Something You May Not Know About The Turkish Hammam

by Anne Dimon

Among the many, many spa experiences I’ve been fortunate to enjoy since my first spa article appeared in Toronto’s Globe & Mail in the mid 1990s, one has been the Turkish hammam. Most memorably in Marrakesh, Morocco and, closer to home, Ten Spa in Winnipeg.

But there is nothing like experiencing a spa “treatment” – cultural or otherwise – in its country of origin as I did recently at Pürovel Spa, Swissotel Izmir on the Aegean coast of Turkey – my first visit to that country.

Dating back to the Ottoman Empire when these public baths were created, the Turkish Hammam was not only a place of cleansing but a place of social gathering.

Turkish hammam, bathroom

Sitting with spa manager Cemal Azimli, fresh from my Turkish Hammam ritual (think beautiful mosaic tiled space, intense heat, water, soap, more water, more soap and repeat), feeling squeaky clean and sipping a chilled Ayran (a combo of yogurt, water and salt which helps bring one’s blood pressure back to normal following the heat of the hammam), I learn something about the Turkish hammam that I did not previously know.  

Azimli points out that in traditional times, mothers would take the young woman her son was planning to marry into the hammam to, unashamedly, check out her body to assess if she was “good enough” and “healthy enough” to produce grand children. Only then, says Azimli, “would she give her approval, or not.”  He smiles, “of course, they don’t do that anymore.”  Today, he says, it’s more common to use the hammam for bachelor and bachelorette parties.  And, of course, to simply relax and enjoy.

In Turkey as a guest of Swissotel, I was invited not only to experience the Turkish Hammam but to familiarize myself with this hotel brand built on a foundation of wellness. Even though the chain has been around since 1980, the Swiss-based company is not well known in North America. But if you are travelling to Europe or Asia and need hotel accommodation, it’s a name you’ll want to keep on your radar.

One chain-wide wellness-themed program is Vitality Cuisine offering vegetarian and gluten-free options along with nutritional information and calorie counts on menus. Plus there’s the new Vitality Guides. Drawing on the chain’s Alpine heritage (which includes enjoying outdoor pursuits as part of a balanced lifestyle) these interactive digital maps include key attractions within walking distance of each Swissôtel location and encourage guests to venture outside to explore. Exercise equipment – yoga mats, Pilates Rings and Swiss Balls, for instance –  for use in guestrooms is also available.  

Select hotels also offer Vitality Weekend packages including healthy meals, use of all fitness facilities and classes and a discount on spa treatments.

The Pürovel Spa & Sport program with full-service and beautifully-appointed onsite spas facilities, fitness facilities and an extensive list of daily classes, are available at about a dozen properties including three in Turkey. Some fitness classes offered are not the usual hotel fare. At the Swissoôtel in Istanbul, for instance, aqua fitness meets cycling with a 50-minute pool bike class.

All offerings are in-keeping with the new “well-tality” philosophy that more guests demand as they travel the globe for business or pleasure.

And, when in Turkey, if you are only going to book one spa treatment, it must, of course, be the country’s most famous wellness offering: The Hammam – a tradition so deeply ingrained in Turkish culture.

Anne Dimon is a Founding Member of the Wellness Tourism Association and Founder/CEO of Travel to Wellness