A traditional Moroccan hammam is a memorable experience. Five years and two months later, I can vividly recall nearly every detail of my first such venture into the neighborhood baths of a city in southern Morocco.
Surely it was made more memorable by my companion, my then-boyfriend's Moroccan mother who I had met for the first time just a few days before. Not the most conventional way to get to know your partner's family, at least from my cultural reference, but always one for new (and usually odd) experiences, I gamely agreed to go.
Unlike the baths I have been to in other countries since, this was not a tourist destination, nor an expensive spa treatment; plenty of local women were there, chatting and scrubbing. Some briskly went about their business, others relaxed for hours or hired women to wash them in the steamy chambers that grew successively hotter as you went deeper into the hammam.
In Cairo's Hammam Dar El Maghreb, you won't find this languid, no-frills, communal experience, but you can enjoy a good scrubbing at the hands of an experienced therapist.
Reader be warned, it's the type of beauty treatment best approached with a "no pain no gain" mentality.
No matter how much you scrub at home, you can never hope to reach the level of exfoliation that a woman who is seemingly unfazed by the layers of skin rolling up and falling off you can achieve. Plus, you'd likely wimp out before working through that raw, burning sensation that is, unfortunately, an integral part of the process.
Although the end result of cleaner, healthier skin is well worth it — the proof is in the stuff you'll see washed down the drain — the spa suffers from a few kinks that put a bit of a damper on the experience itself. Although we had appointments and there was no one else at the spa when a friend and I went at 11 am on a weekday, we waited a half hour for the room to be prepared. Then we were ushered together into the fairly cold room to wait while sporadic bursts of steam did little to heat us up. The two therapists finally acknowledged the room wasn't working properly and put us in individual treatment rooms. It wasn't sauna hot like I wanted it to be, and the steam generator periodically shut off as if it was on a timer, but the room was certainly more comfortable than the first.
The hammam entails a wash with olive oil soap from Morocco, a lengthy full-body scrub, which is done with a black loofah mitt, another wash with generic soap, and a shampoo and conditioning. All of this is done as you sit or lay on a marble table. There was also a 15-minute massage and a body and face coconut mask included in our package, which were enjoyable but may leave you feeling a bit water-logged as the treatment stretches to at least 90 minutes.
The spa has several lounge areas where you can dry off and relax, but no one came to check on us after the treatment, offer a drink or tell us how long we should wait before going outside. Bring your own lotion and water as you and your skin and will be quite parched after the hammam.
We purchased the package including the massage and coconut mask from livingsocial.com for LE135, which was a steal, even despite the spa's shortcomings. Typically the full-price package would cost LE270, so shop around for offers. As of publication the spa had vouchers on dealoola.com and offeratak.com and also posts discounts on its Facebook group. You can bring your own loofah glove or purchase one at the spa for LE25.
Hammam Dar El Maghreb
Address: 16 Salah Eddin Mostafa Street, Mohandiseen Tel: 3335-5925 or 010-0695-8587 Hours: Monday–Sunday 11 am–9:30 pm