Nikki’s Nest: Riad Joya (Marrakech, Morocco)

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

Planning a trip to the majestic city of Marrakech? I recommend staying at the fabulous Riad Joya (designed by the eclectic & posh Umberto Maria Branchini). Featured on The Today Show’s 2012 “Hotlist”, this decadent riad captures the essence of different African cultures and each suite is light & airy.

Located in the very heart of the Medina (in the historical and protected area of the Mouassine quarter), Riad Joya is just a short walk from main monuments, the souk and Djemaa El Fna square (where you can buy spices, get a henna tattoo or take part in snake charming). You can also see some of the most exciting attractions of the red city, such as the Coranique School, the Koutubia and the Museum of Marrakech.This elegant boutique riad is a welcome retreat of peace & tranquility after spending the day exploring the chaotic Medina. I had the pleasure of spending 3 lovely days at this riad last year and can’t wait to visit again.

What’s a Riad?
Historically, it is a traditional Moroccan home with an open garden or courtyard. However, now most function as hotels/resorts. Riads are more inward focused. You won’t see large exterior windows. In fact, the exterior is rather plain and you are unable to tell if the home is upper or lower class. There are clay walls with a huge (and in some cases, ornate) door. Once you enter thru the massive door, you will be amazed at how lovely the interior is. This is where the magic happens..beautiful tiles & mosaics, water fountains, lush fabrics…riads offer you the opulence of a grand mansion combined with a cozy atmosphere. These lovely “homes” only have a small number of rooms (i.e. 5-10). Riads provide you with a unique Moroccan experience that you won’t get staying in a traditional hotel. You receive special attention & stay in beautiful surroundings. It’s like a slice of heaven.

Getting There

Riad Joya will arrange for a taxi from the airport, train station, or other cities at your request. Your taxi will drop you off just outside one of the gates to the Medina. The streets are very narrow inside the Medina so no cars are allowed…only push carts, donkeys & mules. They will also arrange for a luggage porter to greet you at the gate and lead you to the riad which is just a few minutes walk away. My advice…do not try to find the riad on your own. The Medina has many streets and this riad is located off a side street from another side street. A 20 Dirham (which is about $2 USD) tip to a luggage porter is money well spent. Plus, this will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of the Medina while walking to your destination.

Promotions

You can book directly via the website or go thru a 3rd party discount booking agency (i.e. Jetsetter; Trip Advisor).

The Courtyard

This riad surrounds a breathtaking courtyard that has a water fountain and beautiful plants & flowers. There are open lounge/sitting areas surrounding the courtyard. Each area makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

Marrakesh 442Rooms & Suites

Riad Joya is an elegant 7-suite luxury boutique hotel. Each suite has a theme based on a particular African region. The riad website describes it best, “The overall atmosphere is of an elegant private house where understated luxury fuses with eclectic style and bespoke service and attentions.”

This hotel also has a “Butler service” which offers tailored services “from the assistance with transportation and luggage, to recommendations of activities, Joya‚Äôs Butler is always ready to ensure that all our guests have everything needed for an enriching stay.” We were spoiled rotten! He anticipated our needs, handled getting our laundry washed & pressed; walking us to and from the hammam and inquiring about our favorite fruits & vegetables to help with dinner selection. I really needed him to come home with me ūüôā

Each suite features a private seating area and large dressing room. The bathrooms are amazing!!! They are “all made in natural stones combined with the traditional tadelak, are bright and spacious and features large shower and a vanity corner.”

Be sure to check out the pictures on the riad website (linked above) or tripadvisor.com as each suite is different. Upon arrival, we are told we can pick from a variety of suites since the riad was not fully booked (fab-u-lous!). After we chose our suite, we were taken to our room and given time to relax before heading down for dinner. Words really can’t capture how wonderful this place is.

We stayed in the largest suite — the Dar Arabe…absolute luxury!

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

Vanity area

Marrakesh 431

Soaps, shampoo & conditioner

Marrakesh 411

Seating area

Seating area

I was also given a tour and was able to photograph a few of the suites that weren’t in use.

The Tuareg suite (inspired by the Berber people). Love the eclectic look & feel of this room (even if it is the darkest suite of the bunch).

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Marrakesh 425

Check out the sinks!

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

Marrakesh 426

Seating area

Seating area

The Naos suite – in Egyptology, naos refers to that which is hidden and unknown inside the inner sanctum of a temple (source, Wikipedia).

