Hammam is a Must in Paris

paris bath house

The holidays are over and I’m spending the freezing, short days shopping sales in Paris.  Without the cheer of holidays, the cold has gained a bite and lost its charm.  It’s time to duck into my favorite underground hammam in the Marais for some much needed steamy heat.

Les Bains du Marais

At this point, I’m convinced I will never be warm again.  I’m in layers and layers of wool and silk, and yet I feel chilled through.  I pop in to Les Bains du Marais to make an appointment, but luckily it’s ladies day (they have separate days for men and women), and there is even a massage spot available.  I even get the gommage, in spite of not having a clue what that is.  Right.  More on that later!

After leaving my zillion winter layers in a locker,  I head to the baths, working my way from the warm section to the very hottest.  This is absolutely delicious! I am warm again, through and through.  I’m so relieved to be breathing humid air again. If the winter cold doesn’t get you, breathing the dry air will chill you from the inside out.

At some point, after I’ve forgotten that there is an outside world covered in ice, I see a huge woman in a one piece bathing suit with a figure like a gorilla.  She calls my name, after which she points me to what looks like an autopsy table and says, simply, gommage.

I lie down naked on the slab and the gommage lady sprays me with a hose with warm water.  Then she squeezes some industrial soap all over me and scrubs me mercilessly with a rough exfoliating mitt…everywhere (seriously!).  Even my face, breasts, derriere, all of it.  She then squirts the same soap onto my head and works up an epic meringue of industrial lather.

This jarring (and skin drying) event ends just as it began, with a thorough application of the hose.

I know some people love gommage. I am a big fan of the vigorous exfol at Korean baths, and even the Nordic birch floggings. But in future, I am going to skip the gommage portion of the Parisian hammam experience, if only to avoid the industrial all-in-one soap.  Being hosed is efficient, but not fabulous.

After this rough and tumble interlude, I stumble back into the steamy heart of the hammam to relax until my name is called again.  This time, happily, for my massage.

I’m not sure for whom the disposable paper thongs are made, but they are provided and I put one on. It’s surely not for my own modesty, since it covers just about nothing.  My masseur comes in and I enjoy a lovely hour long massage, given by a very agreeable and interesting Tibetan man in his late twenties.

After more relaxing, and tea, and hair drying, I finally layer up for my reemergence into the cold Paris night, many hours after descending into the warm refuge of Bains du Marais.  The city looks inviting again, and the cold is {almost} invigorating.