Skip to content

Wash your cares away – in a hammam

June 3, 2014
The hammam at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul. Review by

Image © Ciragan Palace

Lying supine on a heated marble slab, feeling a bit vulnerable because I’m topless, a delicious wave of water is poured over my body. Until this moment I would never have imagined that something so simple could feel so divine. Through a steamy veil, I gaze at a ceiling of carved marble stars; tiny lamps and vessels adorn marble arches; huge pestle-shaped sinks are filled with a roar by copper taps, overflowing onto the white marble floor. Water flows in luxurious abundance that you appreciate especially when you’ve lived in a desert country. New age Arabic music thrums in the background as my charming masseuse Aisha, clad in bikini and a short wrap, applies a scrubbing mitt with sweeping pressure.

I’d glimpsed the steamy depths of hammams in Damascus, doorways mistily illuminated in the dark narrow streets and yearned to enter the intriguing domes of the Sulphur baths in Tbilisi but didn’t have time to visit either. On this, my second trip to Istanbul, I was determined to try the original Turkish Bath invented by the Ottomans (and distinct from the Romans and Greeks). Trip Advisor reviews of the top ones recommended in Lonely Planet were pretty terrifying; they ranged from perfunctory, production line massage, to crowded rooms of nakedness, to filthy, festering water and even more unsavoury shenanigans. A friend with impeccable taste who lives in “Da Bul” recommended hammams in the Ritz Carlton and Ciragan Palace Kempinski and as I was staying at the latter this sealed the deal.

Hammam Ciragan Palace - review of hammam My Custard Pie

The infinity pool by the Bosphorus

The cost was pretty eye watering for 50 minutes even compared with the top spas of Dubai but use of the gym and wet areas including an indoor and outdoor pool (the latter infinity to the Bosphorus) are included even for non-residents so I guess you could make an afternoon of it. Some relaxing heat in the sauna and steam, followed by vigorous jets of the jacuzzi (its aqua beauty slightly flawed by a few missing tiles) went a long way to lengthening the distance of my shoulders from my ears. My friend and I were welcomed into the hammam and submitted ourselves to the directions of the two masseuses who proceeded to wash, scrub and oil us.

Lying prone I felt a light warmth of scented airiness coat my body; I opened an eye to see a white duvet-sized blanket of tiny bubbles wafting high over Sarah which fell to envelop her in a soft, soapy cloud. The oil used for a shoulder, face and head massage reminded me of the smell of orange Spangle sweets and I submitted to dexterous kneading and stroking.  Sitting up to have my hair washed and conditioned, rinsed with water poured from a copper jug, I felt like Medieval royalty. The warm ritual was finished with basins of slightly cooler water poured over from head to toe, invigorating but completely acceptable for someone as acclimatised to Middle East temperatures as I am. Wrapped in a thick robe while sipping tea, in a coma of relaxed bliss, I didn’t regret the extravagance for a millisecond and could gladly witness the interior of an authentic 17th Century hammam fully clothed. A white-knuckle-ride taxi drive to the airport a couple of hours later had me longing to return as soon as possible.

Details of the Ciragan Palace spa here. You can choose from the Pasha Treatment; 40 min 130 EU, Sehrazat Treatment (which I experienced); 55 min 165 EU or the VIP Treatment; 80 min 500 EU (prices correct at date of article). Reviews of other hammams in Istanbul here, here and here.

Where to find a hammam in Dubai

‘Morrocan Bath’, a treatment of steam room followed by a scrub, is very popular in Dubai. Many advertise as hammams but I’m not sure if any are authentic. Al Asalla Spa at Dubai Ladies Club, The Jebel Ali Hotel Spa, the Talise Ottoman Spa at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and the Oriental Hammam at One & Only Royal Mirage all claim to offer hammams in Dubai but I have yet to try them (they are much cheaper than in Istanbul).

Have you experienced a Turkish bath or hammam? What’s the most pampering experience you’ve ever had?

