Finding massages and spas is another way to explore the cultures and sub-cultures of cities (well, the best, if time permits, is to do a massage after a walk!). There is the unbeatable onsen in Japan (best is to go to the traditional ryokans that serve their kaiseki in your room). It is simply one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Paris has almost everything. But most interesting of all is the Moroccan hammam which almost every Parisian girl does, a bit like the facial in Hong Kong.
There are many good hammams in Paris but one has to try the one inside the Paris Mosque once. Yes the mosque has a hammam – and it is actually extremely popular as well.
Very much part of Parisian life, the architecture is stunning. Go and do what everyone else does: go for a hammam (a steam) in many of its hot rooms (and gaze at the ornate ceilings and tiles), a gommage (a scrub with black soap), a short massage (usually with argan oil), followed by relaxation with mint tea. Usually this is what is included into the basic “forfait“. It has to be said you are expected to know where to go and the pace of the place is a little unpredictable, so if your French is not good and you have never done something like this before, then just go for the steam (“entrée simple“).
Relaxing afterwards with Moroccan mint tea in the cafe is part of the experience. Take your time and gaze around at the gorgeous tea room. There is also a pretty patio area. You will feel so clean, refreshed and uplifted.
It is a wonderful way to get rid of cobwebs (both physical and mental), and I have now made having a hammam a regular event when in Paris. Deciding which hammam or spa to go to is a difficult one in Paris. Nonetheless, I remember once being in Paris for a day and really wanting to go for a hammam at the Mosque. I didn’t have a detailed map but I still managed somehow to find it. It has seeped into my consciousness!
A very popular hammam place in Paris, and quite a posh one at that, is Les bains du marais, on rue des blancs-manteaux in the 4e. While quite small, it is perhaps one of the more efficient and friendly (for Paris standards), and its products are very popular gifts. When I first visited, I got as a gift for myself a bottle of its orange flower scented (fleur d’oranger) foaming gel in a wonderful packaging. I still like to get one when I visit these days. It is not easy to get fleur d’oranger bath products these days.
Perhaps the popularity of the hammams in Paris also tells us how the Parisians have incorporated foreign influence into their daily lives. Cous-cous, vietnamese noodles are two other major incorporations – North African and Vietnamese influences are both very strong in the French culture. Just like the English words the Parisians used, it’s another uniquely Parisian way.