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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Decoding Parisian wellness: Why the public Turkish baths are not for everybody

Is visiting a Turkish bath one of the perfect antidotes to urban stress? During our visit to France, here’s what we experienced first-hand at the hammam situated within La Grande Mosquée De Paris

fitness Updated: Nov 28, 2017 19:29 IST
Susan Jose
Susan Jose
Many Parisians have the habit of visiting hammams, the Turkish public baths.
Many Parisians have the habit of visiting hammams, the Turkish public baths.(IStock)

It’s that time of the year when many of us plan trips abroad for relaxation and rejuvenation. And, while for some, an ideal vacation would be adrenaline rushing bungee-jumping and the likes, for others it would be just lazing on the beach or spending quality time at the spa.

During our recent trip to France, Stephane Mottola, a Paris-based pharmacist invited us to see how the locals experience wellness in the city. We accepted the invitation as we thought it could be a good opportunity to experience the French ‘bien etre’ (well-being).

In Paris, it is not uncommon to find several open-air gyms, where people casually workout in the evenings. You will also get a glimpse into the French people’s healthy lifestyle – eating small meals, early dinner, walking and bicycling, etc. So, what happens when someone from such a culture decides to spend an entire day solely for the purpose of their rejuvenation?

The entrance to La Grande Mosquée de Paris.
The entrance to La Grande Mosquée de Paris. ( AFP )

On the morning of our spa outing, after a cup of café noisette, we headed to a pool. “I like to come here every week. It’s such a fun way to burn calories,” said Mottola. After an hour at the cafe, we walked to the Grande Mosquée de Paris, which housed a popular Turkish bath that is open for men and women on different days of the week.

Typically, one can spend from an hour to five depending on the comfort level and the services you opt for — spending time in the sauna, getting a gommage (body scrub), a massage, or a combination of two or all three of these. Me and my counterpart from the other side of the world — a travel and features writer named Georgette Lillian — opted for all three.

This mosque complex also houses a massage section. Further in, there are showers, and the section next to it has the gommage tables. Beyond this, you enter a skylit area, which has sections of raised platforms on either side. These platforms, further divided into cubicles, have a dedicated tap at each cubicle with running hot and cold water. The raised platforms themselves are heated from beneath. The very end has a small pool of cold water, where if the steam gets too suffocating, you can take a dip to cool yourself. According to Mottola, it’s better to do it like the swedes. “You must alternate between hot and cold water. Only hot — it is not good,” she said. And, once you try it, you find that it does indeed make you feel better.

For the sauna, one just lazes on top of the raised, heated platforms, after which one preps for the gommage. The woman at the counter gives a satchet of soap made with vegetable oil – an almost black goop with the consistency of soft wax but sloppier. One is supposed to slather this on in generous amounts over the entire body – except the face. This goop and the humid interiors of the bath make the skin glisten. After a good 15 minutes, you are supposed to head to the gommage table, where the masseuse scrubs the body in a vigorous pattern, taking swipes across the oil-soaked skin. After this, the person on the table is hosed down, like a shrub in the garden, and the entire process is over in a jiffy.

This is followed by a massage (anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on what one wants) with aromatic oils. The techniques used by the masseuses, at least at this particular Turkish bath, are definitely so-so. But, it’s a good way to end your day at the bath.

While this has definitely been a new experience, we wouldn’t list it among one of the best, not even in the top ten. This is meant only for the adventurous souls.



At hammams, hot and cold water is splashed alternatively. Splashing hot water opens up the pores of the skin and helps in removing the physical impurities. But excessive opening of these pores is harmful.Immediately, if you splash your face with cold water, it closes the pores and gives a soothing effect. However, if this is done frequently with sudden change of temperature, it can lead to increase in skin irritation and sagging of the skin. Everything should be done in moderation.

With respect to gommage, frequent scrubs make skin more sensitive and vulnerable to tan and sunburn. Make sure that the skin is moisturised soon after the scrub. Do not use hot but lukewarm water after the scrub.

Those with acne shouldn’t overindulge in massages. Otherwise the oil can further exacerbate the acne by closing the pores.

No matter what type of skin, do not spend more than a couple of hours in a spa. The lymphatic draining massages and the relaxing element works well. But the humidity and heat, which is ideal for bacteria to thrive, can result in chest or skin infections. The skin’s way to warn is by reacting with redness, itching or dryness; the moment these are spotted one needs to see a doctor.

With inputs from Dr Soma Sarkar, dermatologist, The Skin Inn, Bandra (W), Dr Vandana Punjabi, dermatologist, cosmetologist and trichologist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Vile Parle (W), Dr Narmada Matang, dermatologist, Neo Skin Clinic, Powai, Kanchan Patwardhan, clinical nutritionist, Arogya Hospital, Thane, Dr Saurabh Shah, dermatologist, Bhatia Hospital, Tardeo .

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The author tweets@iamsusanjose

First Published: Nov 28, 2017 19:16 IST