Athens – one of my favorite cities in the world- can be overwhelming. I would think I would be used to it. I’m from Manhattan, which is still bigger and more hectic. But New York is only about 300 years old. It’s the daunting age of Athens that makes the experience so complex. Ironically, the perfect cure is yet another authentic cultural experience- a real Turkish-style hammam, right in the heart of Athens in Plaka.
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Al Hammam – an Authentic Turkish Bath Experience
Near the bathhouse of the winds is Al Hammam, the most authentic experience of Turkish bath culture you can have outside of Istanbul. We slipped into another world when we opened the door- fragrant, calm welcoming.
The idea is to slowly give yourself over to the experience. First, undress and wear a bathing suit or the disposable panties they give you. There is a charming (un)dressing room where you will be provided with a locker for your things. They will also give you a Peshtemal- a rough cotton cloth, large enough to wrap around your body like a pareo. Now you’re ready to enter the Hammam. You will love it.
Enter a marble room in an eastern mood with a domed roof. Marble benches line the walls. There are beautiful spigots, for hot and cold water, and small metal tubs to catch it, but no drain. In the center is a large marble slab- big enough for two. Open your peshtamal like a beach towel and stretch out. The steam and the warmth will unravel you completely
Once the steam and the warmth have softened your skin (and your attitude), a bathing attendant will come. The first step is a gentle, skin smoothing massage with a rough mitt. But the next step is completely unexpected (unless you have been to a hammam in Istanbul). In a metal bin, the attendant makes a densely soapy water, using small bars of classic white soap. It smells like childhood.
Now, she takes something that looks like a a pillowcase and swishes it around in the soapy water. Then she twists it in the air until it fills with billowing foam like a balloon. She claps, and the foam falls on you like a warm moist cloud. Then she does it again, and again, and again. Now you are encased in a cloud of softy dissolving foam. If you’re quiet, you can hear thousands of tiny bubbles pop, and it sounds like sand pulled by the tide.
Now you turn over, and have the same experience again. Then you have your hair washed but you are so relaxed you almost cannot move your neck.
The treatment ends with tepid water poured gently over you, head to toe. You will be revived (but not shocked).
Hospitality, Asia Minor style
Dry off and dress slowly. It’s not time to rejoin the outside world yet though. Instead, we go up to the terrace. Al Hammam is at the edge of charming the Anafiotika section of Plaka. The view is intimate and peaceful. Up here, we are served tea. We drink it from beautiful tea glasses. There are loukoumia- often known throughout the rest of the world as Turkish Delight. Their flavors- rose, bergamot- are as exotic as the experience. I have some with a group of friends from Travel Bloggers Greece. We unwind together as dusk settles over the city.
Athens has never felt more peaceful.
You will find al Hammam at 16 Tripodon & Ragava 10 St. Plaka, Athens- near the Bath house of the Winds.
They’re open every day, also Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 – 22:00
Call for an appointment at: (+30) 211 012 9099, or visit their site.
Al Hammam has a location in Chania also.