David J Whyte takes the heat in search of the world's 'Hottest Spas'.
The legend of the Fountain of Youth has been around for thousands of years. Tales of its restorative powers were spread by Herodotus, the Greek historian, Alexander the Great, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and even the early Crusaders (a 70's band I particularly cared for especially when fronted by Randy Crawford).
Today, spas are a great add-on to any golf vacation. There’s nothing better after a game or indeed before or after 'anything' - than a session in the sauna followed by a great massage. In Tenerife recently, I even took advantage of a mid-round back rub... I can't say it helped my game much but it was a 'different' way to take a break while the boys had a beer.
I’ve always taken a keen interest in health, especially natural therapies and complimentary medicines as well as healthy eating and exercise. And I love spas; the chance to totally relax and get rid of tensions in my trapezius or knots in my neck. So, in the hope that they really do help, let’s take a closer look at the spas we encounter along the 'golf trail' and see if they really do offer genuine, restorative benefits.
THE HAVES AND HAVE KNOTS
One of my more unusual treatments was a seaweed bath in Sligo on the West Coast of Ireland. Floating in a bathful of green, mellifluous goo, I knew then what it was like to be a frog! In that inimitable, convincing way the Irish have, they told me that it was a natural detoxifier and great for my skin. To be sure! I’ve had deerskin pouches filled with Native American herbs set on my chakras, a post-round paddle in Iceland's geothermal Blue Lagoon and I've even been massaged with golf balls; rather gimmicky I must admit but in the right hands effective enough.
Through years of trying them though, I have decided that all spas are not equal! Another time I became aware that the lovely (but rather over-made-up) beautician applying my ‘buff & fluff’ back massage (in the Scottish Borders - and I'm not going to mention which hotel in case she's still there) seemed slightly distracted. Out of the corner of one eye, I observed she was checking her mobile phone, perhaps looking up some great, new massage tips - but I doubt it!
Now I’m in the Mazagan Beach and Golf Resort near the town of El Jadida, south of the Moroccan city of Casablanca. I’ve been to Morocco several times travelling the length of the country from Tangier to Agadir and east into the spectacular Atlas Mountains. Morocco takes a bit of getting used to; men, young and old dressed in jellabas on street corners looking like Obi-Wan Kenobi, donkeys and carts whizzing in between Mercedes; open air souks selling live chickens next to pyramids of spices and colourful Berber slippers... it's a chaotic but far from unpleasant assault on the senses.
One thing that always strikes me in Morocco is how affectionate the people are. Men hug and kiss on the street and hold hands as they talk. People seem to pay much more attention to one another. And family life is elemental - so much so, my Moroccan friend informed me, you would never dream of missing a visit to your parents at least once a week - should you move out at all! Morocco seems a compassionate country with truly delightful people.
Hammam is central to Moroccan life. It’s where men and women (during separate ladies' and mens' days) gather to talk, relax and enjoy a thorough cleansing. The origins of Hammam lie with the Romans who developed the concept of large, centrally-heated bath-houses. This was adopted by the Turks who preferred smaller facilities scattered throughout towns and cities. This form of Hammam spread with Islam during the Middle Ages and is what we find today in Morocco!
THE MAZAGAN SPA
The Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort stands like an imposing Moorish fortress above a bracing Atlantic Ocean with a fine Gary Player designed links golf course on its doorstep. There are a host of resort amenities such as horse-riding, jet skis, quad bikes; all manner of things to keep you entertained while you enjoy this secluded beach-side resort. I had come to sample the golf course, one of the best in North African but also to look closely at their spa.
Set between the hotel and clubhouse, the Mazagan Spa is a spacious building offering 19 individual treatment rooms, Jacuzzi baths and relaxation areas as well as a luxury two-person private suite with stunning ocean views for 'side-by-side' treatments. The Hamman, meaning 'speader of warmth' is central to the spa and consists of marble and mosaic décor with a heated treatment plinth and lashings of hot, running water.
Being a bit vague on the various stages of a Hammam, I was delighted to be led step-by-step through the experience. For a start, most Westerners tend to be uncomfortable about public displays of nudity so it was with relief I was handed a pair of black, paper underpants. The Hammam is relatively public with other men wandering about similarly attired. I was invited by my masseuse to lie on a towel on the heated marble plinth and await my fate.
