One of my all-time favorite things to do in Istanbul is to visit the Hammam. To be truthful, taking time off for spa treatments is something I feel is essential while traveling. In India, my hedonist pleasure comes from an Ayurvedic spa treatment at the Taj Hotel and in Marrakesh I always schedule time off for a massage at La Mamounia Hotel - there is nothing more relaxing than a good scrub and massage after a hard day of shopping the Medina. 



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In Istanbul, my favorite place is the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami. This hammam is conveniently located steps away from the city's two biggest tourist spots: the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Feeling more authentic than a luxury hotel spa, this building was originally built as a bathhouse in 1556 by Mimar Sinan and was completely renovated in 2012. Now, this 1400 square-foot marble palace with its gold tone faucets and soaring cupola is the perfect place to experience an age old treatment in a clean and somewhat luxurious setting.

The Hamman experience comes in three parts and -- I should warn you -- it is not for the shy or the modest. After all, we are talking about a treatment that requires you to be naked in a semi-private environment.

This hedonistic ritual begins when you enter the marble bath chamber and use your brass Hamman bowl to ladle perfectly warm water over your body and head. How they get the temperature of the water so perfect is a mystery, it's neither hot nor cold, and produces an effect so utterly relaxing that when my practitioner comes to take me for my scrub [part two] I already feel like a limp noodle. 

The scrub consists of a polite middle-aged Turkish woman, wrapped in a towel (or peshtamel as the locals call them), lovingly scrubbing your entire body with a loofah until your skin is as clean and soft as it was at birth. Next, you lie on a hot slab of marble while the ancient ritual of a bubble massage envelops your whole body. This part is just crazy to watch! A pillowcase is filled with hot soapy water, flung in the air a few times, and then finally released into an unbelievable cascade of bubbles that envelops your whole body. The final steps are a warm water cleanse to remove all soap, and an olive oil hair wash. At last, you are wrapped in a peshtemal and served the most incredible persimmon juice drink. If you wish -- and I always do -- a 30 or 60 minute massage can follow for an additional charge.
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I am not sure if my favorite part of this whole process is the outright decadent pleasure of the ritual or the sense of history that comes from indulging in an ancient pastime. What I do know is when this treatment is finished, you feel like a cross between a well-cared-for child and a pampered Cleopatra.
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Shop Latitude Travel Tip: It's best to take this treatment naked, however there are always some shy Americans in bathing suits and this is not frowned upon. The last time I went to the hammam, it was 11:00 am on a Sunday and I was the first and only client at that time -- which may be your preference if bathing around other women is a turn off.

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