Heavenly hammam in Paris

This item appears on page 16 of the April 2011 issue.
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One of the largest mosques in Europe is the Grand Mosquée in Paris (39, rue Saint-Hilaire; phone 01 43 31 38 20). It’s on the southeast corner of rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and rue Daubenton, across from the Jardin des Plantes. In October ’10, my traveling companion and I ventured to the mosque’s hammam (Turkish bath).

We were not able to go into the mosque, itself, because it was a holy day, but we went around the block to a lovely gateway through which a tea garden led into the building. We found the women’s entrance to the hammam behind a glass counter of pastries.

Once inside, we heard only French and Farsi spoken. Despite the language difficulties (my companion speaks very passable French), we paid the fees. For each of us, the costs were as follows: entrance fee: €15 (near $21); black soap, exfoliating glove and mint tea, €11; towel rental, €4, and 30-minute massage, €30 — total, €60 ($83).

Friendly, waving hands pointed us to the locker room, where we changed into the bathing suits we’d brought with us. Most of the women wore bikini bottoms only.

After showering, we entered a tiled steam room reminiscent of a harem. The high Moorish ceilings dripped moisture, the elevated marble and tile seating was heated, and small fountains in the walls dispensed cool water to splash over our bodies.

We lathered with the black soap and used the exfoliating gloves, cooling off with buckets of water and periodically stepping back out to the showers. An adjacent room provided even hotter temperatures and included a hot tub.

From the hot rooms, we moved to a room where a small woman with muscular arms exfoliated our bodies using a coarse glove, literally peeling away layers of dead skin. Another shower followed.

We headed next to the main reception room and massage center, which was filled with mosaics and elevated marble seating and columns, all centered on a porphyry fountain. We were served hot mint tea as we waited, surrounded by women of different nationalities, ages and races, all relaxing and chatting.

It was soon my turn on the massage table. The masseuse liberally poured eucalyptus oil over my entire body (I had, by this time, shed the swimsuit in favor of a towel) and, with powerful hands, gave a deep and complete massage, working the oil into my scalp and down to my toes, all the while conversing in Farsi with the three other masseuses in the room.

After more showers, we changed into our street clothes and emerged, 3½ hours after our arrival, feeling boneless, like blobs, our bodies and minds completely relaxed.

There is no time limit for how long you can stay in the baths, and everything is self-paced, although you do have to sign up at the beginning for the massage.

A massage costs €10 (near $14) for 10 minutes. You can save money by bringing your own towel. Dressing gowns cost €5. Shower sandals are provided (or you can bring your own). Hair removal is another service charged for.

You can buy a package that includes a lunch of lamb couscous or lamb tagine.

There are separate hours and days for men and women, so check their website or call ahead. The only caution I’d add is that sanitary conditions are not on par with what Americans usually expect in salons, but would I go back? Definitely!

NANCY SWIDER
Port St. Joe, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

One of the largest mosques in Europe is the Grand Mosquée in Paris (39, rue Saint-Hilaire; phone 01 43 31 38 20). It’s on the southeast corner of rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and rue Daubenton, across from the Jardin des Plantes. In October ’10, my traveling companion and I ventured to the mosque’s hammam (Turkish bath).

We were not able to go into the mosque, itself, because it was a holy day, but we went around the block to a lovely gateway through which a tea garden led into the building. We found the women’s entrance to the hammam behind a glass counter of pastries.

Once inside, we heard only French and Farsi spoken. Despite the language difficulties (my companion speaks very passable French), we paid the fees. For each of us, the costs were as follows: entrance fee: €15 (near $21); black soap, exfoliating glove and mint tea, €11; towel rental, €4, and 30-minute massage, €30 — total, €60 ($83).

Friendly, waving hands pointed us to the locker room, where we changed into the bathing suits we’d brought with us. Most of the women wore bikini bottoms only.

After showering, we entered a tiled steam room reminiscent of a harem. The high Moorish ceilings dripped moisture, the elevated marble and tile seating was heated, and small fountains in the walls dispensed cool water to splash over our bodies.

We lathered with the black soap and used the exfoliating gloves, cooling off with buckets of water and periodically stepping back out to the showers. An adjacent room provided even hotter temperatures and included a hot tub.

From the hot rooms, we moved to a room where a small woman with muscular arms exfoliated our bodies using a coarse glove, literally peeling away layers of dead skin. Another shower followed.

We headed next to the main reception room and massage center, which was filled with mosaics and elevated marble seating and columns, all centered on a porphyry fountain. We were served hot mint tea as we waited, surrounded by women of different nationalities, ages and races, all relaxing and chatting.

It was soon my turn on the massage table. The masseuse liberally poured eucalyptus oil over my entire body (I had, by this time, shed the swimsuit in favor of a towel) and, with powerful hands, gave a deep and complete massage, working the oil into my scalp and down to my toes, all the while conversing in Farsi with the three other masseuses in the room.

After more showers, we changed into our street clothes and emerged, 3½ hours after our arrival, feeling boneless, like blobs, our bodies and minds completely relaxed.

There is no time limit for how long you can stay in the baths, and everything is self-paced, although you do have to sign up at the beginning for the massage.

A massage costs €10 (near $14) for 10 minutes. You can save money by bringing your own towel. Dressing gowns cost €5. Shower sandals are provided (or you can bring your own). Hair removal is another service charged for.

You can buy a package that includes a lunch of lamb couscous or lamb tagine.

There are separate hours and days for men and women, so check their website or call ahead. The only caution I’d add is that sanitary conditions are not on par with what Americans usually expect in salons, but would I go back? Definitely!

NANCY SWIDER
Port St. Joe, FL