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BLOG The Turkish Bath Experience – What to Expect

5 May 2021 / Culture

A visit to the hamam (ham-am) is a traditional part of Turkish life. Whether you visit Antalya on vacation or live here all year round, you’ll no doubt have passed them, or seen them advertised as a possible holiday activity.

If you haven’t experienced a Turkish bath before, you might be a little nervous about booking a session. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

What is a hamam?

A hamam is a public bath, long associated with Islamic culture. Public baths have played an important role throughout history, acting as a social hub as well as a place for people to get clean. This is still the case in some communities, but for many the Turkish bath is also a luxurious spa experience that leaves them feeling relaxed and with a sense of wellbeing. Either way, it’s a ritual that has stood the test of time.

Most hamams offer both single-sex and mixed sessions, and some are also family-friendly. If you are at all uncomfortable at the thought of being semi-naked among strangers, make sure you book in for a male-only or female-only time slot.

For many visitors, a Turkish bath is a must-do at the start of their holiday in preparation for getting that all-important sun tan.

Choosing the right service

You’ll find most hamams offer a range of different services and add-ons.

As the name suggests, self-service is the do-it-yourself option. A towel and soap might be provided, but you could be expected to bring your own, so check beforehand.

The traditional service is the proper Turkish bath experience, where everything is provided and an attendant will wash and massage you thoroughly. It’s the best option for first-time visitors and for those who want to feel the full benefit afterwards.

Additional services, such as Indian head massage, aromatherapy treatments, facials and reflexology are also offered at many hamams. You’ll generally need to book these in advance and they’re a great choice if you enjoy being thoroughly pampered.

What to take with you

If you’re going for the traditional service, everything needed for the Turkish bath is provided, including towels and toiletries. Some hamams even offer disposable underwear, but you might prefer your own swimwear.

You’ll need to take your usual post-bath necessities – clothes, underwear and any items such as anti-perspirant, body and hair-care products, or cosmetics.

For self-service, check with the hamam first to see if anything is supplied; otherwise, you will need to take your own shampoo, soap, wash mitt, towel and anything else you require.

You’ll be expected to leave all your personal items in the changing area; a locker will be provided for this purpose.

What happens during the Turkish bath?

The exact process will vary slightly from place to place, but the basic experience is the same. It’s worth knowing that while it’s traditional for men to be naked beneath the peştemal (pesh-the-mal), a thin cotton towel, some hamams will require you to wear swim trunks or you might simply feel more comfortable covered. For women, you should always wear pants or bikini briefs, but it’s generally your choice whether you cover your top half or not.

To begin with, you may be invited to spend some time in a sauna before being taken to the sıcaklık (suh-jack-luck), or hot room. Predominantly marble, there will be a number of washing stations with basins around the edge. In the middle is the göbek taşı (gur-bek tash-uh), or heating stone, which is generally large enough for several people to use at once. Some hamams offer individual tables or even private rooms.

Warm water will be poured over your body, either at a wash station or the central platform, and you’ll be left for a few minutes while your skin softens. You’ll then lie on the marble stone while an attendant scrubs all the dead skin cells from your body with a special mitten, called a kese (keh-sheh). It’s not at all painful, but the amount of skin that comes off may be a shock!

Once this is over, you’ll be rinsed with more water and then submerged in bubbles. This is just as relaxing as you might expect, and you’ll be given a gentle massage before being rinsed again. You’ll then sit up and the attendant will wash your hair before wrapping you in clean, dry towels.

Most hamams have a relaxation area and you’ll usually be offered a drink, such as water or çay (chai). It’s a good idea to accept as it will rehydrate you; you’ll have lost moisture sweating in the hot room. You can spend as long as you like here, resting, reading a book or chatting with friends. Leave whenever you’re ready but be warned – once you get back to your villa or apartment in Antalya, you’ll probably just want to go to sleep!

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