The Spa -
Palais Rhoul & Spa

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Okay, it's often cited as one of the world's best spas and the best in Marrakech so it wasn't much of a discovery, but if you rock up here without reading this review you might be in for a bit of a surprise!

It doesn't have a lot of the things you might expect from a world class spa – no big relaxation area to sip your mint tea (we took turns on the comfy chair in reception) although there is a beautiful round bath/pool with sofas where, perhaps, guests usually sit (when there's more of you).

Having said that, it’s situated inside one of the most intensely atmospheric hotels I’ve ever seen.  You arrive at the Palais Rhoul and are confronted with a small door in what looks like a small pyramid, the lounge is like an ancient colonial library, even the toilets are elegantly faded.  The focal point of the hotel is the circular pool surrounded by pillars, and the bedrooms which wrap around the pool have floor to ceiling windows on both sides, so you have both a pool and a garden view.  The gardens are manicured grass (which must be a novelty for non-English guests), and there is another VIP area with a small heated pool, which we were invited to enjoy (for another visit!)  Compared to this opulence the spa is like stepping back thousands of years to a much, much simpler time.

The massage tables are wide but basic, so you do end up having to do that face squashed into a towel thing.  It has a tiny changing area, with big old lockers but no locks – but I was confident in leaving my bag and credit cards in here.

…and when you enter the actual hammam, you won't find opulent, colourful mosaics or indeed a steam room or heated benches to sit on.

If you decide to opt for just a massage, as my sister did, then you can go naked, as the masseur is female, but, if you opt for the traditional tkissila (pronounced as in tuxedo – tuxila), then please make sure you wear your bikini (and make sure it's a sturdy one!)

My masseur and his brother are masters of the art of Tkissila, descendants of a long line of practitioners and this is one of only two places I understand you can have this treatment (his brother works next door at the more expensive spa).

So… first I was lead by the lady in charge to a simple brown cell and asked to sit on what looked like a yoga mat on the floor.

She was filling big black plastic buckets with water when I started to worry (the last time I went for a hammam in North London I had ladles of cold water thrown at me) and asked her if it was cold. She laughed and brought it over so I could feel the temperature for myself.

It might not be everyone's cup of tea to have big buckets of warm water thrown over them, but provided you keep your mouth closed it's rather like being in a nice warm waterfall.

She grabbed the black soap with eucalyptus efficiently soaped me up and left me lying on the floor.

I was a bit disappointed. No steam, no elegant bench, no funky mosaics, just some subtle, cool lights. It didn't seem like the best spa in the world. It took me a while to realise that the heat in the room was actually coming up through the floor and lying down, my body was slowly starting to relax.

That's when my masseur came in. After a few days of covering up from neck to ankle I had been a little aware of my naked legs at lunch. All of a sudden I was in a little brown cell with a Moroccan man in nothing but a pair of bathing shorts (and I was in my bikini!) But it didn't actually feel weird when he slipped on his Palais Rhoul gommage glove and started to scrub me all over.

Unlike my experience in Agadir a few years ago this scrubbing wasn't rough at all, but I could see the rolls of dead skin sloughing off.  According to my masseur, the cheap gloves (about 20 dh - £1.50) I'd bought in the market were useless, his kind of glove was much better quality (about 50 dh - £4) and exfoliated all the dead, dirty skin without hurting at all. (He presented me with it at the end too.)

After the gommage, he got down to business.  It's funny, last year I saw a physio who had manipulated my spine and there were moments when, even fully clothed, I felt very awkward about having my foot on a guy's shoulder while he pulled my leg in the other direction. I actually felt quite comfortable with it this time around. Even when I was lying face down and he was pulling my hips in the air. There were clicks, a bit of tightness, but nothing painful or even really uncomfortable, although I think I did sometimes breathe in or out in the wrong places.

Then it got weird.

My masseur lay down on the mat, his knees pointing up and this is when he asked me to sit on his knees.

I'm glad I speak French or this could have been a very different review.

One minute I was balancing on my bottom on his knees, the next I was flying, watching the room go whizzing past, not quite sure anymore which way was up. Suddenly I realised why, as the dramatic shape of the door flew by, this is a very muted room. If there had been lots of colours I'd have probably got dizzy!

When my feet landed on the floor I was giggly. Then he made me do it again – this time backwards. I sat facing his feet and leant backwards. Anyone who has ever done that trust exercise of falling backwards will understand that I felt elated and ridiculous at the same time.

At the end I was giggling and amazed, as much by the fact that I had done it and enjoyed it as by the experience itself.

He sat me down on the floor and washed me all over, including my hair with orange flower blossom products. When we were all done he rough dried my hair, tied my dressing gown up for me and told me I'd sleep like a baby that night.

I sat down for a while on the bench by the pool, until the lady masseur came to find me and give me my final relaxing massage (ditching my wet bikini).

Would I do it again? I'm not sure if it's a regular one for me, or a once in a lifetime (our taxi driver said it should be twice a week!) and I don't think it would be for everyone. When she’d finished she left me alone in the room so that I could fully relax - and man was it hard to get up when she did come back!

While my masseur described the usual local hammam, gommage and massage as "for the tourists" there's something lovely about that experience too, but I am so glad that I tried tkissila. It was certainly an eye opener and a new level of experience for me.

Although I was relaxed I was also exhilarated, dumbfounded, in fact feeling so many different emotions that it was hard to know what I thought at all.

I feel that this trip is having a profound effect on me, although I am not sure exactly what it is, and I think the tkissila is a very, very big part of that.


Palais Rhoul & Spa, La Palmeraie, Marrakech, Morocco

925 MAD
(approximately £72)

Hammam and Tkissila - Traditional gommage with black eucalyptus soap and ancient traditional tkisila massage - 30 minutes

575 MAD (approximately £46) plus 25 minute relaxing massage 350 MAD (approximately £28)

Information as at March 2011

Palais Rhoul & Spa, Route de Fes, Dar Tounsi, Palmeraie

Tel: 05 24 32 94 94

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