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Hot & Steamy: Hammams

The traditional Turkish steam bath plays an important role in the community as a gathering place for both men and women. Within Morocco, there are public hammams in almost every city, town, and village, and this is often the only place to get clean for those households that still lack running water. There's also a strong religious connotation attached to the hammam, with many Muslims cleansing themselves here before prayer. Morocco's public hammams are largely welcoming to visitors, bar those located close to mosques and other Islamic monuments. Public hammams are strictly segregated -- some may be men or women only, or have separate entrances, while others are open to a particular sex at specific hours or on separate days. Entrance is usually 5dh per person per session, paid to an attendant at the hammam entrance, where bathers belongings are stored for safekeeping.

Once changed into hammam attire, bathers head into the steam rooms, locate an empty bucket and scoop, find a spot to sit down, and begin the process of opening the pores through sweating, interspersed with an alternate dousing of hot and cold water from the bucket, filled from a communal tap located within the room. Moroccans also like to indulge in some gommage (a rigorous exfoliation performed with a harsh, flannel glove), a body wrap or hair wash using a fine clay mixed with herbs and lavender called ghassoul, or a simple body wash with sabon bildi, a black, oily, olive oil-based, gel-like soap. There are usually attendants on hand who offer these traditional services, as well as an on-the-floor massage, for a small gratuity of around 20dh.

Reception staff at any good hotel or maison d'hôte will be able to direct travelers to the nearest public hammam. Take your own towel, a change of underwear/shorts, soap (though this can usually also be purchased at the hammam), shampoo (if required), and a plastic mat to sit on. Tourist-friendly and in-house hammams (such as those listed below and throughout this book) will usually provide the towel and soap, and won't require the plastic mat.

In the medina is Hammam Ziani, 14 rue Riad Zitoun Jdid (tel. 0662/715571 or 0668/882247; www.hammamziani.ma), where you can get a massage, scrub, seaweed bath, mud wrap, bathrobe, and toiletries bag for 300dh. A simple massage and scrub is 155dh, or if you just want to do your own thing then entrance into the hammam is 35dh for adults Monday to Thursday and 45dh Friday to Sunday and public holidays. Children 3 to 12 pay 20dh any day, and children 2 and under pay 10dh. It's open daily for men and women (separate entrances) from 8am to 10pm. Close by is Medina Spa, 27 Derb Zaari, off rue Riad Zitoun Jdid (tel. 0524/385059 or 0664/333130; www.medina-spa-marrakech.com). One of the newer hammams to open in recent years, this modern and classy outfit is in a converted dar, complete with open courtyard. Inside you'll find two hammams, eight private massage rooms, beauty treatment room, and a post-hammam relaxation space, while on the rooftop is a small Jacuzzi and sun loungers. Among their offerings is a heavenly Serenity Bath for 300dh (1 person) or 380dh (2 people), which is an hour-long session in one of their hot tubs, complete with bath salts, candles, rose petals, and soothing music. A traditional hammam session with scrub and massage costs 300dh. Open daily for both men and women from 10am to 9pm.

Les Secrets de Marrakech, 62 rue de la Liberté, Guéliz (tel. 0524/434848), is a very classy hammam and spa that offers a variety of massages, aromatherapy treatments, body wraps, and pedicures. They also sell an exquisite range of natural soaps, scrubs, bath salts, and oils. A 20-minute post-hammam facial and head massage costs 160dh, and a full 1 1/2-hour package costs 580dh to 680dh, and includes entrance into the hammam followed by a gommage, body wrap in ghassoul or argan and cinnamon oil, and a massage. It's open Monday to Saturday for both genders from 10am to 8pm.

Many maisons d'hôte and high-end hotels have in-house hammams, but most of these are for guests only. The small hammam and massage room at the Jnane Mogador, however, is open to the public by appointment between 9am and 11pm daily. It offers a Berbère Hammam exfoliation scrub, natural soap wash, and mud body wrap for 125dh; a range of 45-minute massages including sports and shiatsu, and runs from 180dh to 400dh.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.