If you think you have to fly to Casablanca to enjoy an authentic Moroccan hammam, think again. Since Moroccan hammams are located in the exotic Sahara, it’s only fitting that there’s a U.S. version also located in a desert, but this time it’s the Sonoran in Arizona.
Hammams have their roots in Roman and Arab cultures dating back as far as the seventh century. In the Arab world, many were located near mosques so men could participate in washing and purification practices before prayers. When women were finally admitted to the hammam, they embraced it wholeheartedly. It was not just somewhere to bathe; it became the center of their daily life, giving them a place to socialize and scout for future daughters-in-law.
Today, hammams can be found in every city and town around Morocco. And though they vary greatly in décor and services, many are quite basic and often more communal than Americans are used to. Women and men are separated, but forget a private room. Water is heated by wood fires, and buckets are used for the wash-down, with bathers trotting back and forth to the hot and cold fountains to mix water to the perfect temperature. The women gossip; and often there are plenty of noisy children in attendance, so quiet and tranquil it’s not. The washing is usually topped off by a head-to-toe scrub-down, done either by an expert attendant, yourself or one of your fellow bathers. Moroccans are used to this seriously abrasive treatment aimed at scrubbing away layers of dry skin, so it’s definitely not for the faint of heart or sensitive of skin.
Joya Spa in the InterContinental Montelucia Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., has tweaked the basic hammam principles into a far more luxurious experience. The Moroccan-inspired spa occupies a 31,000-square-foot building and includes another 5,200 square feet of outdoor space, including a rooftop pool with stunning mountain views.
The hammam experience at Montelucia is a good deal more tranquil, not to mention more upscale, than the public hammams in Morocco, but the principles of bathing and exfoliating remain the same. The 25-minute Moroccan Ritual starts with relaxation in a warm room on a heated platform before an attendant arrives to escort you into a tiled treatment room for a Black Soap Body Cleansing, which is considerably less abrasive than the exfoliating scrub-downs given in Moroccan hammams. This is followed by a trip to the steam room, a cool break under a cold waterfall, a dip in the whirlpool, then trips to the sauna alternating with cold deluges.
Properly relaxed and invigorated, the next step is your treatment of choice. I figured if I was going to go Moroccan, I should go all the way. And there were plenty of Moroccan-inspired choices, including a menu of 80-minute treatments inspired by various Moroccan festivals.
The Rose Festival, a nod to the annual May celebration when farmers harvest the fragrant flower in Morocco’s Dades Valley (also known at the Valley of Roses), is a sweet, red-rose body treatment. The ritual starts with herb-infused mud, followed by a rose and plum body soufflé, good for oxygenating, skin softening and anti-aging.
The Cherry Harvest Festival celebrates the harvest of the thousands of cherry trees in the walled town of Sefrou. This treatment features a sour cherry wrap and cherry-plum body soufflé; the result is tightening, lifting, hydrating and firming.
But it was the Harvest Festival treatment that called to me, since it was touted as being especially good for those with dry skin, like myself. Morocco’s Harvest Festival takes place in Erfoud, an oasis town with nearly a million date palms. Every October the town’s people celebrate a bountiful harvest with music, dancing and camel races. At Montelucia’s Joya Spa, the Harvest Festival treatment includes a pumpkin, orange and quince apple body mask and a pear and apple body soufflé and toning wrap, which hydrates, making even my super-dry skin feel soft and moist.
Properly pampered and smelling delicious, I moved on to a Berber mud body wrap. Moroccan Berbers are known for their skill with clay. Besides making pots favored by collectors, the Berbers used clay for building houses appropriate for their harsh desert climate. Montelucia has taken the protective properties of clay one step further. Their exfoliating clay wraps are designed to target specific areas and counteract the effects of desert living. I was drawn to the Serenity Clay Wrap, which promised to produce inner calm, lessen stress and — a biggie for me — treat prematurely aged skin.
Glowing, feeling hydrated and relaxed, who could resist topping off all of this Moroccan-inspired pampering with a henna tattoo? The spa’s henna artist creates a one-of-a-kind design using symbols and patterns believed to protect your body from negativity. Tempting as it is to go for an intricate design, keep in mind this rule of thumb: the more involved the tattoo, the higher the cost.
If it’s in your price range, the spa’s Grand Plaza Suite is a sight to behold. This over-the-top luxury venue would no doubt render a typical Moroccan hammam-goer speechless. The 850-square-foot space is outfitted with a king-sized daybed, an oversized bathtub, a fireplace, a flat-screen TV and, the pièce de résistance, SO-sound treatment tables that gently move to the rhythm of soothing surround-sound music.
No question that the Montelucia Joya Spa is a Moroccan hammam on steroids. Still, despite being light years away from a typical simple Moroccan hammam, a trip to Montelucia is bound to conjure visions of Arabian Nights and the intriguing Sahara, with plenty of Western luxury thrown in for good measure.
Intercontinental Montelucia Resort & Spa
4949 E. Lincoln Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
tel 480 627 3020
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