Alexandria’s most unique spa offering might also be its oldest, as spa and travel writer Lucie Grace finds during a week of wellness in Egypt.
Most of ancient Alexandria was lost to the sea during an earthquake in 365 CE, but traces of Queen Cleopatra’s famously luxe lifestyle can be found in the port city on Egypt’s northern seafront – especially for spa-seeking travellers.
The secret to Cleopatra’s remarkably beautiful skin was allegedly to bathe in a tub of milk. What would the great lady Pharaoh would make of the pampering possibilities in her city today?
I decide to spend a week treating myself like a queen in Alexandria’s spas, with the ultimate goal of channelling my inner Cleopatra by tracking down a place to bathe in milk and honey.
My week of princely pampering hits the ground running at The Premedion Spa and Clinic at the Hilton King’s Ranch. This huge wellness destination hosts spa and beauty facilities fit for a queen, as well as Egypt’s leading physiotherapy centre. Cleo would have surely approved of the Chocolate Lovers Delight package, which is a laudable feast for the senses.
Using all natural and organic products, my wonderfully skilled masseuse starts the ritual with a scrub of brown sugar, cinnamon and coconut oil, followed by a dark chocolate body mask and wrap. No judgement is passed at all when I ask my masseuse if I can taste the mask. Apparently lots of people do, but it doesn’t taste as good as it smells.
Once the mask is wiped off, the sumptuous package is completed with a 50-minute coconut oil and dark chocolate massage that leaves me feeling like a queen. My skin shimmers afterwards, smelling like chocolate until the next evening’s spa proceedings.
The following day’s research takes me to Hammam Al Sham where the team is on a mission to bring hammam bathing back to Alexandria, as the great Ottoman institution of the public hammam has waned in modern Egypt.
I’m over the moon to find that this hammam offers a ‘Cleopatra bath’ treatment but alas, a milk bath does not feature in my visit. Instead, I’m led to the women-only, public hammam room, where I’m left to steam and soften for half an hour before a therapist scrubs away my top layer of skin.
Four different masks are then applied, left for 10 minutes and washed off ready for the next. First a coconut mask, incredibly fragrant and thick with flakes. Then a milky shea butter concoction whose ingredients are a secret. Third is a cool, clay, mint-smelling mask, and finally I am washed in rose petals which is surprisingly pleasant.
While the facilities here need a bit of TLC and the steam could be thicker, the decadence of its multifarious scrubs definitely makes my skin smoother. That only spurs me on to find the queen of skin-smoothing substances: an authentic Cleopatra milk bath.
On the third day of my cosmetic self-care adventure, I go to the charming Aphrodiet Wellness Centre, in upmarket Kafr Abdo Roushdy. I’ve noticed that some spas in Alexandria offer a ‘Moroccan bath’ treatment, so decide to check out what this popular option is all about.
This classy joint was the right place to do it, offering physiotherapy, nutrition plans, and beauty and wellness treatments in a homely, ivy-fronted spa. My Moroccan therapist Zakia explains that a Moroccan bath is essentially a private hammam, rebranded for an Egyptian audience that became disconnected from the practice of public bathing a generation or two ago.
Zakia lets me soften up in the steam room, before washing me down with black, olive-based soap straight from Morocco, and scrubbing my skin (lightly, on my request, as I tell her I had this done yesterday – which she finds highly amusing).
After my bath, my relaxed bod is led to an insanely fragrant treatment room for a massage that incorporates reflexology and aromatherapy, using orange and lemongrass oils on my head, neck and back. As modern equivalents go, Aphrodiet comes up trumps, but my quest for milk bathing continues.
While this no-frills spot certainly isn’t regal, it is bursting with heart and soul. The husband-and-wife owners cater mostly to wedding parties, making young women’s bridal dreams come true in expansive beauty packages.
I go for the 20-minute ‘light cleaning facial’ with Dr Ahmed, whose mad professor vibes are slightly unnerving but are no match for his exclusively organic facial products, which promise to rejuvenate my skin.
We start with a coconut and shea face mask, which smells edible to say the least, and is followed by a cooling fruit scrub that’s sandpapered onto my face with a rotating steel tool. The horrifying utensil takes me by shock but does the trick: I’m free of any trace of blackheads after.
The queenliest face mask comes last: a gold, glittery one which rehydrates my skin before I totter off, pink and glowing, to book myself in at the Four Seasons for the following day. I’m overjoyed to find that a milk bath is on the menu.
On my last day in Alexandria, I can’t contain my excitement as I walk along the San Stefano seafront to The Four Seasons. The hotel complex is vast, encompassing a public shopping mall, cafes, residential apartments and, of course, its hotel facilities: exquisite bars and restaurants, a private beach resort and my final destination, the luxury spa.
By now I am brimming with curiosity about the milk bath. How much milk goes into it? And will my dairy intolerance and veganism – which have taken a back seat until now – be a problem? I decide to sponsor a cow when I get home.
Pressing on, I’m presented with a huge fluffy bathrobe and led to the private bath suite by my lovely therapist who explains that I’ll have half an hour in the milk bath, followed by a massage.
To say this is the best bath of my life is an understatement. The huge tub is the perfect temperature, full of water, milk, honey and fragrant rosewater. I guess at a 50/50 milk to water ratio, but such secrets are not to be revealed.
If your clients are looking for the ultimate bathing experience, this is it. My skin not only feels softer, but has a lovely glow for days after. While Alexandria today would be unrecognisable to dear Cleo, with its expansive stretch of coast and beach club after beach club, her spirit lives on in its spas – and you can treat yourself like a queen on any budget.