Both women and men in North Africa and Turkey have long enjoyed the ritual steambath or hammam: a term which now designates not only the hot steam room itself, but the calming complex that also generally includes cold and tepid pools, a separate area for sloughing of dead skin with the aid of a rough mitt and black soap, and a dimly lit room filled with cushions where you can take a nap or sip a refreshing, soothing cup of mint tea after bathing.
In part due to France's former colonial presence in North Africa, the hammam tradition has since become a genuine staple of French urban "bien être" (well-being). These are among the best spas Paris has to offer, so head to one of these relaxing spots whenever you're in need of some major de-stressing. It's like taking a trip from Paris to Marrakesh, in only a short metro ride.
It may not be the most luxurious of the bunch, but this hammam makes the top of our list for its remarkable ambiance, service, and price-quality ratio. Located in a previously quiet but increasingly hip and vibrant corner in the city's northeast, the Hammam Medina Center looks unassuming, but as soon as you walk in, the colorful tile mosaics, heady smell of argan oil, oud (a North African, scented amber) and mint tea, and friendly service whisk you into a realm of relaxation and warmth. This hammam has the best price-quality ratio. Indulge in steambath and (dry) sauna, swimming pool, exfoliating treatment, tea and Middle-Eastern pastries such as baklava. You can literally stay for hours, the amenities are clean and spacious, and the service is friendly and warm.
- Address:43-45 rue Petit, 19th arrondissement
- Metro: Ourcq
- Tel: +33 (0)1 42 02 31 05
- Open: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.- 10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m.- 7 p.m. (women-only); men and women Sat 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. (bathing suit required)
The Hammam Pacha was a popular spot in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis, so much so that the owner recently opened a second location near Montparnasse in Paris. Contributor Colette Davidson and I spent an afternoon indulging our senses at this newer address, which is a notch or two up in luxury but also more expensive than the Hammam Medina. Overall, an excellent retreat from daily stresses, or a great "day trip" for those of you on vacation in Paris. It's women only, though, so unfortunately for the men among you looking for a hammam experience in Paris, you'll have to look elsewhere (read further on for more suggestions).
Hammam at the Mosquée de Paris
Perhaps the best-known of the Paris hammams and open to both women and men (albeit at different times), the hammam at the Mosquee de Paris features beautiful tile mosaics, marble, and porphyry fountain. The bright, airy and colorful adjoining tearoom is very pleasant and often visited by birds. The prices are reasonable and you can stay as long as you like, but there are fewer frills here than at the Medina and the Pacha. Choose this hammam if you've only got a couple of hours to spare for some quick refreshment and relaxation.
- Address: 39 rue Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire, 5th Arrondissement.
- Metro: Gare d'Austerlitz
- Tel: +33 (0)1 43 31 38 20
- Open: Women- Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sat, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Men- Tues 2 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Nestled in a courtyard off of bustling Rue St. Lazare near Paris' department stores district is a luxurious getaway aimed at couples or friends wishing to share a moment of relaxation together. Dominated by teal and aubergine shades, the Escale Orientale hammam and institute is small but very elegant and discreet and offers several high-end treatments. If you want the hammam experience but prefer intimacy and quiet to the more public setting of other hammams, or are looking for a higher caliber when it comes to beauty treatments, this is an excellent place to try, as I discovered soon after the concept opened in 2007.
- Address: 94 rue St Lazare, 9th arrondissement (Metro St Lazare)
- Tel: +33 (0) 148 78 20 69
- Open: By appointment only