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos bath

Naos bath

The Domus suite…

Domus suite

Domus suite

Domus seating area

Domus seating area

Dining

The chef at the Riad Joya is PHENOMENAL! You can dine in their beautiful dining room or on the terrace (which is up several sets of very steep stairs). The riad provides a bountiful breakfast of fruits & pastries (you can request eggs as well) and a daily set menu.

A bountiful dinner

A bountiful dinner

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Delicious dessert

Delicious dessert

The Hammam & Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than to enjoy a hammam & spa? Unfortunately, the riad’s hammam was out of service during our stay but they did set us up with an appointment at another hammam a short walk away (and the massage is fab-u-lous)! You pick between a couple of fragrant oils (my choices were “orange flower” and “jasmine”). Those magical hands lulled me right into a light nap. Want to know more about what to expect when visiting a hammam? Check out my Tale of 2 Hammams post.

Overall

If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax during your visit to Marrakech, this inviting sanctuary is the place. Have insightful conversations over mint tea while learning about Moroccan culture from the locals. I must warn you that this riad is not suitable to those who are wheelchair bound or have mobility issues due to the amount of stairs. Other than that, this place is perfect. Centrally located with delicious food and an absolutely phenomenal staff, the Riad Joya is a wonderful place to stay during your exotic trip to Marrakech. So forget using hotel chain rewards points and enjoy the unique experience of staying in a riad!

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Nikki’s Rating: Absolutely Wonderful 5

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)

Looking for a place to stay in Fez? Check out my review of the Riad Laaroussa. Interested in visiting Morocco? Check out my travel adventures here!

Hassan II Mosque (Casablanca, Morocco)

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

The Hassan II Mosque (named after King Hassan II) is the second largest mosque in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica can easily fit inside) and built partly on water. The largest mosque is in Mecca. It has the highest religious minaret in the world at 200 meters high. The mosque will fit up to 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard. It is magnificent! This is also one of the very few mosques open for non-Muslims to visit.

When you enter the mosque, you are given a plastic bag to store your shoes (as you are required to walk barefoot while visiting). As I stated above, the mosque is enormous with beautiful chandeliers and mosaics. In the center, you will see a glass floor that reveals the ocean below which is said to be a reminder of the Qur’an‚Äôs statement that God‚Äôs throne is upon the water.

In the basement is an ablution room (where you cleanse yourself of your sins) and an absolutely beautiful hammam with a large pool.

Ablution Room

Ablution Room

Pool in the hammam

Pool in the hammam

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

For me, the Hassan II Mosque was the highlight of Casablanca. If you visit Morocco, most international flights fly into Casablanca…my recommendation is to visit the mosque, then keep driving towards Marrakesh to start your adventure!

The French Riviera: Days 4 & 5 “Livin’ it up, Monte Carlo-style”

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Hey everybody! My Mom and I finished our vacation in the French Riviera with 2 days in Monte Carlo.¬† It is a beautiful place! Approximately 45 minutes from Nice by bus, Monaco consists of 3 distinct tourist areas: Monaco-Ville, Monte Carlo, and La Condamine. Most of this small country was built on a cliff.¬†¬†The streets are a bit narrow and since it’s built into a cliff, things seem a little congested but it is breathtaking so you sort of just overlook that.¬† This place has a very distinct feeling of “money”…people have it.¬† That is obvious.¬† For me and my poor little pockets, well…I was pretending ūüôā¬†

When taking the bus from Nice, you will ride along the Low Corniche.  If you want to take the route all the way to Menton (like we inadvertently did), it takes just an hour.  You pass thru the beautiful villages of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, and Beauliu-sur-Mer on your way to Monte Carlo.

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Monte Carlo Bay

Monte Carlo Bay

Once we arrived in Monaco, we checked into our FABULOUS hotel, the Monte Carlo Bay Resort & Hotel.¬† The resort has a casino, gym¬†(with free personal trainers) and a spa. I was able to hit the gym and get a good 45 minute run in before hitting the casino.¬† My absolute favorite thing about Monte Carlo? ¬†THE CINQ¬†MONDES SPA!¬† OMG, this place is heaven on earth. ¬†Seriously.¬† The purpose of our visit to Monte Carlo was to gamble & spend a day at the spa. ¬†Well, we lost at the casino (I love roulette and my numbers weren’t hitting all night…and I just knew I was about to hit it big and live the life of a newly rich jetsetting diva…but, it apparently wasn’t meant to be that day *sobs*).¬†¬† On the plus side, the spa more than made up for it.

