Does design matter more than experience? Visiting Hamam Omerya, Cyprus

Sometimes design overpowers an experience and I felt that visiting Hama Omerya in Cyprus, here’s why…

The first time I went to a hamam was when I was in Morocco. I’d previously chickened out of going to one in Turkey as the description in the guidebook of laying flat on a marble slab while someone scrubs you so hard it hurts, didn’t appeal. But I knew at some stage I’d have to give in and test one out.

So on a trip to Marrakech I did. I was scrubbed so much I shed skin but it was a nostalgic memory of bath times at home as a child when my own mum would do that to me: scrub me until all the dirt came off. Since then I’ve been to a hamam in Rabat, also in Morocco. A fuss-free affair it was low-cost and effective. A tiled room with small wells filled with hot water. I was issued with a bucket, took my own soap and paid a woman a small sum to scrub me down, leaving my skin feeling brand new.

Earlier this year when I was in Nicosia, Cyprus I went to try what was supposedly the city’s most luxury spa – Hamam Omerye. Just like I wrote about The Gym gastro bar being Instagrammably perfect, this too seemed to be designed with social media in mind. There are endless mirrors for a start that greet you before you even enter.

The front door is a gateway through to another world. The main room is circular and there are individual stools placed around a circular table all facing towards a towering centrepiece. Here is where you wait before your treatment and where you take a seat after it. There’s hot mint tea, nuts, dried fruits and Cypriot Delight to nibble on. All around are curtains, behind them are treatment rooms that double up as changing rooms though they’re more like treatment shrines. It’s very palatial with soft furnishing, cushions and bolsters. The aesthetics are spot on, both inside and out.

Be warned though due to the nature of the open plan reception there are guests checking in and out directly outside the treatment cabins so it won’t be a quiet zen like escape if you’re having a massage. The best place to grab some peace and quiet is in the hamam’s gardens. There’s seating areas, cushions, bric and brac style props and of course, lots of mirrors.

Visitors to the hamam are issued with a loofah, towels and slippers; you can either wear swimwear or nothing – for the latter bring your own towels as the ones they provide will barely cover you.

The hamam itself is grand, light and spacious and there’s space to sit down and scrub up but no one to assist or advise so the experience is a bit uneventful if you’ve never been to a hamam before as you won’t know what to do.

While a lot of thought has clearly gone into the hamam, not being able to properly enjoy it while you’re there is clearly a flaw. The showers where you wash before you go in seem to have been designed as an after thought too, they’re very basic possibly to just get you in and out quickly and of course they don’t need to be Instagrammable.

But that’s what put me off. On first impressions Hamam Omerya is picture perfect but pull it apart and you realise it’s all just aesthetics. Bland showers, noise, tiny towels, not enough therapists, average customer service – unfortunately no matter how attractive a place is, these are the aspects that we as visitors really care about.

It feel likes on most days when I look at my social media feed another ‘instagram-friendly’ place pops up, whether it’s a cafe, event or exhibition – sometimes it feels like activities are designed only to be photographed rather than actually experienced. But it feels like ‘peak instagramability’ is in sight and I welcome the end of it because as much as I love great design, colour and curiosity – I do miss the normality of places and sometimes pine for a return to the age when taking photos didn’t matter.

I visited Hamam Omeriya as a guest of the Cyprus Tourism Board.
8 Tyllirias Square, Nicosia 1016, Cyprus