  1. June 3, 2014 8:40 pm

    You are real spa genius, I have never tried Turkish Hammam but in Dubai Al Asalla Spa at Dubai Ladies Club has best relaxing athmosphere anf Royal Hammam is done in private steamroom, its a bliss from start to end with relaxation at majlis with cup of tea. I have also tried The One and Only Royal Mirage Moroccon Bath was good but less private, their spa is looking amazing and drinks after at their terrace overlooking Persian Gulf is cherry on top. Would like to try authentic Turkish bath.

    • June 4, 2014 7:39 am

      It sounds like you are the spa genius Minna. My knotty shoulders mean that I’ve tried out quite a few places for massage … more to follow about this. The One and Only sounds incredible.

  2. June 3, 2014 9:24 pm

    Dreamlike! The perfect place to relax. I have never visited a Turkish hammam…



    • June 4, 2014 7:40 am

      Yes it did have the quality of a dream in a way Rosa. Definitely ethereal!

  3. June 3, 2014 10:03 pm

    Oh Sally, it sounds divine. I imagined myself enjoying every bit as you described it. I love spas and the like but rarely get chance to enjoy them. Ed and I won an overnight visit to Ragdale Hall a year or two ago which was lovely, and unusual to go to a spa with a man as I usually go with the girls!

    My most luxurious visit, in some ways, was when me and my boss flew up to Edinburgh for a meeting one day. We finished the meeting with lunch and champagne with the client (we’d just won a big contract) and we had 5 hours left before our flight back. We went to a city centre spa and had face and body massages. We felt like naughty school kids having a massage on a work day but it was so relaxing….it’s the one and only time I’ve fallen asleep during the process, but that may have been partly due to the champagne!

    Would love to go to a proper hammam.

    • June 4, 2014 7:42 am

      Dubai is chocabloc with spas and salons so we’re super-spoilt here. Some are really jaw-droppingly beautiful and the high level of pampering is unrivalled anywhere in the world. I’ve had a massage in UK since I lived here and it just didn’t cut the mustard.
      I always feel sneaking off to a spa is a guilty pleasure. KP hates massage so I’d never, ever get him to a spa.

  4. June 3, 2014 10:42 pm

    Oh this has lulled me to a relaxed splendour. I love the Jebel Ali Spa. We stayed at the resort for 10 days after a really bad time at work and I visited the spa every day. I am so excited that a proper turkish hammam is opening up in Edmonton near where I live. Cannot wait!

    • June 4, 2014 7:43 am

      10 days of going to a spa… idea of heaven. Love to hear what the Edmonton hammam is like when it opens.

  5. glamorous glutton permalink
    June 4, 2014 12:32 am

    I went to the Hammam in Marrakesch, it was amazing despite being starkers! Not sure I could fall asleep during it though! GG

    • June 4, 2014 7:38 am

      I think I’m much more lily-livered these days… I’m not stripping off for anyone!

  6. June 4, 2014 12:53 am

    In my current phase of life your descriptions have left me feeling more seduced and enticed that one of those saucy novels. I’m not kidding. I’m feeling generally battered and bruised, but blessed ( I think) and after reading your post I sent the link to the husband. This is exactly what I need and life is short. So glad to read about how rejuvenated you are feeling xxx

    • June 4, 2014 7:37 am

      Sorry to hear you are feeling like this….. and I definitely prescribe some pampering to rectify. Doctor’s orders!

  7. andreamynard permalink
    June 4, 2014 1:18 am

    How utterly wonderful Sally, longing for all that warmth, steam, massage and being wrapped in a robe afterwards. I sampled a few hammams in Morocco – both extremes, from a (very friendly) neighbourhood hammam where sisters, mothers, friends gathered to chat as much as to wash & massage each other to a lovely, pampering riad hotel version. They were all a good few years ago & you’ve got me hankering for another visit!

    • June 4, 2014 7:36 am

      I’m trying the remember which book I read about the communal and sisterly experience of hammams. It could have been Annie Hawes on her North African travels. Such an incredible experience.

  8. June 4, 2014 1:22 am

    You tease…”feeling a bit vulnerable because I’m topless”…showed up in the email feed, and I clicked through with a big grin on my face, wondering what you’d gotten yourself into now.. 🙂 Sounds glorious!