Japanese Bath

Japanese Bath

I’ve been to countless spas and this has to be the absolute best in my opinion. We started out in the hammam to relax prior to¬†our spa services. My first service was the “Aromas & Flowers Japanese Bath” — and it was the most fabulous thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was like Christmas!¬† The Japanese Bath is essentially a big wooden tub that traps heat so the water never gets cold. ¬†You step into the tub of very warm water, then you have aromatherapy¬†oils poured over you in the water.¬† Once that is complete, rose petals are sprinkled on top of you.¬† Next, the masseuse places a pillow under your neck and proceeds to give you a scalp and neck massage.¬† Afterwards, you are left alone for about 15 minutes to relax.¬† Once you are fully rested, the masseuse brings you peach tea, honey and dried fruit to snack on while still in the bath.¬†¬†Um, seriously…did I mention¬†this was HEAVEN?¬† Because it is.¬† I do not think I will be able to replicate this in my own tub¬†with some Calgon & Lipton.¬† You already know I was notating everything because my next home needs a relaxation room like this.

After the Japanese Bath, I had an Oriental Massage which was basically laying on hot towels being massaged with warm oils. Total bliss. Once the services were over, I was taken to the “Relaxation Room” to lay down with more peach tea & honey.¬† I would go back to Monte Carlo just for the spa. ¬†It was that fabulous.¬† Want to know more about this fabulous resort?¬† Check out my hotel review here.

Cathedral

Cathedral

The next day, Mom and I head out to do some sightseeing.¬† We decided to take the bus from the hotel around this “city”.¬† Word of caution…if you don’t speak French, you may be a bit challenged as there are no English translations and it’s not really clear where the stops are.¬†

Monaco-Ville is the oldest section of Monaco and contains the Royal Palace, the Cathedral (which holds the tombs of Prince Rainier & Princess Grace), the Cousteau Aquarium, and the Exotic Gardens (pictures are in the slideshow below). 

Tomb of Princess Grace

Tomb of Princess Grace

Tomb of Prince Rainier

Tomb of Prince Rainier

The famed Monte-Carlo Casino

The famed Monte-Carlo Casino

The district of Monte Carlo is the area around the famous Monte Carlo Casino (which has a cover charge and dress code).¬† The area is absolutely gorgeous but it is very tight & congested since everything is built very close together.¬† It’s also very expensive.¬† Breakfast was 35 euro/per person…and this was a continental breakfast.¬†¬†Once you get over the sticker shock, you¬†can really enjoy it and see that it¬†is a wonderful place to visit.¬†

The were a couple of cool sculptures across the street from the casino (which remind me of sculptures I saw in Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway).

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Overall, the French Riviera was really nice and a wonderful experience. I can only imagine how wonderful it is when the temperatures allow you to get in the water. Nice was my favorite city as it lends itself to a lot to do. Monte Carlo is nice…but I would suggest that you day trip over from Nice. It’s not really worth 2 days unless you want to stretch it out. Cannes…that was one of those places where I can say I’ve been there. But, not interested in going back as there really isn’t much there to see.

Here are some of my favorite photos:

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Next stop…Milano!

Nikki’s Nest: Riad Laaroussa (Fez, Morocco)

Warrior Dash 414Planning a trip to the fascinating imperial city of Fez?  I recommend staying at the Riad Laaroussa which is located inside the Medina.  This 17th century palace is a welcome retreat of peace after spending the day exploring the chaotic Medina.  My Mom and I had the pleasure of spending 3 lovely days at this riad in September 2012.

What’s a Riad?

Historically, it is¬†a traditional Moroccan home with an open garden or courtyard.¬† However, now most function as hotels/resorts.¬† Riads are more inward¬†focused.¬† You won’t see large exterior windows.¬† In fact, the exterior¬†is plain¬†and you are unable to tell if the home is upper or lower class.¬† There are clay walls with a huge (and in some cases, ornate) door.¬† Once you enter thru the massive door, you will be amazed at how lovely the interior is.¬†¬†Beautiful tiles & mosaics, water fountains, lush fabrics…riads provide you with the opulence of a grand mansion¬†combined with a cozy atmosphere.¬†¬†These lovely “homes” only have a small number of rooms (i.e. 5-10).¬† Riads provide you with a unique Moroccan experience that you won’t get staying in a hotel.

