By Mark Ody, guest writer for Unwind and let go.
Two years ago, my partner Marie and I visited the Heure Bleue Hotel in Essaouira on holiday. It was my first time visiting a Moroccan Hammam, my only time so far, but now I feel a constant yearning to return. We had left our kids with willing and ageless grandparents, and flew from Marseilles looking forward to our autumnal break of culture, warmth, golf and sleep.
Renting a car we drove to Essaouira taking us through many miles of seemingly desolate wasteland until we arrived at the Heure Bleue. Tired and a little stressed, we were warmly greeted on arrival, our senses immediately eased in the gentlest of ways by the sounds and the smells of this luxury hotel. Unpacked, undressed and wearing soft robes, we ventured to our Moroccan Hamman in what I can only describe as an oasis, a sublime paradise – it was time to stop rushing, to unwind, relax and allow ourselves to be transported to another place.
To those of you who might not know, a Moroccan Hamman is a steam room, like a Turkish bath where locals habitually go each week to cleanse themselves. For me and Marie, it was a private indulgence with two expert therapists navigating us through the many experiences. Wearing simple, loose undergarments we entered the Hammam in anticipation. Many things struck us; the humidity, the darkness, the rich aromas of essential oils, the sparseness and the sound of water all around us. With no furniture, but benches cut from marble, and polished to infinitesimal smoothness, we sat awaiting instructions.
Our experience began with a drenching! Starting slowly with a few ladles of warm, and extraordinarily soft water, it soon crescendoed to buckets being gently poured all over us. The skin was feeling softer, the day’s travels long left at the door. We were asked to stand as they expertly scrubbed us from head to toe with a black soap and exfoliation gloves. It was vigorous, occasionally uncomfortable, but never painful – they seemed to be able to read our minds and understand exactly our thresholds – assuredly lower than the locals. We lay down on marble tables for 10 minutes as the soap worked its magic. More water was poured over us and we were occasionally stealing an uncertain smile from each other, before we were instructed to shower, to clean ourselves completely before our massage.
Although it sounds uncomfortable, we then climbed up onto 2 marble stone massage tables. Somehow the stone seemed to yield to the contours of our bodies. The therapists began their work – a joint massage, in stereo that lasted 90 minutes, the blink of an eye and a lifetime all in one. Never speaking a word, and yet in perfect unison, our masseuses transported us on a journey of well being through soft yet strong hands that found and removed every ounce of tension from top to toe. With the exotic aroma of the pure essential oils, and the copious buckets of water that are a feature of all Hamman, it was a divine, sensual experience that has left its mark on both of us.
With a half hour to luxuriate in the sauna after our massage, we were both temporarily lifted from this world we live in. We sat in silence, contemplating our extraordinary experience. The experience was sublime, and made all the richer by the sharing. Next, a cushioned room to enjoy some mint tea. The holiday had begun.
[Mark Ody is an Englishman living in Dublin. He has a French partner, 3 kids, and a very well behaved Jack Russell dog]