so it was just the two of you in there otherwise it would have been even more embarrassing in front of a room full of strangers! Glad you gave it a try though even if you did have to step way out of your comfort zone! We all love being embarrassed on our birthdays don’t we? 😉
Haha! Yes I’ll definitely remember this as the birthday where I took myself miles out of my comfort zone! I was so glad that it was just the two of us – I honestly think I might have had to just walk out if there was a whole room of strangers there ☺
Haha! First off, a belated happy birthday to you, Shikha! At least you got to reminisce being born, naked :p I’ve been to a Hamam once in Turkey. And it was the traditional one with other women. Thankfully there were only a couple more women that day. I was also extremely shy and embarrassed at first, but then it got better. You just have to convince yourself that this is an experience of a lifetime, that you can laugh about later 😉 Fun post!
Thanks so much Nita 🙂 I think you’re right – we just need to remember that the other women most probably don’t care what we look like and that it’s all part of the experience but as this was my first hammam, it came as a bit of a shock!
You really went for the luxury hammam experience! It sounds like it was amazing. I spent my birthday (Feb 16) in Tangier — no hammam though. The two times I did the hammam, I went to a suuuuper small, local one in Agadir. I had no idea what to do so the ladies helped me… though I did the scrubbing myself! Best 10dh ever spent 🙂
And happy belated birthday!
Thanks so much for the wishes Alyssa – and happy belated birthday to you too! Funny how we have both enjoyed birthdays in Morocco! My hubby arranged this one & I think for birthday’s sake treated us to this more luxurious one but to be honest, I’m sure the most authentic experience comes from the smaller Hammams like the ones you visited and 10dh is an absolute bargain! Thank you for reading ☺
I’ve been to spas for massages but never a hammam. For some reason, I think having my guy in the room would make me extra embarrassed with all the other people around. Thanks to your post, I’ll know what to expect if I ever go to one.
Haha, I know exactly what you mean! After I came home and told my friends the stories, they all kept trying to reassure me that at least it was just my husband and I and the two therapists in that Hammam steam room but somehow that made it even more embarrassing!! Thank you so much for reading ☺
I couldn’t help smiling at the way you have described your embarrassment! 🙂 I am just curious, were the two therapists women?
For my first anniversary, a friend suggested to go for couple spa. Being a prude of the highest order, I refused to be naked in the presence of strangers.Moreover when I heard my husband would be rubbed by a woman, I totally flipped 😉 ;P
Haha, thanks Debosmita – glad it provided some entertainment As a fellow prude, I can understand your sentiments! The therapists were indeed both women but I was far too preoccupied by my own embarrassment to feel any sense of jealousy so that’s a good silver lining!!
haha, different customs and cultures can make for awkward moments..
Haha! Tell me about it Jaklien! And this was a relatively touristy hammam too so I can’t even imagine how awkward I would have felt if I had gone to a truly authentic more public one! 😮
Thank you for sharing your hammam story. Loved reading your experience and I must admit if you haven’t grown up with hammams it might be a bit confronting. The upside is however that most Moroccan women I know hardly have any body image issues as they grew up with a realistic view of how bodies look 🙂 If you’d like to experience the hammam in the privacy of your own bathroom, you can do it yourself. Check out http://www.mirashand.com.au
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I think you’re right – going to Hammams regularly especially during your younger years must quite a good way of getting to grips with the real world of how real women look in all shapes and sizes rather than just size zero models on magazine covers!
We went to the same hammam today… not sure how to feel… we stayed stubborn when it came to keeping our swimming costumes on. Dont know why i bothered. In the scrub she popped out my boob against my will and then decided to pull my bikini bottoms open to splash water inside!
The massage was relaxing but i was clearly trying to keep my dignity yet ended up receiving a boob massage. Felt very violated in a way! Never again.
Oh my goodness Louise – especially to the bikini bottoms thing!! I totally feel for you as you sound as mortified as I was! There are so many people I know who have just loved the hammam experience (presumably people who are less awkward/body shy/private etc etc) but it definitely was the opposite of relaxation in my book & probably not my cuppa in terms of things I’ll be hurrying back to do again 😀😀