Turkish Baths in Fairy Chimneys

Kelebek Hotel Hammam

Kelebek Special Cave Hotel, Cappadocia, Turkey

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For my 2015 winter holidays, I flew to the Maldives for a romantic few days with a beau, and then left the warmth and sun and sea for a freezing cold ten day journey through Turkey with my mother. 

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I’m wrapped in a red pestemal, a traditional checked Turkish towel, in rural Turkey, laid out on a heated stone slab listening to my mother chuckle at an old inside family joke, “Instead of my brother freezing his skin off, we are definitely burning ours off.” I can’t see her across the room because I took my glasses off in the changing room and I can barely see the end of my nose. This is not the quiet, solo trip I had dreamed of, but a change of plans had my mother joining me. For my first hammam experience, my mother guides me by the hand into the Sicaklik, hot room. Laughter ensues as we try to hold up our inexpertly wrapped towels and walk delicately in the wooden nalins on damp marble floors.

In this out-of-the-blue, intimate moment with my mother, we roll around on the marble, our skin turning a nice lobstery pink. The room is luxuriously tiled, floors, ceiling, and the dais we are on, with water running and filling up copper basins on the edges of the room (I went back later with glasses on in order to see the room itself). Kelebek means “butterfly” in Turkish, and there are mosaics and skylights that discretely reflect the motif throughout the room.

The steamy air and the heat from the stone was already beginning to relax my whole body. Then the natirs, female bath attendants, arrive. With the first cascade of warm water, I sigh in delight. Jet lag, teaching, traveling with my mom, divorce, moving four times in one year, travel, and general carrying on with life is gone.

 

The hammam continues. Soapy bubbles, massage, more water. More massage. And then the scrubbing away with a kese, rough mit. If I was wearing my glasses, I would be able to see the layers of dead skin peeling off. The scrub is rough, but the natir is skilled, and I don’t want her to stop. More water. More soap. And then it’s over. But it’s not. The scrubbing has ended but the olive oil soap bubble massage has just begun. They are swirling the softest pillow cases filled with steam and bubbles through the air like acrobats. And massaging the stress and muscle tension from my frame. This is no hot oil massage, but a whole new level. I try to see through the mist, contemplating instead the water droplets on the end of my nose. I can’t believe that an hour has passed.

We dress, and walk through the freezing air to our separate rooms in fairy chimneys. The stars are shining, and I can look out at Christmas lights all over the Göreme Valley. It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m surrounded by cards carried in my mother’s suitcase from America from my nieces and nephews. I curl up in my bed, oiled, relaxed, and ready for the coming adventure.

 

Dawn breaks, and the magic of the hammam hasn’t worn off. We wake up hopeful that the air will be clear enough for Cappadocia’s world famous hot-air balloons to take off. We’re lucky; our balloon ride is the first in several weeks to be cleared for flight. Cappadocia from above shows the spectacular valleys, chimneys and rock formations. The next day we hike through ancient caves, alongside ice covered rivers, and we eat like queens every night. We buy carpets. We see Whirling Dervishes. I learn my favorite Turkish sentence: “Daha fazla beyaz şarap lütfen,” loosely translated as more white wine please. And then we head off to Ephesus.

 

Each hike in cold winter wind and snow has us thinking it’s time for another Hammam. And so we do. In 8 days we had three hammams. The first was in Cappadocia, in a private setting. The whole room was reserved for us, and it was the most rejuvenating experience of my life. The next was in Izmir, at a public, coed experience. The last was in Istanbul in a women’s only bath. All hammams that I have had have since been judged on my memories of the Kelebek trip. Trust me when I say that these other hammams all deserve posts of their own, and they are coming soon.

Etiquette

We scheduled our hammam when we checked in, and they accommodated us for late in the evening. The bath is onsite, and private. You wear towels at all times, and the attendants are dressed as well. They opened the spa for our appointment at 9:30 at night, so no one else was there, and the massage specialists were same gender. You can expect a completely private experience, though there is room for several people in the bath.

For those that do wear glasses or contacts, I recommend the contacts. You can keep your eyes closed when the water is poured over your face, and they don’t actually use the soap on your face.

In Turkey, it is appropriate to wear a bathing suit, though here, we wrapped in several towels and didn’t need them as we were never uncovered. Some baths you would not want to be without your togs.

Traveling There

Cappadocia is a short domestic flight from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to Kayseri, and there are multiple flights a day. On Turkish Airlines or Pegasus you can get a round trip ticket for about $20. Public airport transfer does need to be arranged and is about $15 per person, but the bus can take up to 2 hours to get to your hotel.

The Kelebek Special Cave Hotel is perfect, and the Turkish Bath there is still in my dreams. The hotel has rooms actually inside the fairy chimneys, the restaurant serves wonderful Çömlek kebab – meat cooked in pottery, and then gloriously cracked open with a knife at your table. The hotel staff was wonderfully attentive, and organized all of our tours of the area through Turkish Heritage Tours, as well as our hot air balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons.

Why Travel There?

Cappadocia is the name of a UNESCO world heritage region, filled with caves, chimneys,  historic Christian churches, underground cities, and several delightful towns. It is beautiful in an otherworldly way, unlike anything you will see anywhere else in your travels.  If you haven’t been, you need to go.

 

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