Getting There

Riad¬†Laaroussa¬†will arrange for a taxi¬†from the airport, train station, or other cities at your request.¬†¬†Your taxi will drop you off just outside one of the gates to the Medina.¬† The streets are very narrow inside the Medina so no cars are allowed…only push carts, donkeys & mules.¬† They¬†will also arrange for a¬†luggage porter¬†(who will have a wooden cart) to greet you at¬†the¬†gate¬†and lead you to the riad which is just a few minutes walk away.¬† My advice…do not try to find the riad on your own.¬† The Medina has over 9,000 streets and this riad is located off a side street from another side street.¬† A 20 Dirham (which is approximately $2 USD) tip to a luggage porter is money well spent.¬† Plus, this will allow you to¬†take in¬†the sights and sounds of the Medina while walking to your destination.

Promotions

You can book directly via the website or go thru a 3rd party discount booking agency (i.e. Booking.com).

The Courtyard

This riad surrounds a breathtaking courtyard that has 2 water fountains and beautiful landscaping. There are open lounge/sitting areas surrounding the courtyard.  Each area makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.  Tables surround the courtyard so you are able to eat breakfast or dinner in a lush environment.

The courtyard is also where you will find 3 of the Riad¬†Laaroussa¬†inhabitants.¬†¬†Mimi the Cat and her 2 canine companions¬†are extremely friendly (and very lazy).¬† If you are an animal¬†lover, you won’t want to leave them at the end of your stay.¬† Typically, Mimi¬†& crew¬†are waiting to greet you as you enter the courtyard and hang around long enough for belly rubs before dinner (and will stick around during dinner just in case you are feeling charitable & want to share).¬† As you can see from the pictures below, they aren’t missing any meals ūüôā

Rooms & Suites

There are 8 rooms (4 rooms & 4 suites) at the Riad¬†Laaroussa.¬† Each room has a theme color (we stayed in the Orange Suite).¬†¬†Be sure to check out the pictures on the riad website (linked above) or tripadvisor.com as each suite is different.¬† Upon arrival,¬†we were¬†taken to our room and given time to relax before heading up to dinner.¬† Words really can’t describe how wonderful this place is so I created a video.¬† My videography skills aren’t that great (this is my first one) but I hope it captures how fabulous this place is.

Dining

The chef at the Riad Laaroussa is PHENOMENAL!  You can dine in the courtyard or on the terrace (which is up several sets of very steep stairs).  The riad provides a bountiful breakfast of fruits & pastries (you can request eggs as well) and a daily set menu.  Want to learn how to cook the fabulous Fassi cuisine?  Join the chef on her daily trip to the market and spend an afternoon in the kitchen watching her create delicious dishes for the evening.   Make sure you are camera ready as the staff will stop by your table to take pictures then email them to you so you have a keepsake of your time in Fez.

Mom and I at breakfast

Moroccan appetizers

The Hammam & Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than to enjoy the Riad¬†Laaroussa’s¬†hammam & spa?¬† The massage¬†is fab-u-lous!¬† You pick between a couple of fragrant oils (my choices were “orange flower” and “jasmine”).¬† Those magical hands lulled me right into a light nap.¬† Want to know more about what to expect when visiting a hammam?¬† Check out my Tale of 2 Hammams post.

Overall

If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax during your visit to Fez, this is the place.  Have insightful conversations over mint tea while learning about Moroccan culture from the locals.  I must warn you that this riad is not suitable to those who are wheelchair bound or have mobility issues due to the amount of stairs.  Other than that, this place is perfect.  Centrally located with delicious food and an absolutely phenomenal staff, the Riad Laaroussa is a wonderful place to stay during your exotic trip to Fez.  So forget using hotel chain rewards points and enjoy the unique experience of staying in a riad!

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Nikki’s Rating:¬† Absolutely Wonderful 5

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)

A Tale of Two Hammams

You can’t¬†travel to Morocco without experiencing a hammam¬†(public steam bath).¬† Hammams¬†are an important part of weekly life for most Moroccans as they usually visit at least once a week.¬† You can easily spend 2-3 hours since a hammam is not only for cleansing the body, but for gossip and socializing.¬† I found there was a ritual to the cleansing and by the time you leave, you feel like you are floating on air with supersoft skin!

