Turkey, crossroads of East and West, steeped in history, is the exotic European neighbor.From the grandeur of its mosques and minarets to the narrow warrens of the bazaars and the dramatic countryside, there’s so much to do on Turkey holidays.

In between all the sightseeing, you would be remiss if you didn’t take the opportunity to visit an authentic Turkish bath, known locally as a hamam.

Along with a massage, scrubbing and soap down, you’ll come out feeling brand new.

Turkish Bath

Turkish baths have been around in different incarnations since the Greeks and Romans, although the modern iteration of the baths grew out of the overlay of Ottoman rule on old Byzantium. Historically important as social places, particularly in for women in a closed Islamic society, hamams often served the same purpose as coffee houses and other social meeting spaces farther West.   They were places not only to relax, but to meet with friends, catch up on news and gossip, and even make business deals. Today’s baths tend to cater to either tourists or the modern Turkish sensibility, one disposed more to relaxation and pampering, much like that sought at Western spas.

turkish-bathsHamam

The experience of going to a hamam can vary depending on its reputation (and price), but the basic aspects of your visit will be more or less the same. After changing into your wrap (some may opt to leave swimwear on underneath), you first enjoy a series of increasingly warm rooms. At the end of the series, you may also be encouraged to douse yourself with cold water. Following your warm up, a full body wash, exfoliation, and massage are in order.  Lastly, retire to a cooling down room to relax, chat, snack, or even nap.

In Istanbul and most other cities across Turkey, today, you can have your pick of a wide variety of baths. While hamams have declined in their daily popularity among the local population in recent centuries, they are still incredibly popular among tourists and locals alike. From upscale hotels that cater to more of a ‘spa day’ experience to the historic hamams of the mosques in town (including the Aya Sofia), to hard to find hole-in-the-wall places, there is a Turkish bath experience for everyone and every budget.

Visit the baths early during your holiday so you have plenty of time to go again – can you think of a better way to start your trip than putting yourself in a relaxed state?