A Turkish treat for two – a luxury hammam indulgence

April 22nd, 2010 in European travel by Terry Lee 1
Turkish hammams are like temples to relaxation | istockphoto

Spa treatments are confusing – in one spa you’re expected to don swimwear, in another you go bare, then there’s male, female and mixed sections, not to mention the ever growing list of treatments you can have. Here my husband Terry and I detail our Turkish bath experiences. Today’s describes the treatment at a five-star hotel, while tomorrow’s post details a traditional hammam. Terry kicks things off…


I wouldn’t exactly call myself a metrosexual man, but I’ve grown to enjoy a certain amount of pampering. On our second day at the Sheraton Voyager Hotel and Spa in Antalya, Turkey, Sarah and I couldn’t resist a Turkish hammam (or bath), complete with honey massage. I’d never had a Turkish bath and had certainly never been massaged with honey so wasn’t sure what to expect – except perhaps to get sticky!

Now I’m not exactly a shy sort and thought nothing of the fact that I was wearing only my bathrobe and a look of bemused innocence as I was led to the steam room, told to take off my robe and relax. Sat alone in peaceful relaxation I felt the effects of the previous night’s two bottles of wine seep from my pores.

My steam time up, the therapist led me to the hammam – a marble-clad room with a large heated slab in the middle surrounded by benches and basins. A man lying on the slab was barely visible under swathes of soapy suds as a bikini clad strip of a girl flung pans of water over him to wash him down.

As my therapist, Olga who was from the Ukraine, told me to take off my robe and lay down I discovered I was lacking some essential equipment. I should have had a chequered cloth around my lower half to cover my modesty.  It was only then, as she hurried me back into my robe, I realised this was a unisex bath. Returning with my modesty cloth we laughed. I hoped she was laughing with me, and not at me!

From here on in the experience was quite literally lush. Firstly Olga scrubbed me from head to toe with a large mitt to remove dead skin cells. After washing me down with warm water she expertly twisted and turned a white cloth bag soaked in soap to work up the richest lather. Trapping air in the cloth to turn it into something like a small airship, she ran it up and down my body, then squeezed the soap suds over me before using them like a massage oil. I was so soapy I was slipping and sliding on the marble stone until a few more pans of water were hurled over me.

Then, as a lightly sweet smell drifted through the warm air of the hammam Olga took handfuls of a runny honey-like mixture and massaged it into my legs, arms and torso, using the long, intense muscle pressure you’d expect from a Swedish massage.  The treatment ended with another wash down and as I climbed off the warm stone I felt completely relaxed and renewed.

SARAH BARES ALL

It was a case of ladies second at the spa but I was happy to let Terry play guinea pig. I was suffering from the sort of mild anxiety common before having an unknown treatment, especially in a foreign country where language barriers can create even greater confusion.

As Terry came out of the hammam glowing I had my steam and knowing how he’d described going in there in the altogether I was pleased to see it was pretty dark when I sat in the breathless warmth with two other women. Thank God he’d been in there alone, oblivious to the fact it was a mixed steam room!

The scrub in the hammam was like nothing I’d ever experienced – they actually called this part a peel. Though I didn’t lose any skin, the exfoliating mitt did leave me feeling as though I’d been deep-cleaned. My therapist, Leyla even hoiked up my bikini bottoms exposing my bottom to extend the peel freely from toe to hip, up my back and down my arms. Finally she doused me with hand-bowls of water from a marble basin and I felt slightly like a drowned rat (although a rather clean one).

Then she stopped and for a moment I lay there in silence. Her English was markedly better than my Turkish but not perfect. It took a few minutes of unexplained silence then a little confused discussion for me to realise the hotel’s water had gone off.

I lay there bare bottom-up waiting for the hot water to come back on. For around 20 minutes. It wasn’t so bad – there was just Leyla and I in the temperate room.

But then the door swung open and two men stepped in. They hardly noticed my blushes or the fact my bottom was exposed to the world instead they talked in Turkish with Leyla. Now I realised I could have pulled my bikini down to cover myself, but I always fear looking really ‘British’ at times like these – awkward at the mildest of nudity – so instead I put the British stiff upper lip over reserve and braved out my exposure, convincing myself they probably hadn’t even noticed! After a while the men left, realising there was little to hang around for if the water was off, then minutes later Leyla was able to get some hot water again and finish washing me down.

The soap massage was strange and wonderful. By this point Leyla had turned me over and whipped off my bikini top to replace it with a modesty-covering mass of soap suds – the kind a bathing 1950s starlet would have been proud of. I had a quiet chuckle to myself as she ran the ballooned soapy white cloth up my legs in a bizarre massage. It was like being massaged by one of the Rovers – those white bubbles from The Prisoner. But don’t get me wrong – it was good, great in fact.

Then, dripping a sweet smelling cross between honey and massage oil over me and working it into my skin to ease my muscles further, Leyla completed my Turkish bath to leave me feeling cleansed, relaxed and ready for the sun. You never have a Turkish bath and peel after sunbathing – that’s bound to be painful!

The Sheraton’s Turkish bath experience was just that – an experience to be relished in the main but fearing it was perhaps too ‘five-star’ and removed from the ancient art we later visited a traditional Turkish hammam – read about that experience tomorrow.

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