I’m the type of traveler that loves to try almost anything once…and meet as many locals as I can.¬† I’d read that there was a difference between the local public hammam and the hammams located within hotels & riads.¬† So, I decided to try both.¬†¬†I had researched and felt that I was ready for this experience…I was not.¬† Seriously.¬†I have never experienced anything like this before in my life.¬†¬†Well, maybe as an infant but my memory isn’t that good (I blame my Mom for not supplementing my formula with Ginkoba).¬†

I consider myself a modern Western woman who craves adventure.¬† But, um…I’m reserved with showing all my goodies to strangers.¬† Moroccan women are not.¬† While they may be covered from head to toe in public, it’s underwear-only (maybe) in the hammam.¬† I had read that you could bring your bikini or bathing suit to wear if you aren’t comfortable wearing just underwear (or going completely nude).¬† Apparently, swimsuits aren’t the norm in hammams (thanks, internet research).¬† Know that now.¬† Be ready to strip down and bare it all.

Public Hammams

Men and women bathe separately.¬† This could mean that there are 2 separate buildings, or that one gender is allowed to bathe in the morning while the other bathes in the evening.¬† The public hammams are much cheaper¬†than the “spa” hammams (I paid around 100 Dirhams¬†which is approximately¬†$10 USD).¬† Partially, because it’s a “no frills” environment and you have to bring all of your own supplies.¬† The hammam I went to in Fes¬†did provide buckets for water.

What do you need to bring with you?¬†¬†A bag (to hold your towel and clean clothes); towel¬†(I just brought one from the riad I was staying in); shampoo & conditioner; comb/brush; flip-flops (just like you’d bring to a gym shower); soap (most will tell you to buy black soap which has the consistency of a gooey gel but smells divine.¬† This is readily available in the medina.¬† I suggest finding some with Argan oil.); loofah (you can pick this up in the medina as well for 6 or 7 Dirham); henna (readily available in the medina); razor (if you want to shave); mat or stool (to sit on while you bathe); a bottle of water (it’s a steam room so¬†you will get hot);¬†deodorant (no use in spending 3 hours getting clean if you get funky within 30 minutes of leaving); lotion (say “no” to ashiness);¬†fresh clothes & underwear (the underwear you wear into the hammam will get soaked); and a bucket¬†(to hold all the aforementioned items).

I was lucky to meet 2 women thru my local guide who volunteered to take me to a public hammam.¬† And, I can honestly say that I would have been completely lost without their patience and guidance.¬† As we enter the changing room, I notice that there are open cubby holes surrounding wooden benches.¬† There are no lockers so you are just going on faith that nobody will steal your things.¬† My strategy was to watch and follow the lead of my 2 companions.¬† They stripped down to their underwear, put on their flip-flops and took their bucket of supplies¬†thru a¬†spacious tiled room into a narrow steam room (which was also tiled with mosaics).¬† So, I did the same.¬† Of course, while my companions had on pretty panties, I was wearing¬† disposable underwear that I had bought as a way to save space in my bag during my trip.¬† Yeah, I was stylin’.

As we enter the steam room, there are other ladies bathing.¬† I take a deep breath and walk right in.¬† I mean, I will never see those ladies again and I told myself this is a way to become comfortable with my body.¬†¬†From there, it’s a series of rituals:¬† (1)¬†We¬†lay out our mats and stool, fill up about 10 buckets of water to varying temperatures (some were really hot, others were lukewarm while a couple were cool).¬† Then, my companions took off their underwear.¬† And, I’m like, “Um, are we supposed to be butt booty naked?”¬† (not sure how to translate that into Arabic so I just stood there with a blank look for a few seconds then took my panties off too).¬† (2) We use bowls & ladles to pour hot water from the buckets over our bodies.¬† Then, we use our hands to massage black soap over our skin.¬† This is a community effort as other women will ask if you can soap their back.¬† Of course, there was a lot of communicating with me in hand gestures since I only knew the word for “thank you” in Arabic.¬† Once we were soaped fully, we rinsed ourselves by ladling¬†hot water over our bodies again.¬† (3) Next step is adding a small bit of water to the henna powder so that it would make a paste.¬† Then, we took our hands and smeared the henna paste over our bodies and let it sit as a masque for a few minutes.¬† I’m told this helps to soften the skin.¬† Then, we went thru the rinse cycle again.¬†

