To hammam in Dubai is to bathe in luxury, literally. The Dead Sea flotation pool at Saray Spa at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. (Photo: Courtesy Saray Spa)
If you’re a spa lover, then you’ve probably indulged in Thai massages, milk baths and mud wraps. But you may not have sampled the quintessentially Middle Eastern ritual of the hammam. Before bathrooms, the hammam was a communal bathhouse where people went to bathe. Even today, public hammams can be visited in ancient cities like Istanbul, Damascus, Cairo and Marrakech.
Hammams were never part of everyday life in the United Arab Emirates because the people were nomads who moved their goat-hair tents and barasti huts (made with palm fronds) with the seasons. How things have changed — spas are now ubiquitous, and the best ones boast sumptuous steam-filled hammams with warm marble massage slabs. Expect to strip down, slip on disposable pants and/or a loin cloth (you’re never completely naked in UAE spas) and be scrubbed and rubbed down before you get to loaf around in a steam room, then sip mint tea on a sofa in a cool relaxation room.
Getting pampered is a priority for many travelers to the UAE, and as you’d expect from a deluxe destination like Dubai, the city does spas and hammams well. Here’s our guide to some of the most sumptuous.
Al Asalla Spa
If you relish the idea of luxuriating in a hammam with the locals, make a beeline for Dubai Ladies Club, home to Al Asalla, the spa of choice for Emirati and expat women. (But stay home, guys: Dubai Ladies Club is, naturally, ladies-only.) With its cushioned lounges, Damascene chandeliers, Moorish arches and arabesque mosaics, the Moroccan-style hammam here is the closest you’ll find in the city to the sumptuous bathhouses depicted in 19th-century paintings. Nonmembers are welcome, and a visit provides a rare chance to interact with Emirati women.
Cost: A good value.
Moroccan kilims, mashrabiya screens, cushioned sofas and aromatic candles make Saray Spa one of Dubai’s most sensual. While there are alluring treatments such as the Arabian Nights — a rose milk bath and massage with sandalwood, almond and floral oil — the hammam rituals are what’s truly special. They traditionally begin with a brisk exfoliation using a kese mitt and olive-and-laurel soap, followed by a gentler herbal massage. The Saray Golden Hammam treatment features a gold clay and myrtle wrap, plus a massage using oil infused with 24-karat gold. There are separate women’s and men’s hammams, and two private hammams.
Cost: Pricier, but totally worth the splurge.
At Oxygen Spa, a modern, light-filled spa decked with billowing curtains, mosaic tiles and marble footbaths, you can recline on a velvet chaise longue and sip tea after your Royal Hammam experience. The ritual begins with a vigorous scrub using traditional black olive oil soap. Then you’ll get a body wrap with eucalyptus-scented ghassoul mud (a natural mineral clay from Morocco’s Atlas Mountains used in bathhouses for centuries). The treatment is finished with a soothing honey facial and massage on a warm marble slab.
Cost: Affordable (for Dubai).