The best state to be in when you turn up for a relaxing spa treatment is to be stressed.
I showed up 10 minutes late for my Turkish hammam appointment at the Crystal Palace Spa in London – dodging tourists on a Saturday, you catch my drift? It’s not in Crystal Palace, south London nor does it look like a crystal palace like er, the Crystal Palace from outside. No, this Crystal Palace spa is in Marylebone with a glowing reputation if the reviews on Wahanda are anything to go by.
I bought a deal from Wahanda recently for £48 which offered a Turkish hammam experience for 90 minutes at this highly praised spa run by Turkish people.
Now as I wasn’t going to go to Turkey any time soon but this place offered Turkey to me with the traditional cleansing ritual on my doorstep, I wanted to grab the opportunity fast and the offer was a decent price to introduce a hammam virgin like myself to the experience.
I had the opportunity some years ago on a holiday in Istanbul but chickened out when I discovered I had to be virtually naked and decided to play with the resident kitten instead. But since overcoming my shyness and fears with other beauty treatments, I was feeling more confident and excited about trying a hammam especially a truly authentic one – in London!
So what is a hammam? A hammam or Turkish bath is a descendant from the famous Roman baths and were a part of Turkish tradition for hundreds of years and are still favoured in Turkey as a means to unwind and be thoroughly cleansed.
The Crystal Palace spa prides itself on a strict method and it’s only when you take the stairs to the basement of this salon are you suddenly whisked off to an exotic getaway. It was hard to believe I was in Marylebone where outside traffic was speeding at 40mph over the fly-over to Paddington.
And so my treatment began with a steam room where I spent a good 10-15 minutes working up a sweat so my pores opened up. This is crucial for the next part so it makes it easier for yourself and the therapist. It’s like plucking your eyebrows after a shower – it hurts much less or not at all. The salon also advises you to wear a swimming costume for this treatment but you have the choice of removing your bikini top if you so wish. There is absolute privacy guaranteed with only yourself and the therapist. The traditional hammams I’ve heard about in Turkey have a somewhat communal thing going on!
Then my lovely therapist led me to another room – the actual hammam where there is no natural light and it is dimly lit (a good thing so you don’t need to worry about your imperfections showing up!).
Armed with a traditional mitt called a Kese, my therapist exfoliated and massaged me on a marble table from top to bottom, shedding a layer of dirt and debris. I reckon it was actually layers and it felt *so* good.
The part I was looking forward to the most was having my back done. The exfoliation and massage was heavenly but when the therapist doused me gently with bowls of warm water (without splashing me in the face, I must add), to my horror I saw chunks of dead skin and debris wash off from the corner of my eye. I felt dirty and embarrassed but then you have to realise it’s a problematic area for everyone unless you’re a contortionist.
No modern showers or hose pipes are used; there is proper attention to detail for recreating an authentic Turkish hammam experience.
You might be used to a gentle massage on a comfortable bed in a fancy spa. Well this is a pretty vigorous work-out on your arms, back, shoulders, neck, legs, feet, toes, hands, fingers and chest and on a hard surface too but to be honest, I want to feel like a treatment is working and making a difference and this hammam hit the spot.
The therapist then lathered me up with a generous serving of soap suds, courtesy of some olive oil soap and an odd shaped sack, posing as a pillowcase. The sack is swished around in warm water before having air blown into it, which then forces the soapy air thorough fine holes and onto your torso. It looked quite bizarre but fascinating at the same time.
Finally I was smeared with a full body and face mask and left to relax on the marble table for about 10 minutes before I was helped up and asked to rinse it all off in a shower cubicle while the therapist left the room. You must be careful with the slippery surface of the marble table when turning over and getting up, mind. My therapist was very kind to remind me so I didn’t fly off the table.
The spa rooms they have created are divinely beautiful with nice touches, probably rivals a lot of 5 star places in Turkey alone.
My only gripe with Crystal Palace is their changing/dressing facilities are a tight squeeze that essentially only one person at a time can use. Lockers are provided for your personal belongings but I guess when appointments are spaced out well, you can be sure of absolute privacy.
I also wouldn’t worry about shaving, epilating or waxing your legs. I don’t think there is anything used that could aggravate or sting you if you did it on the day but if you think about it, you’d be getting an excellent exfoliation that would deal with ingrowing hairs amazingly so you could leave that till afterwards.
The service at this spa was impeccable from the moment I booked my treatment over the telephone (no trouble getting an appointment at short notice) to when I left the place. The staff are deeply polite, helpful and friendly, and regularly checking if you’d like a drink of water or if there is anything else they can help you with. I’m just sorry and embarrassed for being late!
Will I return? I’m already planning when to book my next appointment and one of my best friends is very keen on trying the hammam. I’ve had a body polish at a high-end spa but this Turkish hammam blew that out of the water. It felt like it really made a difference to my wellbeing and appearance with lasting results. I can’t describe in enough words how smooth I felt and how much my skin glowed – even my arms appeared brighter!
A hammam would be great before a special occasion especially if you’re going to wear something back or shoulder-less, a holiday or for the fake bakers, before applying tanning lotion. Then again it’s just lovely to indulge in one when you live in a polluted city and have to endure the London underground.
The spa’s opening hours is a winner at 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week so you could pop in after work to unwind.
Treatments start from £50, which I believe is very reasonable especially going by London prices.
A few pointers:
- Bring your own shampoo (the spa is not equipped to cater and had odd products like shampoo for curly hair)
- In fact bring your own toiletries (cleanser, moisturiser, etc) unless you are happy to go commando on the face after.
- There are no facilities to plug in hair styling devices.