A 'Berber Scrub' was my elected treatment. I'm not sure how much it varied from the usual Hammam procedure but suffice to say I've never been so well-scrubbed since my grandmother used to wash me in front of the fire in an old tin bath (a Scottish version of a Hammam, perhaps)! Using a Kessa glove and black Beldi Soap, a concoction made from organic soil, olive pits, Argan & olive oil and salt, you are scoured from head to toe and all crevices in-between, the purpose of which is to remove several layers of dead skin and eliminate toxins. The Kessa glove can be rather rough and is not the most relaxing of experiences!
Next I was caked in clay! The Moroccan Clay Mask is made from Rhassoul, a substance mined beneath the Atlas Mountains that has been used as a soap, shampoo and skin conditioner for thousands of years. Rhassoul extracts impurities and excess oils from the skin without over-drying it. After a good rinse it was back on the plinth for a brief, relaxing massage using that wonderful substance, Argan oil.
LIQUID GOLD (SIDE BAR ON MOROCCAN ARGAN OIL)
Moroccan Argan Oil is famous around the world and used in many of Mazagan's treatments. Argan trees grow wild across the hillsides of southwest Morocco in the region of Souss, between Essaouira and Agadir. The oil from this hard little nut has been used for centuries to promote healthy-looking skin and hair. Rich in fatty acids and vitamin E, it's also consumed with bread, in spreads and dressings. Due to its current popularity there are 'fake' or diluted versions on the market so be sure to look for 100% pure organic Argan. Arganfarm is a company that offers Argan products online and is part of a female cooperative providing fixed incomes for local women. For more information visit www.arganfarm.com
There are various classes available throughout the week at Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort and Hot Yoga is one of them. The last time I attempted 'Bikram' Yoga as it is also called was in Miami where I felt gently poached and reduced to a greasy blob; yoga mats become slippery when wet. However, the Mazagan session was much more relaxed and civilised. Our American instructor took us through the paces at a relatively comfortable 32-36 degrees, the added heat helping to relax muscles to allow for deeper stretches. As always, I felt great after a yoga session and the added heat definitely helped.
FULL BODY MASSAGE
Massage to me isn't a luxury; it's one of life's essentials, a health-enhancing necessity that should be sampled ideally once a week. The benefits are obvious; reduced muscle tension, improved circulation, stimulation of the lymphatic system, increased flexibility, reduced anxiety etc. But how effective a massage really is, is clearly in the hands of the practitioner.
Hammam and massage are an intrinsic part of the culture in Morocco and the fact that it has been practiced for thousands of years clearly is an influence on the quality of treatment you receive here at Mazagan. Of course each therapist will be different but the open, uninhibited attitude of the people I believe seems to translate into the quality of their treatments. I was introduced to Saida, Mazagan's most senior masseuse for a full-body massage. It turned out to be one of the best I've ever experienced!
It's not easy to describe the subtleties of a massage but suffice to say Saida seemed to empathise with my body from the start, applying just the right pressure in all the right places, sometimes close to being painful but never enough to actually hurt. There is little doubt this is 90% experience & technique but the remaining 10% has, I believe more to do with the attitude of the therapist. It's like a sixth sense, a touch of magic, knowing how to apply the right pressures and then to back off and let the muscle recover and relax. After only a few minutes I felt completely 'untangled' and gradually put back together in the correct order. The massage was nothing short of sensational, reaching deep into muscles in a way I've never experienced before with sensuality and sensitivity for a full hour, transporting me into a place of deep physical and mental relaxation. Having had many full-body massages, I can only say this was clearly one of the best.
My colleagues agreed! In the relaxation room afterwards, wrapped up in warm towels and fluffy dressing gowns like sanitarium patients, we all gloated on how well we'd been treated. It seemed the high standard of massage was universal at Mazagan. Based on the quality of this massage, I would give Mazagan Spa and easy 9/10 mainly but the entire experience is equally praiseworthy.
So that's our round up of Mazagan Spa at this lovely Moroccan seaside resort. Throughout this series we'll delve deeper into Spas around the globe to find those that really do make a difference. Mazagan was a great start and if you're looking for exceptional golf, a wonderful, relaxed, full-service resort with lots of great activities including an excellent spa facility, look no further. As far as discovering the 'Fountain of Youth', I have a few more spas to visit but I'm very happy to keep searching if the stops along the way are as good as this one!
David J Whyte flew from Scotland with British Airways and Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca. Mazagan organises Meet & Greet at the airport as well as transfers to the resort and tour-guided local excursions are also available via the hotel's helpful concierge desk.
For more information visit www.mazaganbeachresort.com