Istanbul: Steam and Scrub in Style
Hamam trivia: Thank the Ottomans for thick water-absorbent Turkish towels, made by adapting their pile carpet-weaving techniques to flat-surface, nap-less cotton.
he Greeks and Romans caught on to the pleasures of steam rooms and therapeutic hot and cold baths over 2500 years ago, and almost since then, public baths have been popular in Turkey. It took the Ottomans to refine the hamam, or Turkish bath, combining the basic elements of the Roman bath with their own cultural traditions.
Fast forward to the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinksi in Istanbul, blessed not only with an idyllic site on the shores of the Bosphorus but with a 19th century Sultans palace, set apart from the modern wing of the hotel by gardens. The original palace was virtually destroyed by fire in 1909, and when Kempinski Hotels restored it over eighty years later, they rebuilt its grand imperial marble hamam, recreating the slender marble columns, delicately carved lintels and fretwork, and a light-filled dome.
This historic Ottoman hamam is not for bathing, but it has been used for romantic dinners.
The one you actually bathe in is at the Ciragan Health Club in the hotel s contemporary wing. The spa s centerpiece is a Turkish bath, where Ottoman hamam traditions meet Western sensibilities. For instance, you can book the hamam just for yourself, or with a partner, rather than sharing it with strangers.
This is hamam protocol: In a changing room you wrap yourself, sarong-style, in a large fringed towel, called a pestemal, before entering the hararet, a large, steamy, marble-clad room. A heated hexagonal marble platform occupies the center; marble fonts with hot and cold water spigots, and marble mihrab-shaped niches and shelves for soap and scrub cloths are spaced around the walls.
You lie on the hot marble for a few minutes before your (same sex) therapist douses you with water from a large copper bowl. A vigorous body scrub with a coarse lufa-like mitt, called a kese, removes dead skin in an exfoliation that gives new meaning to the process. A lavender soap bath with a soft knit rag follows, until you are awash in foamy suds, cleansed absolutely all over, and massaged. This completes the 45-minute Traditional Ciragan Body Scrub ($60). The 30-minute Turkish Regular Body Scrub ($60) includes only the body scrub.
Totally relaxed and probably dehydrated, it is time for tea, which might be cool hibiscus or mixed fruit tea rather than the traditional Turkish glass of hot tea.
Guests looking for more familiar Western spa therapies have an embarrassment of riches. There are massage rooms with outdoor decks, a shiatsu room, a wet treatment room with jet tub, two Finnish steam rooms, two Swedish saunas, and a solarium. A gym offers a variety of advanced equipment; a pretty hexagonal indoor pool is surrounded by a wall mural replicating the hotel s Bosphorus setting, even to a painted blue sky ceiling with wispy clouds. Outside a spectacular oversize heated infinity pool looks across the Bosphorus to Asia.
The Ciragan Health Club s massage therapies include:
– Reflexology, 45 minutes, $75,
– Lymph Drainage, 60 minutes, $130
– Jet Lag Massage, 35 minutes, $75
– Esalen Therapy (Swedish Massage), 60 minutes, $110
– Couples Massage, 60 minutes, $220
– Zen Therapy, 90 minutes, $165
Among the diverse beauty therapies and body treatments are:
– Exclusive Facials, 60 minutes, $75
– Moist Vital Facial- Moisture bath with aroma essences for very dry skin, 75 minutes, $90
– Herbal Balance Facial- Oily skin balancer with magic herbal essences, 90 minutes, $125
– Rejuvenating Facial – Extreme lifting effect and treatment for wrinkles, 90 minutes, $135
– Detoxifying Cellulite Algae Wrap, 75 minutes, $130
– Aroma Body Therapies, 30 minutes, $65
– Ultimate Hydrotherapy Baths, 65 minutes, $55
Several of these therapies are combined in daily spa packages:
– Cıragan Serenity – Royal Ottoman hydrotherapy bath and Zen therapy, 135 minutes
– Ottoman Beauty – Traditional body scrub in the Turkish Hamam and Esalen therapy, 105 minutes
– Utopia – Detoxifying cellulite algae wrap and manual lymph drainage massage, 120 minutes
– Authentic Cıragan Glow – Moist vital royal facial and Aroma Therapy, 135 minutes.
Taking advantage of the spa s breathtaking setting, most of the therapies and beauty treatments can be done outside in a small square gazebo with gauzy white side flaps by the shores of the Bosphorus.
Completely refurbished in 2004, Bosphorus-view rooms start at $645 April through October and $516 November through March; park-view rooms are $480 and $384, single or double occupancy.
Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski
Ciragan Caddesi 32 Beşiktaş