I’m going to put my neck on the line here – nothing, absolutely nothing can beat a traditional hammam. I’ve had body scrubs and massages in 5 star hotels and lazed about all day in luxurious spa resorts but not one of them comes within an inch of a hammam. Centuries old, thank heavens the cleansing ritual is being kept alive, and right here in London at Casa Spa or Casablanca Spa as it’s also known.
Situated on the busy Edgware Road but actually closer to the leafy Maida Vale, the outside of Casa Spa couldn’t be more deceiving. It’s sandwiched between two shops and has a double white wooden door guarding the entrance. I rang the bell a few times like an absolute pillock till I noticed the latch and pulled at it.
Inside is a pokey little reception area with traditional Moroccan seating. The sound of the busy traffic whizzing past on Edgware Road is audible but muffled. I wasn’t turned off one bit as I’d read some reviews online including one from Time Out plus Casa Spa had been featured on an episode of Come Dine With Me – that’s a winning formula alone.
So why on earth did I drag myself out of bed early on a Sunday morning? It was for a ‘traditional hammam ghassoul experience’ - Moroccan style. I’ve had a Turkish hammam but it was explained the Moroccan way is slightly different in that they don’t swish foaming soap all over you but rub black soap and argan oil instead.
From where it originates from, going for a hammam is as common as getting your hair or nails done. It’s a beautifying process but also a way of socialising for both men and women (separately of course!)
Realising how windy it was outside, I was glad to be in the refuge of the spa. I was advised not to apply any oils at least 24 hours before treatment and to bring my own swimwear. Lockers, flip-flops, toiletries, hair dryers and towels are provided.
After getting changed, I was led down some stairs to where the spa is hidden. The first stop was the steam room where an assistant graciously laid a towel on a marble bench and asked me to be seated. I spent a good 5 – 10 minutes as the room steamed up, waiting for my pores to open and my skin to soften. At regular intervals a friendly lady kept coming in to check I was ‘ready’ – the result of not having such a treatment regularly meant it was taking longer than usual for my skin to become soft enough to scrub.
I then had Savon Noir (black soap with argan oil) smeared all over my skin in preparation for the exfoliation that awaited me. It does feel strange being told when to stand up and turn and have someone wash you, sort of like when you were a child being bathed by your mum. After I had been soaped up, I was told to relax for a few more minutes in the steam room.
When my time was up, the friendly lady appeared again before me and addressed me as Cleopatra. How nice! She began chatting to me and as I answered her questions, I was splashed in the face with cold water from something that resembled a chalice while the crazy shrills of the woman wailing like a banshee filled the room. This part is the actual hammam bit so it would be ridiculous to leave it out. If you’re a wallflower, then perhaps this kind of treatment might freak you out. You’ve got to have an open mind and respect the tradition but I assure you, it’s so worth it.
Once I had been doused, she disappeared and another lady followed with a Kessa glove. I lay on the marble bench as she exfoliated me with what felt like a scouring pad. Happily (or maybe disapprovingly), she showed me the amount of dead skin coming off the glove. They were actual lumps and it was so satisfying! You won’t get this kind of result through other salon treatments, believe me.
Finally came the full body mud mask or the ‘Purus Ghassoul’. The therapist applied the mud all over including my hair and massaged, before leaving me to enjoy the steam room for one last session. After I was rinsed all over and taken to a private cubicle to shower alone.
Wrapped in a huge towel, I was taken to the lounge area to chill out while I was served a fresh fruit salad, mint tea and baklava. A couple opposite me chatted quietly though this was disrupted when we heard a woman shrieking in the steam room. Yeah, you guessed it – it was the one-sided water fight. I admit I laughed. I had to.
But the best was yet to come – a holistic body massage. This is an extra treatment you can book after the hammam and I suggest you do. Using scented oils, my therapist massaged the soles of my feet, legs, stomach, back, shoulders and head. She was so good even during the point where I had to grit my teeth as she loosened the agonising knots in my back and shoulders. The difference was unbelievable afterwards – I felt like a massive weight had literally been lifted off me. It’s shocking how much tension I had been carrying.
When I left the spa and looked at my watch I had been inside for nearly 4 hours! I had lost track of time and completely submerged myself in the experience.
There is something extraordinary and fascinating about a hammam. Perhaps its because it still feels foreign amongst all the modern day spa treatments we have been spoiled with but it’s something I absolutely love. Hammams and rhassouls are all about cleansing, drawing out excess water and toxins to leave your skin glowing and silky smooth. And the best thing? You needn’t book a flight to Marrakech or Istanbul when it’s right here on your doorstep.
To find out more about Casa Spa and the various packages it offers, visit their website www.casaspa.co.uk.
Casa Spa – Edgware Road branch, 439 Edgware Road, London, W2 1TH
*I was a guest at Casa Spa for review purposes.