Thanks to the steaming hammams that occupy Istanbul, Turkey has long been a destination for men looking to get pampered. Hole-in-the-wall establishments like Kadirga Hamam in the old city offer guests tired from haggling in the Grand Bazaar a chance to don a pestamal – think glorified loincloth – and suffer through one of the deep-tissue massages meted about by barrel-chested specialists. The experience is more memorable than comfortable. As it turns out, the real place to get properly pampered is hundreds of miles away. The tiny town of Pamukkale, Turkish for “Cotton Castles,” offers the most memorable treatments in Asia Minor.
Pamukkale is an ivory mountain of terraced travertine (basins created by limestone-rich hot springs) that has been used as a Roman spa since biblical times. A short, barefoot hike leads visitors up the hill toward the springs, where they soak in the pools, pack on a face mask from the milky waters, and bask beneath the snow-capped peaks of Mount Honaz national park. This is nature’s most awesome infinity pool.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain tends to get crowded with day trippers by early afternoon. The best strategy is to overnight in one of the village’s budget hotels and roll out early. There is no sense in making the trip and not enjoying the baths at their best.
It may seem a bit extreme to trek all the way to southwest Turkey to moisturize, but visitors who hike beyond the brow of Pamukkale discover the ruins of the ancient Phrygian city of Hieropolis. The site features the temple of Apollo, a magnificent amphitheatre and the recently discovered Pluto’s Gate, said to be the mythological portal to Hades. Turkey’s greatest spa turns out to be open come Hell and high water.
More information: Kadirga Hamam sits on 69B Liman Caddesi in downtown Istanbul. It is a 24-hour rail and road adventure from Istanbul to Pamukkale with train routes regularly changing due to maintenance work. Keep an eye out for the Turkish State Railways fantastic bargain sleeper cabins, which come with complimentary slippers, a shower, and a carriage butler. Seat61 is a great website to keep up with train travel updates.
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