(4)¬†After we rinsed, my companions got up and took their mat & loofah to another room.¬† Now, I was distracted by making sure I had my supplies so I didn’t realize that one of my companions had put their underwear back on until I’m in the next room…in all my big booty glory.¬† Sigh.¬† But, the only one who is concerned is me.¬† This room is where the women who work at the hammam will use your loofah to scrub you down.¬† They are wearing only underwear as well.¬† So, I am motioned over to a nice lady who says “Sleep”.¬† I’m like, “What?¬† We take a nap too?¬† But I don’t have any clothes on!”¬† I was so confused.¬† They start doing charades and then just move my body into the position they want it to be in by pushing me back into this woman’s arms so she can cradle me while she scrubs me.¬† I’m not going to lie,¬†I was uncomfortable being naked and held by another almost-naked lady.¬† There was nothing sexual about it…but it was so weird to me.¬† Eventually, you are pushed into a lot of different positions (kind of like yoga) from laying on your side with your arm stretched over your ear to laying on your tummy with your face down.¬† Once I laid down, the lady grabs my ankles and pulls me towards her then starts scrubbing my back & booty.¬† I’m like, “WTF?”¬† Lord help me.¬† But, then, you kind of go into this relaxed state.¬† Don’t ask me how.¬† Every part of your body is scrubbed over the span of 15-20 minutes.¬† It’s clear that I’m a foreigner by my reaction and not being able to communicate in Arabic.¬† But, the lady was so nice and once she was finished she took my face in her hands and gave me a quick kiss on each cheek.¬† I think I still looked dazed from all of our “togetherness”.¬†

(5)¬† After the scrubbing, I was given my loofah back and headed back into the steam room to wash with black soap again.¬† Then we went thru the rinse cycle once more.¬† An attendant (wearing only underwear…seriously, nobody is clothed) keeps filling up our buckets with water.¬† (6)¬† Now it’s time to wash & condition our hair then rinse with the lukewarm water.¬† (7) Once finished, we move onto¬†exfoliating¬†our face.¬† I continue to do this while my companions shave their legs.¬† (8)¬† Then, my companions motion me to lay down on my tummy again (and I’m looking at them like, “Again?¬† I’ve already had my booty scrubbed.”).¬† They begin to massage my legs and back then have me turn over to massage my chest (I know), tummy and arms.¬† (9) Once the massage is complete, we do another rinse (this time with cool water) and I’m given some special shampoo for the va-jay-jay.¬† (10)¬† Finally, it’s time to go.¬† We walk out of the steam room, thru a cooling room into the changing room to dress and leave.

During this entire time, ladies come and go and everybody is talking like we are at a cafe instead of a steam bath.¬† It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I noticed that the women bring in their young daughters so this is something that they start doing at a very young age.¬† Which is why they are not bashful or ashamed of their bodies.¬† I found this refreshing (once I got over being uncomfortable).¬† I felt so clean and so light.¬† But, after almost 3 hours, I was ready for a nap too.

Riad Hammam

This is a totally different experience than the public hammam.¬† The hammams located in¬†riads¬†(i.e. hotels) are geared towards tourists.¬† If you aren’t brave enough to be nude in front of other women, this is your best bet.¬† The riad¬†hammams are like spas where you¬†reserve an appointment time.¬† Once I arrived, I was shown to a changing room with lockers where I stripped out of my clothes, donned a bathing suit and robe.¬† Then, I was led to a shower to rinse off before being shown into a beautifully tiled steam room.¬†¬†I was handed a pillow¬†and instructed to lay down on the tiled bench.¬† I was given a bottle of water and a few minutes to relax before the treatments begin.¬† You can wear bikini bottoms but any top will be removed eventually…I found that out the hard way.¬† Once the attendant comes back in (she is fully clothed by the way), she starts to rub black soap over my body, then rinses¬†me with warm water.¬† Next, she uses the loofah to scrub my body.¬† After that is complete, I was rinsed again, then led out to a small pool which was filled with cool water.¬† I stepped into the pool and soaked for a couple of minutes then was led upstairs for a traditional massage.¬† One thing I’ve noticed about massages¬†that I get overseas is that they massage everything…and I do mean everything.¬† Booty and breasts.¬† So, you just have to either roll with it or let them know you are uncomfortable.

