When visiting Istanbul, you’ll likely haggle in the Grand Bazaar and explore the Topkapi Palace. But what’s next? There’s nothing better than partaking in the traditional hammam experience to get a true taste of the culture of Istanbul. A hammam is a traditional public bath rich in rituals. Many hammams have been in existence for centuries and are integral to the culture. A hammam is also an excellent way to rid yourself of jet lag. Most hotels in Istanbul can advise on the best places to go. Here’s a lowdown on what to expect.
1. Get the Timing Right
Men and women bathe separately in Turkey. When you choose your hammam, do check out the timing so you go to the right session. It is also worth inquiring whether you need to bring a towel or soap. Most upmarket hammams provide these items, but the more basic do not. Hammams are plentiful around the city; many hotels in Istanbul have a bathing facility. One of the best is the Grand Cevahir Hotel.
2. Dress for the Occasion
You pay for the treatment when you arrive at the bath house. Next, you’ll be shown to a changing room where you undress and wrap a cloth around you. Nudity is generally not acceptable in the male hammam, but it is sometimes experienced in female baths. Do take spare underwear as it will get wet. If in any doubt, just observe the locals. An attendant will show you into the hammam itself.
3. Turn up the Heat
You’ll be shown into the steam room where you sit and sweat. This is very relaxing, but some people find the heat a little too much. After a while your pores will open, and you will sweat your way to the next stage.
4. It’s OK to be Dirty
An attendant will call you to the big marble slab or the belly stone. This is the fun part where you’ll be scrubbed within an inch of your life. It is a matter of pride that these attendants find old skin and dirt on you even though you showered earlier. Expect to be shown a brush full of dead skin and dirt which has just been removed from your body. You’ll be soaped and lathered and completely scrubbed, as is the tradition here.
5. Relax Your Muscles
You receive a massage once the wash is complete, and your limbs will be stretched and pummeled. This is the finishing touch on one of Turkey’s most traditional rituals. The attendants know exactly where to press to treat aching muscles. You’ll then be able to change clothes.
6. Chill out With Tea
After a hammam, do relax in the lounge with a cup of tea. You will feel cleaner than you ever have before. Just try it — you’ll be glad you did.
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