Both of our guidebooks recommended checking Les Thermes Spa at Moulay Yacoub, a thermal hot springs located about 20 Km outside of Fez. Given that we were honeymooning and all, we thought that a day of pampering at the spa was just what the doctor ordered.
Confusingly, there are actually two Moulay Yacoubs. One is a posh, Western-style resort and the other is a traditional Moroccan hammam (bathhouse). The Thermes de Moulay Yacoub is exponentially more expensive than the traditional Moulay Yacoub, Between you and me, you’re better off saving your money. Despite the glamorous photos on their website, the spa is a dump. The staff was indifferent at best and downright unfriendly at worst. The place has the musty air of a public pool locker room. To add insult to injury, the price of a massage (more than $30 USD for 30 minutes) is more expensive than back home. We still ponied up for a 30 minute apricot oil massage and as I laid naked and uncovered on a thin exam paper sheet on a table, all I could think is that Pat’s massages are so much better. For even more exorbitant prices, you can get spa therapies that cure everything from the common cold to rheumatoid arthritis. Science?
Slightly bummed, we walked over to the public hammam version of Moulay Yacoub. The waters of Moulay Yacoub are felt to be healing so people come from all over to bathe in the steamy waters. Someone told me that the water temp coming out of the main faucet is 51 degrees C (xx F)! It was my first hammam experience, and to say I was bewhildered is to put it lightly. Luckily, our nervous faces caught the eye of one of the local ladies, Fatima. Fatima was perhaps more overwhelming than the bath experience itself. She kindly but firmly bullied us into buying all of the necessary bathing essentials from her shop – a large bucket, a small pail, soap, a towel, and a scrub mitt. She then scootched us away to the bathhouse entrance, which has seperate pools for men and women. Once inside, I stripped down to just my underwear bottoms and joined the throngs of women taking a bath around the common pool.
Given my Western tendencies (ok, I’m a prude), it was quite the experience. At least fifty topless women sat around and in the common pool happily scrubbing themselves clean. Thanks to the pantomimes of a few ladies nearby, I slowly figured out the drill.
Taking a Turkish Bath: Fill the big bucket up with the scalding hot water from the faucet, then add cold water as needed to get it to a tolerable temperature. Using the small pail, get your skin all over, place soap on your scrub mitt and scrub yourself roughly with black soap from head to toe. I’m talking so hard it feels like your skin will peel off. Pat actually had red marks on his back for two days after his first bath. For this part, you have to sit on the side of the pool so the dirty water goes down the drains and not into the pool. You then use the small pail to dump water all over yourself to wash the soap off. The final result is a cleaned and exfoliated new you. And in my case, a humbled and slightly bedraggled tourist. After the bath, you change into new underwear or go commando. Wet panty lines are a no-no.
To get to Moulay Yacoub, we took a public bus outside the blue gate of the medina. It was about an hour journey and included nice views of the countryside.
I highly recommend checking out the traditional hammam at Moulay Yacoub. It was my favorite hammam experience of the trip. I also recommend skipping the western-style Thermes de Moulay Yacoub. Save your money and check out one of the western-style hammams in Fez proper instead. They are often located in the fancier Riads and tend to have co-ed options.
Other stories from our Moroccan adventure:
You can also see what we’re up to, while we’re up to it on Instagram!