A traditional Hamam in Alanya isn’t necessarily a relaxing spa experience…!
“While you’re here you should definitely try a traditional Turkish bath.”
These were the words of one of my guides when I arrived in Alanya, Turkey a few weeks ago. Over three days I was whisked from beaches to caves to restaurants, and now, just ten minutes after returning from a jeep safari, I found myself in the ladies changing room at Çemberlitas Hamam.
As mentioned in my recent spa review of the luxury hamam at Dolphin Square, the hamam (also known as Turkish bath) isn’t an activity done for pure relaxation. No, it’s a cultural experience with an emphasis on cleansing. It’s also a place where people go to catch up with friends and family. Parents take their children and friends go together. It’s a communal experience, with most of the time spent in the hamam chamber – a beautiful marble room with sinks around the outside and a large heated marble stone in the centre. Men and women have separate facilities, although at this hamam, the sauna and steam room were mixed.
After a sauna and a steam, I entered the hamam chamber in my bikini unsure of what the protocol was. I was swiftly pointed in the direction of the shower then the jacuzzi. One thing to note, when I arrived I wasn’t told what the experience would involve, so I spent the whole time apprehensive about what was going to happen next.
I waited nervously next to the huge marble stone. A lady in soaking underwear wearing a special exfoliating globe fiercely rubbed down another lady who was lying on the marble. Her son lay next to her amused at the situation. Around the room, other woman sat pouring bowls of water over themselves, chatting to friends, and of course watching the main action. I knew that unlike my Moroccan “inspired” hamam treatment weeks before, this was the real deal… The full cultural experience!
I was instructed to lie down on the marble in the centre of the room and my bikini top was quickly whipped off. She had better skills than most of the guys I’ve met! With a bowl of warm water and wearing the special mitt, she started the exfoliation process. It was actually more gentle than my experience in Chelsea and I could feel my circulation boosting with every movement.
She started hitting my back and bum and saying something. I didn’t understand. “Tun tun”. I froze, scared. She said it again. Ohhhhhh “turn”! I flipped myself over nearly flying off the slippery marble. While not hugely self-conscious, I still found it a little unnerving that everyone was able to see me half-naked. To others in the room, this was just like any other week – although I did wonder how often tourists did this. She finished the exfoliation and I went for a shower. The results were evident – skin was literally peeling off me, revealing a beautifully smooth layer.
Next stop… a different lady, demanding me to lie in a specific spot on the marble. She said something (which I didn’t catch) and I wondered what I was in for next. She came at me with a balloon-like cloth filled with soap, which lathered as it went. I was washed from head to toe, and I admit it – It felt wonderful. Like being stroked by a fluffy cloud!
Yet again, I was so soapy I almost slipped over as I walked to the shower. Once rinsed, it was off to a day room for a lie down, a cup of Turkish tea and a rest. I needed it after that ordeal.
Assuming the experience was complete, I returned to the changing room to dress myself. One of the staff grabbed me by the hand and pointed me in the direction of another room. What next I wondered?
Waiting there, a lady who would treat me to an oil massage. Pure bliss! The natural oils and creams smelled good enough to eat! It lasted around 25 minutes and then finally my ‘cultural’ experience was over. I put my clothes back on, discovering my skin felt silky soft, my complexion was glowing, and a strange energy seemed to be moving around my body.
I left the hamam unsure of what had taken place over the last few hours. “Tun tun”… me slipping all over the place… skin shedding… and my new glowing complexion. The full cultural experience! I spent the next hour watching the magical sunset on Kleopatra Beach, and recovering from the events of the last few hours.
As Brits, we aren’t half prudish. Sometimes it’s great to leave your comfort zone, endure a bit of embarrassment, and realise there was no reason for it in the first place. As I travel, I like to keep this quote in the back of my mind “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”… on this occasion I certainly ventured out of that zone!