Miraj Hammam Shangri La Hotel
Miraj Hammam is tucked away on the fifth floor of the Shangri-La Hotel Toronto. The Moroccan-inspired spa is notable for being one of two in North America to partner with French skincare brand Caudalie. Though the Middle Eastern-style atmosphere is a bit of an outlier within the hotel, it's no less luxurious than the rest of its home base: Gorgeously opulent textures like marble and dark wood characterize the interior, spiced up with bright textiles for an invigorating feel.
A French vineyard influence is entwined with the Moroccan theme - Caudalie's products, which are used in the facials and body treatments, incorporate grapes and grape extracts. That's also reflected in the wine barrel-like hydrotherapy pool in one of the private suites, as well as the dried-vine sculptures (imported from Bordeaux) that decorate the halls.
The spa gets its name from its signature feature - a marble-panelled hammam steam room that lets visitors sweat out stress at temperatures of up to 120 F. It's also the site of their most popular treatment: the gommage, a mega-exfoliating full-body scrub. Spa director Daryll Naidu adds their slate of wine-extract facials ($165-275) and body treatments ($115-155) are also popular.
In addition, there's also a manicure and pedicure area that boasts three manicure areas, five pedicure areas, and a view overlooking University Ave. Several private treatment rooms contain tables suitable for facials, massages and body treatments, including the aforementioned barrel-tub room (a self-contained suite that includes a shower/mini steam room and washroom, which Naidu says is a favourite with celebrity guests).
On my visit, I try out the signature hammam and gommage ($130 for a half-hour treatment). Since the rooms aren't shared (unless a couple or a group chooses to book it), I've got the huge, grotto-like space all to myself. The woman handling my treatment leads me into the low-intensity part of the room, and I'm hit with a wave of heat, followed by a sinus-clearing blast of eucalyptus. I'm not sure whether I can stand the temperatures - but after a few moments in the low-intensity chamber, then in the steam-filled high-intensity area, that worry subsides (the glass of cold water they provide helps).
The therapist shows me to a marble bench within the fog, saying she'll be back after my 15 minutes is up. I spread out on the stone surface (lying on top of your sarong is recommended, unless you enjoy the feeling of being suctioned to a marble slab) and get acclimatized to the strangely cozy, secluded feeling of being shrouded in dense, eucalyptus-infused vapour, alone in the silence except for the occasional hum of the steam generator. (Bonus activity for fellow overactive imagination-havers: imagine yourself in some kind of lost temple underneath a volcano!)
I'm brought back into the low-intensity part of the hammam for the gommage scrub. The therapist slicks on some of the eucalyptus-scented black soap, then gives me a very, very thorough scrubbing with an exfoliating mitt. The scrub ranged from ticklish to wince-inducing (though it's possible I may just be a wuss when it comes to exfoliation), but the therapist made this relative spa neophyte feel quite at ease (and not judged for giggling).
Afterward, I'm instructed to rinse off (using a shower hose attached to the wall). My skin doesn't feel noticeably different - maybe a little rawer - but the esthetician points out visible flakes of sloughed-off skin on the towel (whoa) and says I'll likely notice a difference in the next few days. There's no moisturization or post-treatment phase to the gommage, though, which would have been welcome.
Afterwards, I take my thoroughly-scrubbed self down the hallway to the after-treatment lounge, which is Naidu says is meant to "give the impression of guests leaving the city". Large, bed-like booths filled with cushions line the lounge. It's late on a Tuesday, and I've got the place to myself; someone brings by a piece of baklava, some grapes and a small glass of tea, and I alternate between flipping through magazines and gently dozing.
While the exfoliating treatment just might not have been for me (I really didn't notice much of a difference in my skin the days after my visit), the peaceful, gorgeous environment and unique steam facilities really do make Miraj Hammam feel like a world away from University Ave. - it's a perfect place to get away from it all.
Photos by James C Lee.