Our days in Fes are good, and we enjoy a continuous flow of new Moroccan adventures. The day that the girls and I opted for a hammam experience is one of the more interesting. Similar to a Turkish bath, a hammam bath takes place in a large steam-filled room. Traditionally, Moroccans go each week to bathe, as most homes are without shower facilities.
We are on a cultural journey, therefore we opted for a traditional Moroccan hammam experience, the same one our host and her neighbours would use. We could have opted for a plush tourist style hammam but I am sure our experience would have been quite different.
Our traditional Moroccan hammam experience – getting ready
Unlike the tourist option where everything is provided, we needed to bring the authentic goopy brown, olive oil Moroccan hammam soap, a scrubbing mitt, and towel. Walking through the Fes Medina, our first stop was the souk to get the supplies.
We were accompanied by a delightful young man who worked at the Riad (traditional Moroccan accommodation) and functioned as our guide (for lack of a better word – he looked after us).
As we approached the store he suggested we stop and wait. Making the purchase on our behalf saved us over half price. He explained that a Moroccan will pay much less than a European.
Next stop was the public hammam. Without our guide, we never would have found it as the traditional hammam from the outside was just another unmarked doorway in the maze of narrow alleyways that make up the old medina. Our guide negotiated a price.
The hammam has different hours for men and women, and security is quite tight. This was the time of day allocated for women only, so our guide left us at the doorway.
⇒ Enjoy a hammam experience in Fes
Our traditional Moroccan hammam experience
Luxury aside, we wanted the authentic Moroccan hammam experience, and we were about to get it. A woman wearing a hijab led us into a changing area. Using hand signals, she instructed us to strip to our panties. I am not sure what I expected, but I was surprised she undressed as well.
The bathing room is a large tiled space occupied by several groups of women and children including boys up to about age 6. They were all talking, laughing and scrubbing each other.
The room was steamy, but not unbearable. A second tiled room off to the left had more extreme heat, however, it is for adults only (and I was staying with my girls).
We settled into an alcove at the side of the main room. The nakedness in this otherwise conservative country seemed somehow normal here. The locals scrub each other; we had a woman to do us.
She instructed us to sit on the floor, by pointing and gently pushing down on our shoulders. She filled a bucket with warm water and used a scoop to pour it over our shoulders. So far, so good.
Next, I lay on a pad she had placed on the ground, and she covered me with the goopy black soap we had purchased. Then she covered each of the girls. The experience was soothing and relaxing, despite the inherent awkwardness of a room full of undressed women.
Our traditional Moroccan hammam experience – the unexpected
It was time for my traditional scrub. The brochure for the tourist hammam experience describes it as a relaxing “massage”, and I was looking forward to it. Let me assure you; there was no relaxing in my future.
She began at my shoulders scrubbing with what felt like a steel wool mitt. I looked at my girls sitting there in their knickers wondering what I had gotten them into. The only thing I could think to say was, “Save yourself, run away now, hurry.“
The woman continued to scrub my entire body, every inch, removing piles of dead skin. I glowed (this would be their words, mine would be a bit harsher). Fortunately, there was a more gentle version for the girls.
Next, and quite unexpectedly, she poured a bucket of hot water over me. My overly sensitive newly scrubbed skin couldn’t take it, and I instinctively pushed my body away. The wet floor caused me to slide across the tiles, all the while screaming “OMG HOT, $#%^, #@*&, HOT, AAAHHHH.”
But that wasn’t the worst of it. After I had screamed from the heat, she tried to cool me down with cold water – and not just one bucket, two in a row. Needless to say, that resulted in more screaming, and I am pretty sure laughter from everyone else in the room.
Finally, it was over.
I was soft, clean, and glowing.
Obviously no photos inside hammam. Outside, around back, we can see the fire used to heat the water and make the steam.
Where to stay in Fes
We have been to Fes twice, as we liked it so much we had to go back a second time before we left Morocco. Both times we stayed at Riad al Atik. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house, generally quite unassuming on the exterior, but with a large courtyard or garden in the centre.
Riad al Atik is lovely, bright and cheerful. The rooms were comfortable (we had a different room on our second visit). The food is fantastic, and they are well known for their homemade ice creams that are only available for guests.
The proprietors live on the property and are friendly and helpful, and the guide that brought us to the hammam was a member of their staff. Located in the maze of streets in the Fes Medina, it is the perfect place to stay in Fes.
⇒ Check pricing and availability at Riad al Atik in Fes Morocco
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I have heard about Morrocan hammam and since its already on top of my travel bucket list, you absolutely hooked me to this post. Lived reading it and saved it.
i went to local Hammam in Marrakesh – it was so bizarre and so much fun – the same time – I will put the link on my name so you can have a laugh.
The mental image of you sliding across the tiled floor with a woman chasing you to toss cold water on you had me with tears running down my face … sorry to laugh at your misery. We are off to Morocco later this year and our local host has arranged a “local” hammam for us as well … obviously Therese will go at the ladies time and me at the men’s. I will now be fully braced for the experienced … and am sure my skin will just be glowing as well. YIKES!!!
OMG, I love this post! First of all, thank you for sharing that information, this is my first time hearing about this.
I am planning a trip to Morocco in the next year or so, and I am starting to read and learn some of the cultural aspects of this amazing destination.
What I was waiting to read was if you would ever do it again, was the “glow” worth it?
It was so interesting to read about your experience at the hammam epecially since you decided to go to the same ones the locals went to and not a touristy one. The scrub sounded very similiar to the Korean scrubs where it’s a bit painful but the end result is beautiful skin. The nakedness would not bother me as I am used to going to the hot springs growing up in Japan.
OMG, that is hilarious! I feel your pain, but it made for a delightful story. I’ve always wanted to do it, but have read enough accounts of the pain and awkwardness that I’ve shied away from them. What a hoot!
I not only love that you went with the traditional approach but that you are so honest in your reactions! I admire the entire experience for what it is, and can openly admit I may not have been as brave. It is an experience you cannot replace and one you will never forget, and there is something to be said about immersing ourselves authentically without allowing pride and fear to hold us back.
I dont know why I didnt enjoy Hammam in Morocco. Certainly one I visited in Turkey left me the cleanest I think I’ve ever been in my life. Oh well, next time!
Thank you for telling us about this experience. Now I know I will not be doing this hammam. I wish you showed jus before and after pictures though. Was it worth it?
What a cool thing to experience and also pretty funny too! We did a similar thing at a Hammam in Turkey and I did it once with my Nan and Mum and another time with my husband. It sounds like quite a similar process though you go on a huge slab that I nearly slid all the way across having just been soaped up with this huge balloon thing! My Mum and Nan were in stitches!
Wow, it sounds a bit stressful and not relaxing. I think I might stick to the tourist version. Thank you telling wha the experience was actually like.
I am sorry I had to laugh, picturing you under the buckets of hot and then cold water. Though I shouldn’t because we had a hamman experience in Istanbul, and while it wasn’t as traumatic, the hard scrubing of the skin was definitely edging toward painful! Relaxing is not the word I would use either. Squeaky clean for sure!
I’m sure it was much more of an experience than the tourist version would have been!! (And probably much cheaper too!)
Definitely more of an experience! And way cheaper. All three of us were about half the cost of one of us at the tourist version. I can go to “spa” anytime.
You should have gone for the tourist experience. Tee hee!
It sure would have been more fun and relaxing, but not the same “experience.” Our goal is, as much as possible, to learn how the locals live.
LOL Rhonda you and your family are having so many more experiences in your life than most people have! 🙂