It feels like forever since I sat in a press conference on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab, where plans for a sprawling Ottoman palace-style hotel on the Palm Jumeirah were first unveiled to the world’s media. Much has changed since, most significantly that the property management has changed hands from Turkish hospitality group Rixos to the UAE’s own Jumeirah, but the hotel’s biggest coup remains the same – it runs
the largest Turkish hamam spa in the Middle East.
Arriving at the hotel, I can’t help but wonder what the interior would have looked like if Jumeirah hadn’t taken the property on: everything about the decor, from the statement water feature in the centre of the lobby to the intriguing, antique-looking trinkets that seem to grace every table top, bellows Jumeirah. It’s only the odd dashes of bright colours that throw me, and cause me to speculate that if the Al Qasr and Atlantis hotels were to produce offspring, the product might look something like this. But I digress.
Entering the Talise Ottoman Spa, there are more impressive, high-ceilinged, traditional Turkish touches throughout the reception and, as I’m led through the meandering, maze-like corridors of the spa – it really is huge – I begin to feel a little overwhelmed. After a quick change into a bikini and enormous bathrobe, I have an hour to explore the spa and, despite accidentally wandering off back towards reception instead of towards the facilities, I manage to get my bearings pretty quickly and spend 20 minutes zoning out on a heated marble bed. While that may not sound like the most comfortable place to lie, I defy anyone to stay awake after a few minutes and, with that in mind (the last thing I want to do is miss my traditional hamam session) I make for the Jacuzzi, where I spend five minutes being pummelled by small jets of water. Soon, I’m collected by my therapist, who is dressed in traditional spa attire (this looks something like an oversized tea towel), and who leads me into the steam room, where I’m to stand for a few minutes before making my way over to the hamam spa.
The treatment room itself is undeniably impressive, boasting a large, heated marble slab positioned directly underneath an enormous, intricately decorated atrium, with stone basins set all around the perimeter. It’s another hard bed that turns out to be surprisingly comfortable, although I’m soon aware this is a small mercy: after pouring several jugs of warm water over my body, my therapist begins to vigorously rub each of my limbs with what appears to be a viscose scrub mitt (later revealed to be a ‘kese mitt’). It is by no means the most relaxing experience. I’ve spent plenty of time on the beach recently, which has dried my skin out, and she gleefully shows me all the skin I’m shedding during this cleansing, if slightly uncomfortable, process. But before I start to feel raw, I find myself smothered in bubbles (yes, like bubble bath bubbles, only this soap is made with olive oil) – a curious, but strangely enjoyable process, which turns into the penultimate segment of the experience – the massage.
Apart from the toe-pulling and squeezing (this, honestly, just makes me feel squeamish and ill) it’s incredibly relaxing as she applies long, powerful strokes, working out knots with just the right amount of pressure. It soon reaches an end, though, around 40 minutes later, and I’m led to one of the stone basins at the side, where large jugs of water are once again up-ended over me, washing the suds away and rinsing my hair.
As well as being the largest hamam in the Middle East, the Talise Ottoman offers the most authentic Turkish spa experience I’ve had in Dubai, with added luxury. Feeling more relaxed than I have in weeks, there’s no way I’m going straight back to the changing room; instead, I head to one of the relaxation booths to stretch out and nibble on dates and a few handfuls of walnut Turkish delight. Well, when in Rome…