Turkey: A delightful scrub

By Justine Tyerman

Justine Tyerman looks for anything but authentic ... or traditional.

The hammam was a circular marble room with a starry domed ceiling and a raised, heated octagonal platform in the centre. Photo / Justine Tyerman
The hammam was a circular marble room with a starry domed ceiling and a raised, heated octagonal platform in the centre. Photo / Justine Tyerman

When in Turkey, you must have a Turkish bath ... so I was told. I had literally left it to the last hour, having been somewhat put off by a bus mate on my wonderful 10-day Ancient Kingdoms Turkey tour, and a work mate back home.

Twenty years ago, my female work colleague had a Turkish bath in downtown Istanbul at a traditional hammam which she expected to be women-only but found herself in a mixed gender room with a male masseur. Prior to our tour, my male bus mate also opted for the traditional bathhouse and had a male masseur who was scantily-clad, very large and hairy, and his ample stomach wobbled all over my young friend as he massaged him "very vigorously".

He hung on to his towel for dear life and got out fast.

"At least he had a towel," my colleague said. "I was starkers! It was a traumatic experience."

So when our trusted tour guide Mehmet enthusiastically pointed out a 16th century traditional hammam not far from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and recommended that we should all go there for an authentic Turkish experience, I did a cowardly disappearing act.

However, with a few hours to spare before boarding my plane home, I wandered through the beautiful spa at the five-star hotel where I was staying and came upon a hammam with luminous pools, soft lights and fountains. I decided this was not especially authentic or traditional so probably just right for me.

My dainty, young respectably towel-clad masseuse led me to a plush changing room where I shed my clothes and donned a white robe.

I was taken to a circular marble room with a starry domed ceiling and a raised, heated octagonal platform in the centre. Around the perimeter of the room, there were five taps with wooden buckets and bowls beneath them. She closed the door. We were alone. Whew!

I lay a little warily on my back on the platform with a cotton towel draped over strategic parts. My masseuse then sloshed warm, almost hot water over me from the bowl dipped into the bucket. It was a delicious sensation, quite different from a shower or a bath.

A marble water feature in the hammam. Photo / Justine Tyerman
A marble water feature in the hammam. Photo / Justine Tyerman

Then the full body scrub began in earnest with a rough mitt, rather like a coarse loofah.

Back, front, legs, arms, shoulders, neck, hands, feet, fingers, toes, scalp ... she spared my face, knowing that I was about to board a plane and a shiny scrubbed red face might not be the best look.

After I was officially clean and tingling all over, she performed a fascinating manoeuvre.

Taking an envelope-shaped muslin cloth shaped like a pillowcase, she immersed it in bubbly water, filled it with air and then squeezed aerated bubbles over my body, creating a warm, frothy, fragrant foam.

She then massaged my body with the froth, which was a soft, warm slithery sensation. It was not a deep tissue massage, just relaxing and incredibly pleasurable.

I stood up and she rinsed the bubbles off with deluges of warm water by the bucketful.

I felt zingy, relaxed, energised and incredibly happy I had taken the plunge. I was effusive in my thanks to my masseuse.

I re-robed and spent the remainder of my time exploring the luxurious pools, saunas, steam rooms, showers, relaxation lounges and quiet rooms available to guests. Marble and tiles everywhere. Bliss.

Justine Tyerman travelled on an Ancient Kingdoms tour of Turkey courtesy of Innovative Travel Company and stayed at the Titanic Business Hotel, Istanbul.

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