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.
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 the 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.
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