Marrakesh is bewitching, but boy can it wear you out: the sun is unforgiving, it’s noisy and dusty, you’ll get lost in the medina more times than you can count, and everyone seems to have something to sell you. Stepping out from the tranquillity of your riad into the heat of the street can feel like entering a gladiatorial arena. To keep your sanity and stay refreshed, you will need pampering, and lots of it.
Fortunately pampering is something Marrakesh does very well. The hammam, or Turkish bath, is something most locals indulge in at least weekly, and if you want to sweat away your troubles and get the scrubbing of a lifetime, there’s nothing better. By all means go local if you fancy it (the Hammam es Salam near the Menara gardens is recommended), but be warned that some of them are a bit rough and ready. If you want some five-star spa treatment, or if you’re a couple and want the experience together, read on for what to expect in the best private hammams.
When you arrive, the first room you’ll be shown is the least glamorous: the changing area, where you strip down to your boxers (or bikini) and don a robe. Then you head to the hammam itself, a dim and humid room with walls of tadelakt (a kind of waterproof lime plaster). Through the steam your attendant will point out a slab to lie face down on. The fun now begins.
Initially you’ll have warm water sloshed over you from a bucket, after which the attendant will lather you with black soap scrub, the scent of which varies by spa; eucalyptus and bitter orange are the most common. So far so relaxing, but while you’re not looking the attendant will don a loofah glove and begin to vigorously scrub off all your dead skin. It’s a bit like being sandpapered; your pores won’t know what’s hit them. Finally, you’ll be coated with ghassoul (a natural mineral clay mined from the Atlas mountains) and have your hair washed, before getting sloshed again from the bucket.
It’s a good idea to book an argan oil massage as a follow-up to the hammam. (Argan oil comes from the fruit of the argan tree, which grows only in Morocco. It used to be harvested from the droppings of the goats that climb the tree to eat the fruit; thankfully, these days it tends to be picked off the tree.) Beforehand, you’ll be asked which essential oils you’d prefer, and invited to sample from the choices on offer: these typically include patchouli, orange, rose, and verbena.
The massage rooms are lit with only a few candles, and soft music plays. Off comes the robe again, and as you lie on the massage table and get all your muscle tissues slowly reinvigorated, any stress related to taking an hour to get out of the medina, or overpaying for a teapot, will fade very quickly away.
Here is our pick of luxury hammams that are perfect for winding down after a hectic day in the red city:
Heritage Spa: very luxurious, with a bewildering range of treatments including three hammam variations and six types of massage. Also specialises in face care.
Spa MK: a highly regarded private hammam in one of Marrakesh’s most exclusive boutique riads. The "Evening Pampering Package" includes hammam, massage and a five-course tasting menu at Gastro MK.
Les Deux Tours: treatments at this Palmeraie hotel include deep tissue and Ayurvedic massage, plus time before and after in the pool.
Hammam de la Rose: a stylish spa hidden away in the medina, offering a "four hand" massage, in case your stress knots are too much for one masseur alone.
Les Bains de Marrakech: one of the city's first private hammams and still one of the best. They even make their own beauty products for use in the spa.
Top image © Tanya Prykhodko/Shutterstock