I was under the impression that Moroccan hammams were overrated tourist attractions. I was so wrong. My Heritage Hammam Spa was one of my best experiences in Marrakech. I would definitely say that you should put it on your itinerary when visiting Morocco. But how does it compare to a real, local hammam experience?
Authentic Hammam vs. Hammam Spa
On my first trip to Marrakesh, I visited Hammam Mouas, the oldest hammam in Marrakesh and a truly authentic activity. I learned how hammams were Moroccan baths where locals and travelers could wash regularly (or irregularly), usually 2-3 times a week.
There are two types of hammams in Morocco, for locals and tourists. I’m often put off by activities that are very different from the local experience, like gondolas in Venice, horse-drawn carriages in Vienna, etc. As such, I avoided the touristy hammam spas on my first visit to Morocco. This time I got Vanessa to one, and I can say with absolute certainty that they are anything but overrated.
What is a Hammam?
Your traditional hammam usually has three rooms: cold, warm and hot. Swimmers stripped to their swimsuits or underwear in the preparation area. Some swimmers could start in a cold room and work their way up to warm and hot rooms. The more traditional way is to start in a hot room where they exfoliate with black soap made with argon and olive oils. They are then moved to a warm room to be properly washed and then moved back to the warm room to relax in the steam.
Not every hammam has all three rooms, and some small hammam spas only use one room, although there is usually another relaxation room that can be used between spa sessions to drink tea or just relax from the heat.
Whichever room the swimmers start in, each room contains hot and cold water barrels or sinks. Visitors could wash alone or, more commonly, pair off and wash each other. Bathing usually involves deep, vigorous scrubbing using sponges. Women used to apply ghasul mud and wash each other’s hair.
Hammams were usually communal spaces where locals also gossiped. Some hammams may provide someone to wash you for a small fee, but this can be more of a touristy twist in a real hammam, such as Hammam Moussin.
Although not always part of traditional hammams, tourist hammam spas often include a massage at the end of the experience. You may be able to find a massage in a real hammam, but it is not a traditional part of the experience and is now mostly found in tourist hammam spas.
A visit to the Heritage Hammam Spa in Marrakech
For my first hammam spa experience in Marrakech, I did a lot of research to find the best in town. As good as the reviews were, I turned down Hammam de la Rose and Click Spa because they seemed a bit too touristy (which I can’t confirm from personal experience). I also avoided the ones in the center of the medina for the same reason, although the Hammam Spa El Byadin looked really nice. Instead I found the Heritage Spa just outside the main medina.
Heavenly Hammam Spa
Heritage Hammam Spa is located in a small cluster of alleys on the west side of the medina, not far from Click Spa and Hammam de la Rose. The manager greeted me at reception, where I learned that the spa had been a family-run place for nearly a decade. We were given a ‘menu’ with different hammam treatments and massages to choose from. We opted for the traditional and authentic hammam and full massage.
After changing into our elegant underwear and dressing gown, both of which were provided, we made our way to one of the two steam rooms used for hammam treatments. It’s a very small building, so there aren’t huge rooms for groups, nor are there three separate rooms with different temperatures. Instead, Vanessa and I had our own private room. There were two raised stone ledges with thick mats for us to lie on, me in a pair of thin underwear and Vanessa in a tiny g-string (mostly naked).
Two therapists applied black soap infused with eucalyptus oil to us: a a kiss – exfoliating glove. This was followed by a thorough scrub before rinsing off with warm shower water. We finished with a seven-plant wash deep cleansing mask and a final rinse to leave our baby’s skin smooth and soft.
There was another hammam option which included a rose clay full body, sea salt foot scrub and ylang ylang essential oil hair treatment. We will be back for it on our next trip.
The whole process was blissful and bore no resemblance to the “real” Hammam Mouassine experience where the scrub was harsh and the bucket of cold water at the end was less than welcome. Vanessa and I left the hammam floating on cloud seven, vowing to return to Marrakech regularly for a treatment (as there is nothing like it in Edinburgh that I know of).
