No visit to Turkey is complete without a Turkish Bath or a visit to the hamam. In Kalkan, there are a wealth of places offering this traditional treatment from the high-end luxury to the slightly dubious alternative therapy outlets, we plumped for the Elixir Hotel – for a number of reasons, it was a) round the corner b) a well-known establishment and c) had a huge bleedin’ sign outside, which was hard to miss. We booked our slot at reception and our masseur came out to great us. Referred to as ‘Pumpkin’, our masseur is exactly what you would expect in a Turkish Hamam, a big burly Turk, who maybe for the British, might border on the over familiar.
Feeling trepidatious we followed Pumpkin down into the hotel’s cellar to the Turkish bath, a large tiled, marble room with basins lining the walls and copper dishes, green from continual submersion, ready for use. There’s something about a Turkish bath which feels quite primal and ritualistic, lying down on the hard marble slab in the centre of the room, Pumpkin gets to work scrubbing you down with a rough exfoliating mitt before you become swallowed in cascade of lemony fresh, foamy, bubbles. Rinsed down, I sat whilst Tom took his turn on the marble plinth.
Poor Tom, so willingly to try these new treatments with his overly confident girlfriend, had a slight shock as Pumpkin lent his whole body weight on Tom’s backside, pummelling his shoulders whilst dishing out orders to ‘Relax’. Feeling like an overworked piece of dough, Tom and I, propped ourselves up on a bar stool, being served french fries and mayonnaise by Pumpkin (who was also the bar manager, receptionist, hotel manager, matre ‘d…) looking for reassurance that we both felt thoroughly relaxed.
Louis de Bernières describes the experience of going to the hamam in ‘Birds without wings’ quite perfectly…
‘…they would both come out so exhausted they could hardly walk from the steaming and pummelling you got in there, and their faces would be glowing like lamps. It looked like a tiny little mosque with white walls and a dome, and when you got inside you poured water over yourself from a brass dish, and you just sat and sweated in the steam room until it was your turn to get scrubbed and battered by the masseuses. In the old days it was shiny black ugly eunuchs from Ethiopia, so they said. I’ll never forget, they used to fill a muslin bag with olive-oil soap suds and blow in it till it frothed, and waft the bag up and down you. It was lovely. And then they’d scrub you with a mitt made of rough string. You wouldn’t believe how much filthy skin got sloughed off. Anyway, it was a lovely place to go, and all the women could just sit around naked, huffing and puffing in the heat, laughing and gossiping, knowing no-ones husband was ever going to come in and ask for his dinner.’
Get the knack
Choose your hamam wisely – it can make or break your trip.
In most you keep your swimsuit on!
Be prepared for getting up close and personal with your masseuse and your other bathers.