what to expect at a Turkish bath or hamam...

Monday, January 12, 2015

SEE: geometric patterns glisten overhead and all around as the midday sun filters through star shaped ceiling cut-outs. Condensation drips from a high dome above, the drops blending into the sunlight and tricking me into thinking they might just be shooting stars. Bare skin glows pink, scrubbed until soft, bubbles surround me and moisture hangs in the steamy air. A smiling attendant rubs away my dead skin.

SMELL: almond soap fills my nostrils, drowning out the syrupy sweet quince sherbet I drunk on arrival. Later I cool off with a fragrant spearmint hand towel.

Inside Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque - Istanbul
inside Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey
{photo via Istanbul Tour Studio}

HEAR: soft footsteps echo, kept pace with a slow drumming of water as it drips onto the smooth marble interior. Whispers and the murmur of low voices in deep conversation reflect around the octagon shaped wash room. The clapping of hands slapping exposed flesh squeeze under heavy wooden doors from the massage rooms around the corner. In the background the soothing music of a loot keeps time.

TOUCH: warm marble against my back followed by rough exfoliation. The press of fingers into my back, neck and scalp forcing away tired work-created knots, hot water splashing over my head continuously, silky bubbles, soft towels.

TASTE: sweet quince sherbet floods my taste buds as I wait in anticipation for my hamam experience to begin. Later I relax sipping on soothing rose tea.

My Turkish hamam experience...
While in Istanbul over Christmas I visited the Kılıç Ali Paşa Camii (Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque) twice for a hamam. Why twice? Well, it was such a soothing and relaxing experience that left my skin feeling like butter and like I was walking on marshmallows - I couldn't not go back for a second round. 

Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque, relaxation area - Istanbul
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami relaxation area - Istanbul, Turkey

But what actually is a hamam?
A Turkish hamam (or bath) traditionally takes place in a room with a dome shaped roof that lets in shafts of light - somewhat similar to a steam room but with marble surfaces and quite a lot larger. 

In the centre of the hamam is a large, heated marble platform where you lie for about twenty minutes as you begin to shift into relaxation mode, and your pores open ready for a full body exfoliation.

After twenty minutes your personal attendant appears armed with a coarse mitt and she/he (depending on if you are female or male) will then rub you from head to toe - starting with your face in the most thorough full-body exfoliation you'll ever experience. Along the way you'll be rinsed off with warm water and vigorously massaged.

Next comes my favourite part - a personal bubble bath just for you. The attendant uses a pillowcase sized muslin sack that is soaked in warm water and soap before having air blown into it - which forces the soapy air thorough fine holes and onto you. Amazing! Once the mountain of bubbles seem like they might just drown you it's time for another wash down, including shampoo and conditioner before being wrapped tightly in soft clean towels and heading to the relaxation room where you can lie back, admire your sparkling skin, sip tea and reflect.

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamami - Istanbul, Turkey
At Kilic Ali Pasha the hamam ritual lasts for about one hour, but you can relax inside on the comfy sofas for as long as you like. You can also opt for a oil massage to follow, which I did both times. It's the ideal place for hamam first-timers as you are looked after from start to finish and never made to feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

Highly recommended. The perfect New Years day experience!

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  1. This sounds so indulgent, and such a lovely way to experience a little bit of Turkish culture! x

    1. It was super indulgent - the perfect treat for Christmas day and New Years day :)

  2. OMG! it seems divine, Claire! I tried SpaLand in Korea, they had Turkish style sauna room, but it's nothing compared to this one.

    1. Divine is the just the word! To be honest it wasn't that expensive either so I would defo recommend if you're ever in Turkey. Happy New Year!

  3. How have I never heard of this before!? It sounds heavenly. 'Warm marble' on your back? Amazing. I never considered Turkey as a 'must' on my travel list, but maybe I should reconsider...


    1. Hi V - Turkey is definitely a must. There is so much to see in Istanbul by itself - the city that keeps on giving. Happy travel planning!

  4. That sounds amazing! And you described it so perfectly, I felt myself going drowsy as I was reading haha. Great post xx


    1. Thanks Becca. There's nothing like a warm scrub down to get into relaxation mode...

  5. Before I say anything else I have to tell you that I think this post is so well written. The way you've described it has made me incredible regretful that I never visited a hamam in Istanbul when we went.

    1. Thanks Jenna! Your comment just made my day. It's never too late to return anywhere, so file away a hamam experience on your wish list to revisit next time you're in the area :)

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