    • June 4, 2014 7:34 am

      Ha ha – hopefully that will increase my read rate…. hope people aren’t too disappointed …. 🙂

  9. June 4, 2014 1:48 am

    This sounds just amazing – I has heard of dodgy ones when I was in Istanbul but was not game enough to try. This sounds divine – albeit pricey. Lovely photos too

    • June 4, 2014 7:33 am

      Yes the authentic experience couldn’t quite outweigh my fear of embarrassment or worse!

  10. June 4, 2014 3:51 am

    Utter indulgence, how gorgeous!

    • June 4, 2014 7:32 am

      It was indulgent – I admit…. but very gorgeous.

  11. Lauren Hairston permalink
    June 4, 2014 4:39 am

    I need to get myself to a hammam. I draw myself a hot bath and close the shower curtains and try to pretend, but it’s not quite the same thing. 🙂

    • June 4, 2014 7:32 am

      I almost recreated the steamy bit on my dog walk here in Dubai at 6am this morning!

  12. June 4, 2014 7:56 am

    That is very pricey indeed. I went for a rasoul (sp) treatment in Dubai which was wonderful 🙂

    • June 4, 2014 6:49 pm

      I’ve heard that’s lovely too. Strange how Istanbul is a lot more expensive than Dubai for this kind of thing!

  13. Dima Sharif permalink
    June 4, 2014 8:33 am

    Fab description Sally, made me want to take the first flight back to Istanbul! Love that city, the culture and everything about it. Have tried a few hammams myself and must say they put all others to shame. Very luxurious, pampering and yes regal tool, no wonder their Sultanas were always gorgeously relaxed :)) have tried traditional baths in Syria and Morocco too, and while in Morocco the baths are more old age fancy decorated, they are quite similar to the ones you get in Dubai. By all means Turkish bath is the best I have experienced so far! Was very jealous of this trip lol still am!

    • June 4, 2014 6:48 pm

      I can’t deny we had a wonderful, if very short, trip. Fantastic city – so much left to explore.

  14. June 4, 2014 8:56 am

    I went to a hammam on my visit to Istanbul last year, but neglected to ask my hotel concierge who recommended one a very vital question. Hence I was seriously surprised to discover naked men in the sauna and on the slab. Needless to say my experience was extraordinarily stressful and necessarily brief.

    • June 4, 2014 6:50 pm

      Enough to put you off lunch for the rest of the week…..and just what I was afraid of!

  15. June 4, 2014 2:19 pm

    I can only dream of something as wonderful as this!
    Have a beautiful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  16. June 4, 2014 7:03 pm

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed your Hammam in Istanbul (the feeling is unimaginable). The first time I went to a Hammam was during my childhood in Algiers (city with a heavy Turkish influence) with the company of my grandma, my mother and my aunts (ladies only), it was like an expedition with our Fota (kind of pareo made in silk and linen), luffa and soap inside a beautiful copper vase and tassa a copper bowl to rinse your hair and your body. The ambiance, the heat, the muffled sounds are magic. Every week we repeated the same ceremonial. I have never tried Hammam in Dubai but when I went to Bursa 4 years ago I was really glad to rediscover this atmosphere, in a hammam in a mountain!

    • June 4, 2014 7:45 pm

      Your comment is more poetic than my entire post. This is the kind if experience I would like if going for the authentic hammam. Especially one in a mountain. What gorgeous memories.

  17. June 14, 2014 2:58 pm

    What a lovely post, Sally! A great cool place to relax & getting spoiled! Ha. 😊

  18. bettybooindubai permalink
    June 19, 2014 7:46 am

    Lovely post Sally. I did a non hotel experience Hammam last year in Istanbul – one of the less dodgy ones from Lonely Planet guide and way cheaper than your hotel treat but no where near as luxurious – functional fits the bill !

    Every time I think back to it I can’t help but giggle – the lady, who was as topless as me, could only say Turn, Wash and Lie which made for a very funny experience as I never seemed to be doing what she wanted when she told me.

    Located in some underground chambers which were beautiful yet old and tired at the same time, it was a memorable experience for the giggles I get afterwards as much as for the hamman itself.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: