Inside a Real Turkish Bath

Get naked. Sweat. Get scrubbed down by a hulking Turkish woman. Repeat.

Before you get accusatory, we didn't travel 5,000+ miles for a with-frills massage. And admittedly, when we first signed up to visit the ancient city of Istanbul (this time, with designer Yara Flinn of Nomia) for W Hotels' Designer Incubator program, a spa day was far from the first thing on our mind. Give us some credit: we were a little more concerned with taking in the sights. The Grand Bazaar, Haga Sophia, Blue Mosque, the Bosphorous... we checked off pretty much every essential stop on the Istanbul must-see list. Then came the hammam: in short, it was a little intimidating, rough and almost painful at times, but ultimately transformative. Y'know, pretty much exactly how you'd like any game-changing spa experience to unfold?

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Even if you're (somehow) not the biggest fan of traditional spa and massage, we promise that a visit to a hammam, or the Turkish baths—especially if you're actually in Turkey—is well worth it for the novelty alone. Upon arrival, we stripped down (allllll the way down) and were handed a small towel (spoiler alert: any sense of modesty that might temporarily occur is about to vanish) and sandals to wear. Then, we plodded into the hararet—the 'hot room', where the action is—only to be greeted by a room full of women, low wooden benches and what look like marble massage tables. After being left to sweat it out for 15 minutes or so; our masseuse entered the hararet and promptly began pouring bowl after bowl of warm water all over. Skittish, self-conscious types, this is likely the point where any insecurities you have will literally begin to wash away: it sounds counter-intuitive, but it's seriously difficult to feel uncomfortable in a room full of women of varying ages and sizes in varying stages of undress while water is continually being poured on you.

Then comes the scrubdown.

After being lathered with an olive oil and citrus-y soap (or "bath essence"), our massage began. We were hoisted up top, onto one of the marble slabs, as our muscles began to get pulled in every which way by our attendant. Next is the scrub: vigorous rubbing over what felt like every square inch of our bodies. You know what we said about modesty flying out the window? Yeah, that. But the end result? As our attendant eagerly showed us, was what looked like approximately a quarter pound of dead skin and grime left behind, along with our subsequently baby soft skin and a glow that wouldn't quit. We pretty much floated out of the hararet on the kind of high only a half hour in the serene setting of a spa can impart. Now that's what we call a travel souvenir.

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