Oh, Morocco! A country whose reputation is synonymous with intrigue, exoticness, and tradition all bundled into one large location. I loved the idea of going to Morocco and discovering their deserts, medinas, and coastlines. However, I wasn’t as excited about participating in a Moroccan Hammam experience.
The Hammam is Morocco’s take on the Turkish bath with a sandpaper like twist. In Morocco, there are two kinds of Hammams, private or public. Hammam’s are bathhouses where people go to get a vigorous scrub down by a friend/stranger in public or an attendant in private. The typical bath consists of a steam room, hot water, an argon oil soap mix called savon beldi, and a rough hand mitt known as a kese.
Private Hammams are more expensive, fancier, and cater to foreigners who for whatever reason do not want to share a bath with strangers. The private businesses provide all you will need for the bath. The private baths also allow for couples and small groups of mixed sexes to steam together.
Public bathhouses are where the authentic Moroccan Hammam experience is found. When attending a public bath, you will need to bring a kese, savon beldi, shower shoes, towel, swimsuit & any other toiletries you may need after a bath. It is your option whether you want to scrub yourself or hire a staff member to scrub you. If you are friendly enough, you may also try to exchange cleanings with a local. Due to Morocco’s conservative beliefs, public houses are segregated. Men and women are kept separate by bath times and bath areas.
We or I should just say I, opted out of the genuine public bath for a few reasons. The biggest being I had once crashed a moped and having an incredibly stiff brush raked across my fresh road rash will never be my fondest memory. I had read several stories explaining the intense pain one feels while getting a rub down and the stories freaked me out because they reminded me of my road rash. There was even a few nightmares where a stranger started scrubbing my arm too hard, and I turned around and punched her in the face.
I was feeling a lot of anxiety about my first Hammam experience. Matt suggested we try a private Hammam, then I could scream or cry as hard as I wanted in the privacy of our room. It took him a week to convince me to go. He was notably giddy and booked our appointment with Riad Laaroussa.
We arrived about twenty minutes early to our appointment. We waited and wandered in and out of their beautiful center courtyard and fireplace sitting room. The best part was the owner’s had two lovely Labradors, and both helped to calm my nerves.
At some point, our ladies came to get us and led us through the massage room into a sitting room. We were each handed a robe and guided into a tiny dressing room. We were told to, “wear underwear,” so we kept our underwear on. After our appointment, while getting dressed, we realized a small basket full of little black squares wrapped in plastic next to the mirror were disposable undies we were should have used.
After changing, our stuff was placed into separate baskets, the dressing room locked and the key handed directly to us. The attendant opened a side door. We instantly felt the heat as the steam poured out of the open door. We were told to disrobe and lay on our backs on an L-shaped marble slab. The room was about 10×10’ and maybe two stories high. At first, the steam was so thick we couldn’t see the ceiling or the walls. However, after about five minutes we were able to view the dome above us, and the walls were dripping with moisture.
The marble was hotter than we expected, but not hot enough to be uncomfortable. The ladies advised us they would return in five minutes, but it was more like ten to fifteen before we saw them again. The heat was helping me relax, but I still felt scared. Then the door opened, the ladies entered, and the sound of the door closing and clasping was like that feeling of doom in a horrible scary movie.
I watched both attendants glove up, and I expected to hear a latex snap as the glove clasped her wrist. You know that latex glove snap you hear every time you see a prostate exam about to go down on TV. We didn’t hear a snap, which was good because it reminded me this was not a rectal exam was helping my anxiety subside.
With their ungloved hands, they started to scoop and dump hot water over us from the neck down. Once we were thoroughly saturated, each lady scooped a handful of kese (an olive oil pulp and Argan Oil, black soap looking mixture) into her ungloved hand and directed the glob under our noses telling us to smell it. Mine smelled good, but Matt had some soap drop into his eye, which was followed up with bowls of water heartily poured onto his face. It was an accident, and he was all right.
Weirdly, what came next was no accident, and we paid money for it. The black soap was spread over our bodies and then followed by that dreaded glove. Just like that, all my anxiety was gone. It was not as excruciating as most people claimed it to be. The scrubbing felt good, and yes, they scrubbed all exposed parts of my body from the neck down.
After our first sweeps, I was told to touch Matt’s back. It was shockingly smooth. Then one of the attendants told me to feel the gross piles of dead skin clustered on his back. I declined with a look of horror and disgust on my face while trying to be polite as possible for the offer – gross! Matt thought it was quite funny and then swiped my arm to see if he could feel a pile of dead cells & goop on my skin. It was disgusting but admittedly, fascinating how much skin they rubbed off.
After both our front and backs were cleaned hot bowls of water were dumped on us to wash away all the grime. We were then slathered with a rose water/ghassoul clay mixture and left for it to soak in for a couple of minutes before we were shown to the showers and instructed to wash and rinse.
The experience inside the actual bathhouse was maybe 25 minutes with about 10 of those minutes sitting in the steam room alone and maybe 15 minutes of being cleansed and rinsed.
Overall, it was not what I expected it to be. I thought it would hurt, I thought it would take longer, and I thought my feet would be scrubbed so raw I wouldn’t be able to walk. My feet were barely touched, which left me quite disappointed because I love a good foot rub. I did find out until later that the feet are rarely a part of the spa routine.
My anticipation was all for not because I liked the experience, and although the treatment was aggressive I did not find it painful at any time. We were given our keses to keep, which we have come to appreciate. I did feel the price was high. $70USD each for about a half hour of steam, a shower, and 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea was too much.
Private hammam packages are available all over Morocco, and the prices vary. I wouldn’t say don’t do a private hammam but think of it more like a spa treatment than an actual Moroccan Hammam experience.
If I had it to do all over, I would attend a public bath and exchange scrub downs with a stranger. It is the greener option, much cheaper, and it is the only option for the bona fide Moroccan Hammam custom.
Riad Laaroussa: If you have the money to spend on one of their treatments, try them. Their property is beautiful, the staff was friendly, and their two dogs are so cute.
Price: Prices vary from around $2USD to over $100USD depending on the location of public or private Hammam.
3 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives. For the Traveler Who Likes – adventure, romance (private), relaxation, historical, bucket lister, tradition
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