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A taste of Morocco in… Pimlico
Dolphin Square Spa
The brilliant View From Morocco blog describes the country's hammams as being a "wonderful experience and one of the best ways to connect with the country". But if you can't quite stump up the money to fly out to visit one, could the next best thing be right here in London?
The leafy, orderly streets of Pimlico are as far removed from the winding chaotic streets of a Moroccan souk as possible. However, if you think you can live without the experience of going to a hammam without being followed by a cheeky street urchin attempting to sell you some bread, a parrot or a husband, then forge on towards the Dolphin Square spa.
The ornate entrance is in complete contrast to the simple surroundings outside, and I quite like being in surroundings that transport you to a completely different place. I call it the Tardis effect.
Two huge carved doors separate the reception area and the inner sanctum of the spa, and on arrival, you're greeted and seated. When I arrived, an extremely relaxed-looking businessman emerged looking as if he was about to float off into the ether. Hopefully I'd be trying whatever he'd just had.
On the menu are wraps, facials and massages, but as the spa is the only one which offers hammam, rhassoul and a salt-infused steam room, I wanted to try something from the Moroccan rituals menu. The Majorelle is an 85-minute treatment that involves all the benefits of the hammam followed by the signature massage.
In Morocco, visiting a hammam is the are the equivalent of Brits going to the pub; it's a place where people, especially women, go to socialise and enjoy a bit of beautification in the process. Also, if you have tried a Turkish hammam, there's a difference between them and Moroccan ones - unlike the Turkish baths, which are heated using steam and involve a foaming soap, Moroccan hammams are heated through hot water taps and heated floors.
Dolphin Square Spa
The handwashing ritual
Hammams and rhassouls are all about cleansing, so they are great for drawing out excess water and toxins. I wasn't a fan of the Turkish hammam - drops of hot water kept falling on my head - so I was interested to see how this matched up.
It's a wonderful experience on a miserable, grey day as you begin with a soothing, traditional handwashing ritual and are then led into a dark, warm tiled room.
My therapist explained that she was going to rub my skin with Savon Noir, a traditional cleansing soap. I inhaled the scent of eucalyptus and clove filled my world.
She then scrubbed my skin firmly with a Kessa glove (which I was afterwards allowed to keep), exfoliating the dead skin cells. Then came the hammam part - she strategically threw bowlfuls of water at my body, taking care to avoid my face.
Rhassoul, a mud made from lava clay taken from the Atlas mountains, then followed. In Arabic it means "the matter which washes" and it certainly does that - the mud has been used for hundreds of years and is very powerful at detoxifying. Once the mud was all over me, including my hair, the therapist began to massage my head.
Dolphin Square Spa
Despite being completely encrusted in mud, lying on a heated stone bench in my bikini, it was enough to send me off to sleep. I barely even noticed when she finished and left the room so that the mud could work its magic.
After 10 minutes, I showered and was ushered down a corridor lit with pretty Moroccan lamps, and into a warm, softly lit treatment room. The attention to detail is quite faithful in the spa, and the colours are earthy and golden.
The massage was a fine finish to the treatment, although my favourite part without a doubt was the hammam. Being slapped with warm water shouldn't be that fun or relaxing, but strangely, it really is.
The Dolphin Square Spa, Chichester Street, London SW1V 3LX. Call 020 7798 6767 or visit the website.