Dear Mr. Joshua David Stein, of New York magazine:

I just came across your recent article entitled “Get scrubbed in Marrakesh”.  I agree with you that getting scrubbed at the hammam is one of the best Moroccan experiences possible.

I saw the names of the high end Hammam’s that you recommend, La Mamounia, and Spa something or other…even if I had 100 dollars burning a hole in my pocket (I don’t, believe me) I would never, ever give it to one of these luxury so-called hammams.  As people on the streets of Marrakesh struggle on a daily basis to eat and feed their families, I could not justify spending that much on a scrub.  No amount of spoiling or pampering will fill the yearning in our souls, but a little generosity might.  I’m just saying.

Then I saw that you did offer an alternative hammam, for those who do not wish to throw their money away by the fistful.  Alas though, I cringed when I read that it was Hammam Dar el Basha.

Mr. Stein, I must posit that you did not actually enter the Hammam Dar el Basha.  Had you done so, I doubt you would have enjoyed the experience, much less endorse it in a widely read magazine.

The Hammam Dar el Basha has long been featured as a “local hammam” in The Rough Guide, a recommendation which quite frankly baffles me.

I lived around the corner from said Hammam for several years, and frequented it on the rare occasion.  I always found it dark, crowded, and gross.

For those who have never been to the hammam, here is a brief summary of the proceedings:

You enter one of three rooms, each successively hotter than the previous, and find a corner to lay your mat.  Then you grab your buckets and wait in line at the hot/cold spigots.  Once you have filled up 3 buckets you return to your mat and commence the hammam routine: hot water, black soap, rinse, then scrub like mad till rolls of your actual epidermis start to peel off like soggy gray worms.  These you rinse off.

Now if you were a regular, savvy hammam goer, you would have NOT placed yourself in the flowing current of your neighbor’s rinse water, which is meandering towards the central drain.  In the hammam, as in real estate, location is everything.  That’s why the good spots, all along the wall, were already taken when your unsuspecting self got there.  If you are the newbie, you just sit any old where, including in the doorway (too drafty), in front of the spigots (you’ll get bumped a lot) or in the awful effluence of rinse water.

Now that is how it happens most hammams.  So why am I picking on Dar el Basha in particular?  Well, for one, it’s a relic, and not in a good way.  It’s decrepit, and compared to the newer sparklier hammams, it’s grimy and forsaken.  Also, the drains seem to get clogged regularly, and that is not pleasant, not one bit.

Now, I’m probably not as germ-phobic as most westerners, but even I cringe at the thought of sitting in water that contains dead skin cells from 20 different strangers.   I don’t care how much “local flavor” you want, or how tight a budget you are on, do not go to Hammam Dar el Basha.

Despair not however, there is a superlative choice.  If you will only listen, I will tell you about Marrakesh’s best kept secret.  It’s a wonderful little hammam tucked away on an quiet little street in the Ain Mezouar neighborhood (that’s near Menara gardens).  It’s called Hammam es Salama (the bath of peace?).  But that’s a pretty common name for hammams in Marrakesh, so that’s not much help.

So, to get there, you ask a taxi driver to take you to Hammam es Salam in Ain Mezouar.  A towering heap of chopped up olive trees marks the entrance, the wood is used to heat the hammams (which apparently poses a big ecological problem in Morocco).

There you will be treated like a queen (or king, but I wouldn’t know).  The hammam is very tastefully decorated.  It is rarely crowded and the clientele is varied, mostly local but enough foreigners.   I especially like the walls done in tadellakt, marble counters, your own personal hot and cold faucets, a marble stool and large marble slabs to lay on while you get scrubbed (they keep you up out of the rinse water), the reassuring smell of disinfectant, a professional staff of jolly ladies, and a cozy dressing room with a fireplace to lounge in when you are done.  You can’t get a better deal in Marrakesh, a scrub only costs 60 dirhams (8 dollars), or do it yourself for half that price.

Mr Stein, I thank you for your article, it provided the impetus to set things straight once and for all regarding the best local hammam in Marrakesh.

Hammam es Salam in Ain Mezouar. Ladies get the whole week: Monday through Saturday 8am to 10pm.  For men it’s only Sunday 8am to 10pm.  Starting at 30 dirhams (3 euros, 4 dollars).