Steam hangs heavy in the air. The basalt smooth stone of the hamam feels like the glass of an oven door until I douse it in water and lay my frame down, not entirely sure what to expect from the muscular fellow holding a soapy rag. Peter, the professional masseur, is instructing new attendants of this Turkish bath in the art of scrubbing.
“Lather the body very well,” he says.
And then he starts whipping my flesh into submission with loud smacks, which sound worse than they feel.
“It improves the circulation,” puffs Peter.
Did I mention that this feels fantastic? After the scrub down, he tells me to shut my eyes, and whoosh! I get a bowlful of cold water splashed on my back.
“It helps release tensions,” he says.
Ah, so that’s why I am here in the hamam, experiencing the pleasures of the new spa opened at the Hagoshrim Resort Hotel on the grounds of Kibbutz Hagoshrim at the headwaters of the Jordan River: to release tensions of the hectic life in this country.
Who among us doesn’t yearn for a time when today is like yesterday and tomorrow, when there is nothing to ruffle the curtains of the mind, no storms on the horizon? There are few places where one can find such sought-after isolated monotony in Israel. Hagoshrim’s new boutique wing, with its new spa, is one of them.
Straddling the Koren stream, one of the tributaries of the Jordan River that begins a few kilometers south, the Hagoshrim spa opened its doors in September on the site of the large Hagoshrim resort, which has been a mecca in the Upper Galilee for Israelis since the 1950s.
The relatively new 47-room boutique wing has one goal in mind: “Pampering,” says Eitan Rahimi, the director general of the resort for the past 12 years. “We like to see people in their robes. We also ask our guests to keep their mobile phones on ‘silent.’” The boutique wing is spotlessly clean and still seems new, even two years after its opening. Its spacious private rooms have a tasteful but slightly sterile atmosphere, giving me the impression that it could be any fancy hotel in the world. That is, until you step out onto the large balcony overlooking the scenic landscape. The view stretches from the Manara Cliffs to Metulla and the Jordan tributary valley all the way to the peaks of Mount Hermon, which are covered in snow in the winter.
Only guests aged 18 and up are allowed into the boutique wing, which includes a VIP lounge with complimentary coffee (from a real espresso machine), nuts and dried fruit, wine, newspapers, magazines, etc. It also includes free access to the spa, which is called Fiorina.
“The benefit is that we give all the comforts of a bed and breakfast but with the benefit that only a large hotel can give, like the lobby, pools and, of course, the spa,” says Rahimi.
As it happened, the outdoor pool closed for the season the day before we arrived.
But the indoor pool was available, just a short walk down a river path. The gym would have been a great attraction had it not been for a previous stop we had made at one of the local wineries that put us in, shall we say, a lethargic mood.
As guests in the boutique wing, we had open access to the spa. The kibbutz has just invested NIS 4 million in the new 600-square-meter spa, which occupies the entire ground floor of the boutique wing. Its entire eastern glass wall overlooks the famous Valley of the Lost River.
It has 10 treatment rooms, a public room with lounge chairs, and changing rooms with lockers that contain plush robes, slippers and towels. There is a large selection of infusion teas and fruit available in the lounge, as well as the de rigueur dry sauna.
These are all the trappings for the time one spends between the wide variety of treatments on offer.
Although the spa opened its doors just last month, there were few indications that it was new, as everything was complete.
Its only flaw, I found, was its lack of some of the extras one might find in other spas around the country, such as treatment pools filled with softened water with piped-in music and river pebble bottoms.
However, in place of a freezing-cold plunge pool outside the hamam, it offered a unique snow machine that dispensed crushed ice one could toss on oneself (or one’s partner) for the same invigorating effect.
The sole Jacuzzi was in a treatment room for couples. It was here that we enjoyed the famed Cleopatra bath, named for the Queen of the Nile who attributed her beauty to taking baths in rose petals and asses’ milk. But all too soon, a knock on the door summoned us to the next phase of our spa experience.
I chose the house specialty – the combination treatment (NIS 340). Wearing only a white bathrobe, I was summoned to a dark room, where New Age music and masseuse Angelica beckoned me to relax.
For the next hour, she rubbed my neck, shoulders and back, turning my muscles into jelly. The soft rhythm of the music New Age purred in the background as I sank lower and lower into that realm of tranquility. Your mind floats. You make resolutions. You promise to use this spa visit as the jump-start to get your health act together. This was followed by a vigorous body rubdown.
I’m sure that if Angelica had spoken, she would have said, “It improves the circulation.”
I told her afterwards that she had the hands of an angel.
Classical treatments are also available, of course, as are peelings and facials. Spa treatments range from NIS 210 to NIS 420.
A special Fiorina package for a couple, which includes a honey/almond body peeling, a combination massage, lavender bath and a bottle of Chablis, costs NIS 1,150.
My partner chose the Ayurveda. The ancient Indian treatment (NIS 420) starts with a gentle body peel, followed by a body massage using special vitamin and mineral-rich sesame oil, warmed up and poured on slowly. This was followed by oil drizzled on her forehead, or “third eye” as the Indian philosophers call it. I found her in a state of bliss recovering in the lounge.
If the idea was to create an atmosphere of recreation and pampering, Hagoshrim certainly succeeded.The writer was a guest of the Hagoshrim Hotel and Spa.
Hotel website: www.hagoshrim-hotel.co.il