We arrived in Istanbul, in the heart of the Caucasus region, with literally no plans but for our main priority of speaking at the World Tourism Forum. Our previous trip to Turkey had been action-packed and unfortunately, we missed out on experiencing the world-famous Turkish Spa experience, so now with a second chance and a completely open schedule we embarked on an incredible spa tour of the Caucasus region, in Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Here are the highlights!
Hammam Treatment in Istanbul, Turkey
“One of the most historic hamams in Turkey, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı was originally built between 1578 and 1583, to serve Ottoman marine soldiers and has now reopened after seven years of intensive restoration.
An Islamic adaptation of the Roman-style baths left behind by their ancestors, the Turkish Hamam is an extension of the ritual cleansing, or ablutions, before prayer. Nowadays, most locals you meet in Istanbul will probably tell you that they rarely, if ever, visit a hamam, as the practice has fallen away and is now primarily an interesting cultural activity for tourists.
The hamam experience at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı began walking into the grand central room, the largest of several connected domes. Fellow guests relaxed on lounge chairs around the room, known as the cooling area, having already finished their treatment. With the sympathetic restoration of the building, the internal, seating, walkways, stairs and changing rooms were all newly built in what looked like solid oak, adding warmth to the large open space. A friendly, English-speaking attendant explained the entire hamam process from start to finish and sent us to get changed upstairs, leaving everything in a private locker and changing into only the hamam waist towel.
We were led from the main hall into the hamam room, a hexagonal room lined entirely in solid marble, with alcoves all around containing the bathing areas – a hot marble seat next to a large basin. First was the hot stone, lying on top of the central slab of marble in the hot, steamy air to warm the muscles and allow the body to start sweating, cleansing from the inside, out. After about 30 mins of total relaxation, I felt a tap on my foot, looking up to a large, towelled man smiling at me and motioning me to get up and move to one of the alcoves. Patting himself on the chest with one of his big hands he said, ‘Mahmut!’ I did the same, ‘Jon!’ No more words were spoken and Mahmut got down to the business of throwing bucket after bucket of hot water over my head and body, before putting on the scrubbing mitt and going about the abrasive work of removing the dead skin from every part of my body, with the exception of my privates. To be fair, there’s only so much you can ask of a man!
After the first scrubbing and another round of dousing, came the most impressive part of the treatment. He took a towel shaped like a pillow case, dipped it in fresh, soapy water and with a few shakes inflated it like a balloon, before squeezing downwards to create a fountain of foam over my head and back. He repeated this a few more times until I was covered, plus I suspect, a few more simply because of how entertaining I found it! Another round of scrubbing commenced, this time with the aid of the soap to temper some of the abrasion. One more rinse and fresh soap applied, this time to simply wash and give a basic massage of the skin by hand, with no scrubbing, and finally one more wash down with hot water, followed by a final cold soaking to close the pores and stimulate circulation. From there Mahmut led me to the next room where I was towel dried from head to toe and wrapped up in several thick towels and fresh slippers. With heavy pat on the back, Mahmut said something in Turkish, which assume was goodbye and opened the door into the main hall. I took my place on one of the lounge chairs to ‘cool down’ with a cup of tea.
The biggest thing I took away from the whole experience was that I have probably never been this clean before and I may never feel this clean ever again! You can also check their Tripadvisor reviews here!
Relaxing Couples Massage for 60 mins at Sam Raan Spa
& Wellness in Tbilisi, Georgia (Cost: 280 GEL)
We wrapped up our first day in Tbilisi, Georgia with one of the best massages in our lives and no wonder as this Spa has one prizes as one of the best spas and massage in the world.
World class service at an amazing value, the facilities alone are impressive enough. Beginning with the pool whose lighting gives off a purpley, blue glow from all around while you float off into a dream. We eventually dragged ourselves out to descend into the rocky cavern that houses the salt-water flotation pool designed to replicate the feeling of weightlessness only found in the Dead Sea, such a surreal experience! Later we were shown the Himalayan Salt Room, relaxing on the gently shaped lounging chairs that allow you to breathe in and absorb the healing salt that surrounds you, while is illuminated with a lovely warm, golden colour.
I could have laid there forever but it was eventually time for our hour-long couples massage. Having trained in Ayurvedic massage while travelling through India and worked as massage therapists in Arequipa, Peru we both understand the skill and training a good masseuse requires, I can honestly say this was one of the best massages I’ve ever had. The beautifully decorated room with adjacent beds created the perfect setting while the scent of the aromatic massage oils used sent us both into a deep level of relaxation An unforgettable experience that must be discovered yourself to appreciate the level of skill and service offered!