After the hammam, we were taken to a relaxation room decorated like a desert tent, where we were given tea, mint water and sweet pastries filled with dates. It reminded me of my tent at the luxurious desert camp in Merzouga. We had a few minutes to let our body temperature return to normal before we were taken to another part of the building for the massages.
Perfect Hammam Massage
We each had our own private massage room with a highly trained therapist. A holistic massage is a full body massage that is customized to each individual based on their tensions and discomforts. My masseuse did an incredible job of finding and working out all the knots in my legs, back and neck. The pressure was perfect. harder than most places give and on par with the best massages I’ve had in Thailand.
I later learned that the massage therapists are all very highly trained and then go through several more quality control checks each year to ensure they maintain the highest standards. Plus, all of the therapists at Heritage Spa have been there for over seven years and have a ton of experience. It was quite evident in their skills. I wish I could have taken some photos or videos of the massage, but there was no way to move from the bed once the massage started.
A holistic massage is one of seven different massage treatments offered by Heritage Spa. Other massages are tension-relieving massage, anti-aging refreshing elasticity body care massage, precious hot stone massage, spicy herbal bag massage, detox slimming massage, sublime 4 hand massage and relaxing foot massage.
Frequently asked questions about Hammams
Are the hammams nude?
For women, mostly yes. For men, no. Outside the steam room, guests wear a robe or towel. Inside, men wore swimming shorts or underwear, sometimes a towel. Women are mostly naked, whether they are in communal hammams or private hammam spas. Even in private hammams, men still wear something to cover their privates.
Are hammams invasive?
Never. A woman’s breast can be cleaned as another part of the body to be washed, but the breast is completely avoided for both men and women. I’m sure there are shady spas where you can get a favor, but it’s frowned upon by the locals, just like in Thailand, where I keep pointing out the difference between a real Thai massage and a tourist happy ending.
Do men and women mix in the baths?
Non-traditional hammams. In private hammam spas for couples, they might share a room together, but a real hammam does not. At Hammam Mu’asin, the men’s and women’s entrances are on two different streets of the hammam.
How many people are in the hammam at the same time?
In a traditional, communal hammam, you can accommodate several dozen people in the same room, depending on the size. Women often visit hammams in groups and clean each other, wash each other’s hair, etc. At private hammam spas like Heritage Spa, it’s both. The Heritage Spa has two hammams, so they can handle up to 20 couples a day, every hour for 10 hours.
Do locals use the hammams?
Not so much anymore. Hammams were designed for locals who did not have home plumbing or bathing facilities. That’s not really the case anymore. Most modern homes in Morocco have a full bathroom, so there’s really no reason for locals to frequent hammams unless they want to treat themselves to a spa. Of course, nomadic tribes or anyone in the country without plumbing at home could still use the hammam.
What is ghasul?
Ghassoul is a Moroccan mud used by women as a clay mask in the hammam. It is rich in magnesium, silicon, potassium and calcium. Men don’t usually use ghassul, although I’m sure you can request it specifically if you want.
Book a Hammam Spa in Marrakech
Heritage Spa is currently open 10am to 8pm, 7 days a week. You can book directly on their website which includes the current rates. I would absolutely recommend going for one of the larger packages. Finally, if you’re just looking for a hammam itself, there are more traditional places in town. This spa specializes in holistic therapy packages and their massages are incredible.
At the time of this writing, two hammam packages are 350 and 400 dirhams respectively (~$35-$40). Massages range from 250 to 850 dirhams (~25-85 USD). Packages including hammam and massage range from 700 to 1,300 dirhams (~US$70-130). But again, prices change with inflation, so be sure to check the Heritage Spa website for current prices.
Have you been to Morocco? There are several other articles to check out to help with your adventures in the country.
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