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The maple life The maple life

Vancouver Hammam Heaven at the Miraj Spa

One of my favourite spas in the world is La Mosquée in Paris, it’s in (as the name suggests) the Mosque on the left bank and is a series of beautiful marble-tiled rooms, each hotter than the next, where you steam and soak, take an icy-cold plunge and then steam and soak some more. It’s a traditional cultural ritual and I found it surprisingly reassuring to be in a room of (mostly half-naked) women of all ages, shapes and sizes. However, it can be a baffling experience; there are no instructions. You get handed slips of paper which you exchange for a ‘gommage‘ (a body scrub) or massage but there’s no real system of how or when that happens.  And although, yes, I wound up with a soaking wet towel and shredded wet paper slips (you’re meant to leave them in your locker till you need them) and was a tad alarmed by the brutal scrubbing I got from an elderly Arab lady (which I genuinely feared would leave me nipple-less), I really enjoyed my afternoon there.

You can't take photos in La Mosquée - but here's its entrance just to give you a sense of how exotic & gorgeous it is

You can’t take photos in La Mosquée – but here’s its entrance just to give you a sense of how exotic & gorgeous it is

So when I got chatting with Surinder, the owner of Vancouver’s Miraj spa, I was delighted to find out that her spa was based on her own experiences at La Mosqueé. I went to check it out one rainy day last week. It was cold and grey and miserable outside. I stomped down to West 6th Avenue in my rubber boots feeling like I’d never get warm again. I left feeling like I had an all-body halo glow and positively skipped off down the road. What happened in between? All good stuff…  however, it’s definitely a more North American version; instead of a shared hammam space, this is a solo adventure into spa-ing.

The Miraj experience starts by showering and then slipping into a cotton kimono. I had a hamman guide, Adria, who took me into the incredibly hot steam room (120 degrees Celcius) and explained things to me. I lay on the cool marble and felt my achy muscles melt in the intense heat. Candlelight flickered in the steam and as I began to sweat, I felt myself relax. After 20 minutes, Adria came back to collect me for my black soap gommage. I took off my now-soaking kimono and laid on top of it as Adria scrubbed my body with exfoliation mitts. This is definitely the bit where any shy people might feel a bit weird, but Adria was so matter of fact that I suspect even the most body-non-confident person would feel relaxed in her company.

Lie back and enjoy the gommage...

Lie back and enjoy the gommage…

I turned over for more scrubbing, then stood up and was sluiced off with warm water. My skin felt as smooth as the marble I’d been lying on. I’d booked in for the basic hammam, gommage and 15-minute Orientale massage. Next visit, I’ll book for something longer as after all that heat I bet I could get a great deep tissue massage. The 15 minutes really felt like just a soothing application of oil.

Then rest and take tea on the silky cushions

Then curl up on the silky cushions and sip tea

Massage over, I put on a fresh cotton robe and headed to the lounge area to sip a glass of sweet mint tea and nibble on a cake. I’d love to do this with a girlfriend and you can book the hammams for two. Sunday is couples day so if you want to take your parter along, that’s the time to do it. I flicked through a glossy magazine and felt a million miles from the cold, wet, cross girl who’d stomped in an hour or so earlier. Miraj recently opened in the Shangri La hotel in Toronto and I’m definitely checking that out when I finally make it over there, but in the meanwhile, I feel happy that I’ve found a piece of my beloved Paris, right here in Vancouver.

Thanks to Miraj for hosting me – as always my views are 100% my own.

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