Luxury in the Hammam: Hyatt Regency Istanbul
The city of Istanbul is like no other: Straddling both Europe and Asia, it encompasses both an Old City and a newer one, separated by the Golden Horn. Thanks to this dichotomy and diversity, Istanbul is a beguiling amalgam of old and new, a place where centuries of history and legend co-exist with trendy restaurants and clubs, and where Byzantine mosaics and cobbled streets have blended with soaring skyscrapers and luxury hotels.
The Hyatt Regency, a sleek modern hotel with a five-star location high above the Bosphurus, reflects the city’s diversity. Though it offers every convenience for both the leisure and business traveler, the hospitality and service are comfortingly old-fashioned, particularly in the spa.
What I was looking for when I visited the Gaia Spa was something “old-fashioned,” an authentic hammam experience that had its origins centuries ago in both Greek and Roman culture, but which had been refined by the Ottoman Turks. Of course, what I really wanted was a hammam that was somewhat more luxurious than those of ancient times. I was not disappointed.
The entrance to the spa is a decorative mosaic of coconut shells; the treatment rooms are quiet and soothing and the therapists all trained to Hyatt standards. But the crown jewel is the spacious hammam, a rich and elegant study in white marble, with a heated floor, shell-shaped marble sinks, decorative brass basins and a raised heated platform upon which the ritual would be performed.
My esthetician, Ozlem Dedeoglu, was a woman with an exuberant personality and a hearty laugh. Though it was near the end of her work day, she greeted me with enthusiasm and energy and invited me to “soak” in the steam for a few minutes to open my pores. She wore a swimsuit, as did I, though mine came off in increments as the bathing progressed. When we were ready to start, she rolled a towel under my head and doused me with a basin of water so hot that it took my breath away. Then she began to scrub me with a kese, an exfoliation so vigorous that my light tan began to melt away. The process should have been painful, but it wasn’t; it was like the scrubbing my mother used to give me when I was a child, and it left my skin tingling.
Next Ozlem dipped a lacy bag into the water, opened it and swung it around a bit to fill it with air until it “poufed” like a balloon. She blew through it to create bubbles and the next thing I knew I was covered in soft, fragrant suds. I felt as if my skin must be as silky and smooth as the blanket of suds.
Now my head was being briskly massaged; then the rest of me was being vigorously pummeled. In spite of this, I was settling into a pleasant doziness. Suddenly I was doused with icy water! To say that I was shocked into wakefulness is an understatement but that, too, felt good. I thanked Ozlem for a remarkable experience.
In addition to the hammam ritual (45 minutes, $90), the Gaia Spa has a full menu that includes signature massages from around the world, a two-hour Jet Lag Recovery (about $165), a variety of wraps and cellulite treatments and a full complement of facials, from hydrating to purifying to anti-aging. There is also a fitness center with an exercise room for yoga and Pilates.
When I left the hammam, exercise was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, as I headed for the relaxation area, I was so “loose,” I could scarcely walk a straight line. After I cooled down and drank some water, I returned to my room, where my sense of being pampered lingered. The guest rooms at this hotel are exceptionally spacious, with big bathrooms, soaking tubs and separate showers with “monsoon” shower heads. I slipped between crisp linens, sank into the very comfortable bed and fell into a truly deep sleep, not waking until it was time for breakfast.
As with all the luxury hotels in Istanbul, it’s best to book a bed-and-breakfast rate, as the breakfast buffet is a thing of beauty, with an abundance of local and international dishes that can fortify the biggest appetite for a day of sightseeing. As of this writing, rooms started at about $360; rooms on the club floor were about $470; this includes not only breakfast, but the use of a spacious lounge with scenic views, business amenities and a lavish cocktail hour.
The hotel has a number of dining options, including an award-winning Italian restaurant, Spazio, and an inviting afternoon tea on the mezzanine. However the hotel is so conveniently located in the heart of business district, a short stroll to Taksim Square, that it’s more fun to go out for shopping, dining and entertainment. A good guidebook will provide plenty of suggestions. Through the Hyatt E-Concierge service, it’s also possible to arrange activities prior to arrival, along with private car and limousine service, airport transfers and other services.
For more information, visit istanbul.regency.hyatt.com