A public bath house was a common sight in many towns in the Middle East during the medieval times. Also known as a hammam, the bath would attract men and women, sometimes daily, to relax and be pampered.
Cleanliness and hygiene were highly regarded at that time, so much so, that bathing was also incorporated into various ceremonies such as those surrounding knighthood.
Although the tradition has long passed, hammam today has become a popular spa ritual.
“It’s a lovely cleansing ritual,” said Susan Harmsworth, chief executive and founder of ESPA, a British spa company who own more than 350 luxurious spas in 55 countries.
“I don’t think I know any other treatment that’s as cleansing physically, as well as mentally, as hammam.”
The company recently partnered with Resorts World Sentosa to open its flagship spa in Asia at Sentosa Island in Singapore.
“We’re bringing over 30 years of spa heritage and knowledge, spa operations and training, as well as award-winning products and treatments to Singapore and RWS,” Harmsworth said.
The spa compound, which sprawls over 10,000 square meters of lush tropical grounds at RWS, is currently ESPA’s largest spa in Asia, boasting 24 treatment rooms, two private spa suites and two beach villas with expansive sea views.
“We’ve created an oasis among a bustling and lively island environment,” said Laura Vallati, ESPA general manager at RWS. “This gem of a spa is the perfect place to unwind, relax and forget time.”
Last week, the Jakarta Globe was invited along with other selected media to the ESPA spa in Singapore to try one of the treatments.
We had the pleasure of testing one of ESPA’s signature treatments, “Ultimate Hammam Ritual.” This spa ritual includes 120 minutes of complete pampering. Guests are first served a lemongrass and aloe-vera shooter upon arrival, before they are offered a cold oshibori (wet towel) to refresh themselves.
Guests are then required to fill out a health form to list their medical history and allergies before they are escorted to a locker room.
Those of us who had never tried hammams were slightly hesitant to go in, but we were reassured by the treatment manager that each therapist would explain in detail what would happen.
ESPA only recruits highly-skilled therapists with prior experience in prestigious spas. The therapists are then put through a rigorous 10-week training program under ESPA trainers from the United Kingdom before they are allowed to work on a customers.
There are 15 therapists currently employed at ESPA at RWS.
“Basically, they’re going back to beauty school,” said Doris Sinnathurai, ESPA treatment manager at RWS. “They’ll have to go back and learn everything about anatomy and physiology, as well as the techniques.”
The next step before the hammam treatment included changing into pestemals (Turkish sarong), which we wrapped around our bodies, before our therapists, also dressed in pestemals, welcomed us into the sauna room.
“Basically, you’ll be given a bath in the treatment,” said my therapist Ervie. “The treatment is wonderful for muscle tension, because it’s done in a heated room. And your skin will become very soft afterwards.”
Ervie then escorted me to the treatment room, which was made entirely of gray marble and set at a temperature between 35 to 40 degrees Celcius.
I was seated at the marble plinth at the center. My therapist then washed my hair with warm scented water from a beautiful copper urn, before she applied a deep-conditioning marine mud through my hair and gently massaged my scalp.
“Marine mud nourishes the scalp and strengthen the hair,” she said. “We usually ask the guests to leave it overnight to get its full benefits.”
I was then asked to lie face down on the plinth where the therapist continued to bathe me.
Black olive soap was then applied onto my body. The gel-like soap actually had slivers of black olives in it. Ervie rubbed it onto my skin with her coarse Kese mitt, which she explained removed “dead cells and rejuvenates the skin.”
She then took another sarong and filled it with liquid argan soap, which is a soap made of oils extracted from nuts of the argan tree in Morocco.
Ervie then swung the soap-filled sarong from side to side and wrung it over my body. Cool white bubbles suddenly rained all over me. She lathered the bubbles and gave me a relaxing full-body massage.
After the treatment, guests enjoy a 10-minute steam bath in the crystal steam room.
The steam room is fabulous. Its chocolate and golden mosaic tiles glimmered behind the thin mists. Slabs of amethyst crystals, which are believed to exude a healing and balancing energy, stand on small alcoves within the steam room.
Strawberry sorbet and chocolate macaroons were served to replenish our fluids and energy after the treatment.
I was then taken to a dry treatment room that overlooked the spa’s manicured gardens.
Ervie gave me two choices of aromatherapy oils to use during the treatment.
“Choose the one that draws you to it,” she said. “That’s what your body needs right now.”
I chose a blend of sandalwood and frankincense that had a mild and soothing fragrance. Ervie poured some of it in the inhalation bowl underneath my face and allowed its sweet-smelling aroma to permeate the room.
She warmed some of the oil on a burner and massaged me with light upward strokes to improve blood circulation. A combination of her pampering, Zen music and wonderful scents soon lulled me into a deep sleep.
After the treatment, guests are allowed to continue their sleep in the spa’s ‘‘Sleep Zone,’’ a darkened room with 18 sleep pods with built-in music for guests to rest after their treatment, or enjoy snacks and refreshments in the social room.
“It’s actually one of the best spa treatments that I’ve ever had,” said Christina, a lifestyle magazine journalist invited to the trial.
“It’s very loving and intimate. Someone’s giving you a bath and pampering you as if you’re a baby,” she added.
For more information, visit www.rwsentosa.com/ESPA