2019-01-01 / ReBooted

The Heat Is On

Jill Gleeson

I’ve long believed there is little better than a day at the spa. I’ve been lucky enough to sample some amazing spas, like Caracalla Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany — which dates back to the Roman days and features naked co-ed baths — and Quebec’s Le Nordik, where I took a dip in the Jacques-Cartier River. In February. As stimulating as those spots were, nothing in my previous experience prepared me for the hammam I visited in the Riad Farnatchi, a small and exquisitely beautiful boutique hotel tucked away in the midst of the bustling Marrakech medina, or old city.

The riad (a Moroccan house with a central garden) was so ornate and sumptuous it most resembled the set of some exotic Hollywood film from the ’60s, the kind that was filmed in “technicolor” and starred ultra-glamorous people like Elizabeth Taylor. Everywhere were ornately carved wooden doors and arches, elaborate wrought-iron railings and banisters, curtains and bedding and furniture in jewel-toned fabrics shimmering with iridescence or in deep, rich velvet, and, of course, those jazzy, punched-metal Moroccan lamps.

Situated snugly within the Farnatchi Spa, the hammam (the word refers both to a bathhouse and the cleansing ritual that occurs there) was every bit as lovely as the rest of the property, with an antechamber lined in shining black-and-white tile set in a diamond pattern and doors etched in delicate patterns. Once inside, I was directed by an attendant to change into a minute and cringe-worthy paper thong and then head into the tiny private steam room.

Dimly lit, containing just two marble benches and a pair of spigots, it was so hot and humid I was bathed in sweat instantly upon entering. South Florida in August, where my sunglasses fogged whenever I was forced out of air-conditioned interiors, was cool in comparison.

I took a deep breath and laid down on the bench. It was hot. So very hot. But I knew this environment was healing; my perspiration was flushing out of my opened pores nasty toxins that had been trapped within my body. I closed my eyes, attempted to meditate and failed. I tried focusing on something else, anything else, besides the heat. The petulant camel I’d ridden in the Sahara. My new boyfriend, Matt. My epically overdue taxes.

After a while I gave up and simply marveled at the temperature. It had to be about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. With 100 percent humidity. Finally, the attendant slipped into the room. Bearing the black soap, pulpy with olives, that are common to all Moroccan hammams, she rubbed it all over my body until I was sheathed in a thin layer of the stuff. And then she was gone again.

I don’t know how long it was before she returned. By that point I was limp with the heat. Filling up giant pails with warm water from the spigot, she washed me over and over until every trace of the soap was gone. After she slid the traditional kessa exfoliating glove on her hand, she next scoured me from my toes nearly to my nose with an argan seed scrub.

From then on the balmy pleasures blended seamlessly from one into another: the application of a rhassoul clay (mined from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains) mask; what seemed like a happily endless rinse with rose milk. When I finally became so overheated that I thought I might explode like a handful of Mentos dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke, I was doused with buckets of magnificently cool water. After a final slathering in body cream, I strolled out of the hammam red as a newborn baby, with skin just as soft.

Bundled up in a big robe, I settled into the spa’s relaxation room, where I was served sweet Moroccan mint tea. I don’t think my skin had ever felt so soft. According to the folks at Riad Farnatchi, other benefits of a hammam include improved circulation and skin hydration, stress reduction and better sleep. I know I felt calm and centered after the experience. I’d love to go back for another round... I’d even wear that paper thong again. •SCM

For more information about Riad Farnatchi, visit

Jill Gleeson is on the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey on her blog at and via her column at

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