This review of Hammam by Cela spa in Toronto is part of the series 100 Baths, my search for the world’s best spas and public bathing rituals. Read more and see the list here!
I first discovered the pleasure of hammam in a Paris spa. Then I had the chance to visit a very traditional hammam in Morocco. But I can’t always get to those places! Lucky for me, there are several hammam spas in Toronto, including two locations of my favourite, Hammam by Cela.
Celine Tadrissi wanted to bring the best of Turkish and Moroccan bathing traditions to Toronto. Her original location on King Street West was the first of its kind in Toronto, placing on many lists for Best Spas in Canada. A second location opened in 2020 in Bayview Village to offer the experience uptown.
Just before the pandemic lockdowns hit, I made the “trek” to check out the new Hammam by Cela in North York with a girlfriend. It was so blissful I dreamed of it until restrictions were lifted and I could go again – and then booked a solo trip closer to me at the hammam on King West. So this is a review of both experiences.
What is a hammam?
A hammam, also called a Turkish bath, is a steam room used for getting clean and relaxation. A traditional hammam, as found in much of the Middle East and other Islamic countries, is usually communal, a place women or men to gather (separated by gender) for wellness and socializing. It’s not unlike a Scandinavian sauna. Hammams existed long before we had plumbing in our homes so you can see why it was popular for hygiene.
In modern spas, a hammam usually refers to a communal steam room and some kind of private body treatment, most often a vigorous exfoliation and rinse with warm water. It’s more of a place to destress and treat yourself using ancient bathing techniques.
Hammam by Cela is a spa experience – they offer a steam room, relaxation zones, and a menu of services including the Hammam Turkish Bath, which is what I signed up for. I had walked by the Hammam sign on King West for years and was eager to finally see how it’s done here in Toronto.
The new hammam in Bayview Village
The Hammam by Cela in North York has a whopping 13,000 square feet inside the Bayview Village shopping centre. Yes, it’s in a mall. But upon arrival, there’s glamourous spiral staircase to take you upstairs. Careful attention to architecture, design and lighting make you feel more like you’re in Morocco than the suburbs.
We took a quick tour of the facilities then got changed into the oversized Turkish towels they provide. These are excellent for wearing in the steam room if you don’t want to put on a swimsuit. There weren’t many other people around but it seemed to be 50/50 on wearing suits vs towels. (The space is co-ed and nudity is not allowed, so you need to pick one.)
The Hammam by Cela steam room is beautiful!
For someone who mostly wears black I’m quite drawn to bold colours. The steam rooms here are lit with LED lights that bathe the entire space in blue, green, yellow, orange, pink or purple, slowly rotating between colours. The doors are glass so from down the hall you can see this effect and start to get excited about leaving behind the ordinary world and stepping into a different state of mind.
For me, a good steam room hits you right upon entry – with heat, where your throat and eyes have to adjust. That’s how I know I’m going to get a really good sweat! The room here very hot, and steamy. It takes a few minutes for me to make out the seating – mosaic tiles that sparkle and glisten. So pretty!
My friend and I lay in the steam room for a quite a while, letting our limbs lengthen and our skin pores open. You can talk in here, but we chose to just relax and zone out.
My hammam attendant came to find me at the appropriate time so I said goodbye to my friend who was going for a massage and went into my treatment room. You wear a swimsuit for this because you will be getting wet. The treatment table is a slab of marble. Heated marble table, so good!
The environment was more high-end but my scrub was quite similar to the traditional hammam in Morocco. Using a thick black paste made from olives called “black soap” and a scrubbing mitt, my attendant gave my body a full rub down, removing so many dead skin cells. Using bowls of warm water, I was rinsed from head to toe – the most relaxing way to have a bath, in my opinion.
Afterwards, the attendant surprised me with a special treatment I’d not had before—bubbles! I don’t want to spoil it with details, but it was very fun and put me a good mood.
After an hour on the slab I was back in my fluffy robe and sipping mint tea with my friend in front of a lovely fireplace in the lounge area. All around a truly relaxing experience and I left with super smooth skin and ready to float into bed.
The original Hammam on King West
It would be two years before I could hit up Hammam by Cela again, and this time I chose the downtown location.
The vibe is different here as you go downstairs, not up, into a more intimate environment. There is still a relaxation area with tea and snacks and comfy chairs, but it’s smaller. This is to be expected in a neighbourhood where space is a premium. I liked how it felt like a secret hidden in plain sight from the bustle of King Street West.
The steam room here is just as beautiful and hot as I’d remembered – I had the place to myself to bask in the beautiful colours and really sweat out toxins and stress. I took advantage of the refreshing cold towels outside the room to wake myself up before my hammam treatment.
Once again, that heated marble slab and exfoliation worked wonders for my tired body. Both attendants were skilled in this treatment and made me feel very comfortable.
Walking back to get some tea I noticed the door open on a room with a deep soaker tub. This private suite can be added to any treatment. It costs an extra $160 and comes with lovely smelling bath products, chocolates, champagne and 30 minutes of private time. Apparently it’s popular with couples—I can guess why.
If this place was the same price as a Moroccan hammam in Morocco, I would come all the time! As it is, for me it’s a special occasion treat in a beautiful setting to tide me over until my next trip to the East. It’s a splendid way to warm up in winter, rid yourself of some toxins, or just reset your mind during stressful times.
Know Before You Go
My last visit was November 2021. Always check the website for the latest intel.
Where: Hammam by Cela has two locations. Downtown they are at 602 King St West at Portland (on the King streetcar line) and in North York it’s 2901 Bayview Avenue (free parking lot).
When: Open daily. Bayview is 10am to 8pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. King West is 10am to 8pm 7 days a week. Booking ahead is recommended, especially if you’re trying to co-ordinate treatments with a friend/partner. Be mindful if you book the last appointment of the day, you won’t have as much time to chill over tea after.
What to bring: Not much! This is a luxury spa so they provide almost everything you might need. Robes, Turkish towels, slippers, and lockers and the change rooms are stocked with quality shower products, hair products, styling tools, body lotion, etc, all included. A swimsuit if you are getting the hammam treatment. (If you’re getting a massage and using the steam room, you can just cover with the Turkish towel.)
How much: The signature Turkish Bath treatment is $200 and a Rhassoul Clay Wrap is $210. These give you access to all the facilities. You can also just pay to visit the steam room and lounge areas on weekdays only, for $65. Call ahead to see if there’s room. (This can’t be booked ahead.)