When we finally stepped off our cloud and back into reality the kind staff at Sam Raan Spa invited us to a herbal tea served in the most beautifully carved individual teapots and gold-leafed cups and saucers, bringing us back to the real world in luxury at the height of relaxation. You can also read their Tripadvisor reviews!
Sulfur Bath at the Royal Bath in Tbilisi, Georgia
Roman style baths have been known in Tbilisi since the 1st century, in fact the name of the city is derived from the word warm. The 5 baths currently in use in the city are in the Persian Tradition which became most popular during the time of the Silk Road when there were 63 bath houses to choose from. Of the remaining 5 we chose the Royal Baths to benefit from the healing waters of the region.
At almost $30 for use of a private room and a massage it is quite a pricey activity for Georgia. This typical tradition can be found underneath an intriguing series of brick domes rising from the street. The ornate iron gate leads you down the steps to the underground entrance. Coming from a spa as luxury as Sam Raan we have to admit that the interior feels rather basic however we left this unusual place with an impression of history and tradition. The undersides of the domes are a mosaic of blue tiles leading the eye to the central stream of light penetrating from above ground.
While some of the other bath houses are quite open and communal, the Royal Baths are split into 5 private rooms of varying sizes for groups of 2-10 people, allowing you to enjoy this healing treatment without the watchful eyes of other visitors. We recommend visiting at night for a more atmospheric experience however it is open between 8am and midnight.
Kempinski Spa, Kempinski Badamdar, Baku, Azerbaijan
Having already experienced the attention to detail and special touches in all areas of the Kempinski Hotel, being offered our choice of treatments in their spa was more than we could have hoped for! After much lounging in the jacuzzi area with staff on hand to offer tea, water and towels I began he first of my facial treatments, a Winter Clear Out Scrub for 45 mins at AZN 65 later complemented by a Winter Face Nourishing for 90 mins at AZN 108. After so much travelling through different climates it’s easy to neglect your skin so this was exactly what I needed! The lovely therapist gave me great advice on caring for my skin with my hectic schedule.Jonathan can’t get enough of massage treatments and had the full range at Kempinski had to offer, firstly their traditional Thai Massage for 90mins at AZN 95. This was followed by what is without a doubt the highlight of our Caucasus Spa Experience (both for Jonathan experiencing it and me watching it!) the Russian Venik Treatment for 15 mins at AZN 30 in which bundles of branches are used to strike the body all over. The therapist here was so skilled and knowledgeable and we are so grateful to see this unique treatment in action. Finally he couldn’t resist trying out the Azeri Hammam Treatment for 30 mins at just AZN 31, a must try on any visit to this region. The traditional Thai massage was particularly impressive and unlike anything we had ever experienced before. The skilled and highly trained therapist, from Thailand, knew exactly how to combine massage techniques with stretching and adjustment of the skeleton to restore proper movement to every part of the body. Be aware though, while you nay believe that you are accustomed to a ‘hard massage’, you should start with soft to medium and then see how you feel! You can also check their reviews on Tripadvisor.
Treatments we tried:
- Winter Clear Out Scrub for 45 mins – AZN 65
- Winter Face Nourishing for 90 mins – AZN 108
- Traditional Thai Massage for 90 mins – AZN 95
- Russian Venik Treatment for 15 mins – AZN 30
- Azeri Hammam Treatment for 30 mins – AZN 31
VIP Massage at JW Marriott Absheron, Baku, Azerbaijan
Arriving at this grand hotel spa in the early evening of our last day in Baku, we were greeted with a warming fruit tea to hydrate before entering our VIP spa room. On entering the first thing that grabbed my attention was a gleaming, round jacuzzi bath, perfectly shaped to lay back in total relaxation while the many jets massage you all over.
It was in this private suite that we were treated to a luxury signature couple’s spa massage treatment. The Marriott Absheron really takes pride in the quality of its services and treatments and unsurprisingly they were recently named Best Luxury Spa in Azerbaijan! Wanting to make the most of our invitation here, Jonathan later opted for a Balinese massage while I chose the Signature Absheron Marriott Massage.
Considering we didn’t arrive with any stress or worries having spent several days experiencing luxury spa treatments we didn’t imagine we could come out any more relaxed, but we were so wrong! The spa’s setting up on the highest floors of the Marriott, looking over the Old City below with the comfort of this private suite was an incredible way to end our trip in Baku. You can also check their reviews on Tripadvisor.