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The Spa at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Maggie Mulhern | July 11, 2011 | 12:00 AM

In my quest to find the best professional beauty industry services around the world, I decided to go to the source of all spa services…the Turkish Bath…or as it is known in Turkey….the HAMAM. 

Hamam is a method of cleansing that involves a full bodywash and a massage followed by a cooling period for relaxation. It is the ultimate, multi tiered spa experience...a "steam" on steroids.

Turkish baths are different from Roman baths (another modern spa predecessor) in a couple ways…they are smaller, less ornate and do not have pools. While both can be social environments, the hamam is ordinarily NOT gender mixed.

I asked all my Ritz-y friends where they would go to get the very best hamam in Istanbul, the heart of Turkey. Sure enough: “You must go to the Ritz Carlton Istanbul” was the recurring response.

So I went.

And now I know why the Ritz is THE destination for those looking for a real but elegant hamam experience. 

The very tall and very lovely Serah Resid, the Public Relations Coordinator for the Ritz Carlton Istanbul, offered to show me the hamam which she humbly confirmed was painstakingly designed to be as authentic and luxurious as possible.  Serah led me from the spectacular Ritz lobby to the Spa. “The hamam is our next stop,” she said in what sounded both proud and honored. To get there, one must pass an incredibly breathtaking pool and walk past hot tubs, steam baths, saunas and all the other required service rooms for an expected high end spa. But it’s when you round the corner that you encounter the first and outer room of the hamam and I could see why she revered the space.

This pre-room, known as the “warm room”, is the entry area to the actual treatment room, known as the “hot room”. The hot room entrance is separated from the warm room by an ancient-like replica wooden door held shut by a weighted pulley system.

According to Serah, the warm room is the more “social” of the two. “We use this room for special occasions,” says Serah. Fresh and dried Fruits, nuts, iced towels and all the proper snacks for the 20 to 25 people that can fit in the room. Sometimes the host invites a belly dancer, musicians or any other kind of entertainment that a group requires for a party. These ceremonies may include bachelorette or birthday parties…. “but sometimes we have just one or two people in the hamam,” she says. “both are normal.” What separates the Ritz hamam from a public hamam, in addition to the elegance, is the privacy it offers clients looking for a solitary experience.

I rarely try spa services but I felt, in the interest of thorough reporting, that I should experience this service.

It all begins in the main spa where the client (me) is asked to take a steam bath for 5 minutes to open the pores. The hamam attendant, called a natir (or a tellak for men) arrives to place wooden clogs (nalin) on the feet and then guide the client to the very toasty and moist hamam. The client is asked to lay face up on the towel (pestemal, a traditional fabric of silk/cotton) that is placed over the warm, elevated marble table (called the tummy stone). Traditional towels are rolled and placed for the head and knees. It was oddly comfortable considering it is hard slab of marble!

After a body rinse, poured from a weathered silver (or other metal bowl called a tas) filled with warm water pulled from a marble basin (kurna), the body is scrubbed with a loofah like mitt made from plant fibers (kese) for an invigorating exfoliation. The client then turns over and is again rinsed and “kese-ed” from head to toe.

Now it gets even better. The natir (who is wisely dressed in a bathing suit draped by the pestemal) fills up a second sink with warm soapy water. She runs a fine pillow case like towel (kopuk bezi) through the sink, pulls it out and whips it around. The action causes the inside to fill with foam. The foam and bubbles are then squeezed out all over the body.

It is difficult to describe just how FANTASTIC this feels. The foamy sudsy soapy water drapes over the body, enveloping it in these warm and wonderful moisturizing bubbles. While covered with these suds, the natir massages the body (which is slippery) and the feeling is beyond luxurious. The client then sits up, moves to a marble bench and leans her headback. Shampoo is placed in the hair and the natir massages the head for a relaxing shampoo. All while the client sits on the marble bench!!!! At this point both client and natir are totally drenched! A warm and wonderful rinse of the hair and body, followed by a cool rinse, signals the end.

Or so you think. 

While the end MAY be near, the finishing touch is equally fab. The natir leads the client out to the entry room where she is served minted lemonade and refreshments and then the iced lavender towel is placed over the eyes.  The client is invited to laydown and rest to absorb the loveliness of the experience. Clients sometimes even take a little snooze right there in the warm room after the hot room experience.

Wow.

If you think this treatment is just for the fancy pants Istanbul socialite, you are wrong. A typical Turk “takes” a hamam about once amonth. It is quite normal for everyone, male and female, to start taking the service from a very young age, usually around 6. Everyone I asked, from my cabdriver to the guy washing his feet outside the mosque to the female guest at the Ritz, takes a hamam. These people take their “baths” quite seriously….as they have since the Ottoman Empire when this tradition first appears to have become popular.

Rather than spend my spare time haggling over the price of belly dance outfits in the Grand Bazaar, I decided to do my due diligence and check out other spas and hamams in 5 star hotels in Istanbul. While most had equally gorgeous pools, treatment rooms and hot tubs, I could not find a better hamam than the one at the Ritz.

This service is simply FANTASTIC and truly special. It is labor intensive, luxurious and elegant. It is not for spas that do not provide wet services, do not have enough space to house a hamam and most importantly….are in a drought-prone area. Although the hamam was first designed to conserve water, plenty is used in this treatment.

Is this service is right for YOUR market? If you think it may be, first book a flight to Istanbul, stay at the Ritz (the location, rooms, service and food are the best in Istanbul) and take your own hamam. It’s worth the trip...for you and your clients.

The hamam at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The Spa at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul The Spa at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul 

Watch the tour:


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