Overall, the hammam experience was great.¬† While I initially had some misgivings about exposing myself, I was able to move past it and really try to understand the true meaning of “cleansing.”¬† In an odd way, I became more comfortable with my body while developing a kinship with my companions.¬† If you go to Morocco, I highly recommend you experience the hammam.¬† I promise that you won’t forget it!

Nikki’s Nest: Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort (Monte-Carlo, Monaco)

My Mom and I stayed at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort in January 2010.¬†¬†The resort has a casino, gym (with free personal trainers) and a spa.¬†¬†While it is not on the main drag,¬†it’s within walking distance to most of the attractions.¬† When you arrive, you feel like you are special…because for what the rooms cost, you¬†should be¬†ūüôā¬† If you feel¬†like splurging, I highly recommend staying at this hotel.¬† If not (and honestly, it’s cheaper to stay in Nice and take the 30 minute bus over for the day), I’d recommend you visit this hotel for the Cinq Mondes spa.¬† I guarantee you will not be disappointed.¬†

Rates & Promotions

I’m not going to lie…like everything else in Monte-Carlo, the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort is expensive.¬†Rates in the low season run around¬†276 Euro/$369 per night for a Superior Room¬†(326 Euro/$463 per night for an Exclusive Room).¬† High season (May –¬†August)¬†is¬†about 377 Euro/$504¬†per night for a Superior Room¬†(485¬†Euro/$649 per night for an Exclusive Room).¬† This usually does not include meals (the continental breakfast cost me 35 Euro).¬† The hotel¬†has special offers¬†that focus on gourmet experiences, Monte-Carlo nightlife and the annual Monte-Carlo Grand Prix.

Room numbers are located on the floor (not on the wall or door).

Rooms & Suites

The resort offers 6 types of Rooms & Suites (3 Rooms and 3 Suites).¬†¬†The 3 Rooms offered are the Superior Room (city view), Exclusive Room (sea view) and¬†the Prestige Room (sea view).¬†¬† The 3 Suites offered are the Duplex Suite, Exclusive Suite and Top Roof Suite.¬†¬†We stayed in the Superior Room and it was wonderful.¬† The room was very comfortable, spacious and cozy.¬† It’s tempting not to leave the room at all!

    

Fitness Center

The resort has a small gym with personal trainers on-site.  The equipment was fairly new, bottled water & towels were provided.  And, if you had the time, you could take advantage of the free personal training.  I was able to do a 45 minute run and strength training without having to wait on a machine.

The Cinq Mondes Spa

My absolute favorite thing about Monte Carlo?  THE CINQ MONDES SPA!  OMG, this place is heaven on earth.  Seriously.  The purpose of our visit to Monte-Carlo was to gamble & spend a day at the spa.  We lost at the casino but the spa more than made up for it. 

I’ve been to countless spas in the U.S. and abroad and this has to be the absolute best in my opinion.¬† We started out in the hammam to relax prior to our spa services.¬†¬†

My first service was the “Aromas & Flowers Japanese Bath” — and it was the most fabulous thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.¬† It was like Christmas!¬†¬†

The Japanese Bath is essentially a big wooden tub that traps heat so the water never gets cold.  You step into a tub of very warm water, then aromatherapy oils are poured in the water.  Once that is complete, rose petals are sprinkled on top of you.  Then, the masseuse places a pillow under your neck and proceeds to give you a scalp and neck massage.  Afterwards, you are left alone for about 15 minutes to relax.  Later, the masseuse brings you peach tea, honey and dried fruit to snack on while you relax in the bath.  Did I mention that the water never gets cold?  OMG, this was HEAVEN!  I do not think I will be able to replicate this in my own tub with some Calgon & Lipton.  My next home needs a relaxation room like this.

After the Japanese Bath, I had¬†the Oriental Massage which was basically me¬†laying on hot towels while being massaged with warm oils.¬† Total bliss.¬† Once the services were over, I was taken to the “Relaxation Room” to¬†recline with some peach tea & honey.¬† I would go back to Monte-Carlo just for the spa.¬† It was just that fabulous.

Not sure what to do when you visit Monte-Carlo?¬† Check out Visit Monaco’s website for the latest news on upcoming events and recommended attractions.

¬†Nikki’s Rating: 5 (Absolutely Wonderful)

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 =¬†Absolutely Wonderful)