From sauna to thermal spring, my dream self-care scenario will forever involve warmth and water. Naturally, an opportunity to experience an authentic Turkish hammam bath had me at hello. After an overnight flight nestled in business class on the award-winning Turkish Airlines, visiting Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamami was my top priority in Istanbul. And it was everything.
Found along a bustling thoroughfare populated by luxury hotels, including the Çirağan Palace Kempinski, the renovated 16th century structure soothed all my senses on contact. White oak and hand-carved stone adorn the spacious reception/lounge area, which is accentuated by a towering dome.
After changing into my towel-centric ensemble, I’m lead by an attendant into the hot marble room. It is much more beautiful and intimate than I anticipated. The temp is inviting, ranging from 30 to 40°C, while daylight streams in through the airy domed ceiling. In the middle awaits a low hexagon slab where patrons lie for 10 minutes to acclimatize and relax before taking residence at an individual washing station.
This is where the action happens. My attendant splashes me with endless buckets of water, soaps most of my nooks and crannies, scrubs me from tip to toe with a coarse woolen mitt and shampoos my hair. (Exfoliation actually has some amazing health benefits, beyond soft skin.) My job is to lean this way, or stand that way — and summon every ounce of body confidence while wearing only disposable undies in a room full of strangers.
It’s not exactly relaxing, but that’s precisely the point. The historic purpose of the hammam was for the public to get clean — function not flash. “Some people expect a very harsh service, if they see the videos, or some expect something like a spa. Hammam is not either of those things, so the experience becomes unique. Not necessarily better or worse, but it’s different,” says owner Ergin Iren.
The köpük, a.k.a. bubble soap wash, makes darn sure of that. Delightfully enveloped by a mountain of froth, I marvelled at my attendant’s skilled swinging technique with a fabric case and soapy water to whip up and dispense the most lather I had ever seen.
Oh, and did I mention I emerged with the smoothest, softest skin of my life!? The next-level exfoliation is the ultimate epidermal workout. And, surprisingly, a key player is a convenience store staple with a 150-year-long heritage. “It’s the most unimportant soap of the century. It’s not precious, but very Turkish,” says Iren. (Find 9 more reasons Turkey is the perfect self-care vacay.)
The €1 price tag translated into the ultimate beauty-lover’s souvenir, and I departed with a hefty supply to relive my hammam experience at home ’til next time. (Be sure to include this desert country on your travel bucket list.)
Interested in recreating the experience of a traditional Turkish Hammam at home? These essentials can help:
Mellow Bath + Body Lunar Coconut Body Scrub, $24 at etsy.ca
Blended with organic coconut flakes and shea butter, this scrub softens while smoothing.
Wildcraft Luxe Body Oil Camellia and Clary Sage, $34 at wildcraftcare.ca
Organic moisturizers sink in quickly and impart a warm scent for the ultimate skin treat.
Anto Yukon Carcross Desert soap, $10 each at antoyukon.com
Handmade in the Yukon Territory, all kinds of lovely oils (think: coconut, olive and other essentials) will upgrade your soap game.
Stray & Wander Harbour towel, $45 at strayandwander.com
Wrap yourself in something pretty and special — these towels are highly absorbent and super soft.
Leaves of Trees Angora Goat Hair Exfoliating Mitt – Light, $25 at leavesoftrees.com
Made of the same material as the Turkish version, but gentle for sensitive skin.
Kérastase Aura Botanica Bain Micellaire Riche, $45
Sulfate-, silicone- and paraben-free, this blend of Amazonian Brazil nut and Thai rice bran oils nourishes dry tresses.
Next, check out the top 20 happiest countries in the world.