I enter the Shangri-la Hotel and I’m immediately aware of its airiness and expansiveness. Light and glass and perfectly placed furniture and decor. I’ve arrived at the Asian-infused palatial estate. It is the epitome of Toronto luxury, situated at the western border of the financial district.
I make my way to the restaurant where an immaculately dressed attendant stands waiting. I ask her if she may direct me to Surinder Bains, the founder of the Miraj Hammam Spa. I turn and a woman walks towards me. She has an air of sophistication and openness, perfectly coiffed hair, and she dons a tastefully tailored dress.
We greet each other warmly and decide to sit in the lounge of the hotel. Before our conversation begins, an attendant dressed in a red kimono dress approaches and asks if we would like anything to drink.
Bains begins to speak and what unfolds is a story made for any wide-eyed dreamer.
“In 1986, I decided to move to Paris,” says Bains. She is in her sixties but you could never tell. Her skin is pristine and speaks volumes of her commitment to health and well-being.
“I was in the travel industry and I owned a travel agency in Vancouver in the 70s and 80s.” The agency is a success, but one day, she decides to leave and fly to France. She describes herself as a global nomad.
Once in Paris, Bains discovers the world of hammams. “I went to a hammam, which is attached to a mosque right in between the Jardin des Plantes and Luxembourg Gardens.” It was not just a steaming and exfoliating treatment that she received, but a cultural experience—an escape to the old world, to the sands of North Africa and to the winds of the Middle East.
“So I went to this Hammam and it transformed my life,” says Bains. “I had never seen such a spectacular marble room. I had never seen so many women so comfortable in their own skin and every body type, every skin colour.
“It was an amazing collection of a myriad of beautiful women and I thought to myself, They’re having the steaming; they’re doing this body exfoliation called gommage, and they’re comfortable. I want to be like that.”
That experience stuck with Bains when she returned to North America. She made a commitment to open a hammam in Vancouver. It opened in 2000 and was the first hammam in Canada. It thrived through word-of-mouth among the well-travelled citizens and within the film industry circuit, but Bains wanted to take the hammam to another echelon.
She was approached and asked to open the Miraj Hammam Spa in the Shangri-la Hotel. The spa is 9,000 square feet of Jerusalem gold marble, velvet-toned drapery, and soft lighting. The treatment rooms are infused with the aroma of eucalyptus, which is the essential oil incorporated into the black Moroccan soap. The very same soap used for the gommage exfoliation treatment.
She says one of her biggest challenges in opening the hammam was in trying to educate people. The bank and city hall were unsure of what to make of this venture, but Bains was unphased.
She knew she had to step it up for the Toronto crowd and she decided to marry the Moroccan olive to the French grape and to align the spa with the Caudalie of Paris, the leader in vinotherapie. “It’s Marrakesh meets Bordeaux,” explains Bains. Morocco meets France.
Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudelis Paris opened its doors in 2012 to the international crowd of busy Torontonians and it has become a true getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.
As I laid back on the refreshing coolness of the Jerusalem gold marble for the hammam treatment, I detected hints of citrus and eucalyptus. It seemed that the film of the city wafted up from my pores, away from my skin, and into the ether.
The gommage treatment shed the layers of the city from my body and I felt the comfort of the argan oil against my newly exfoliated skin.
In the relaxation room, as I was reclining in a bed of pillows while drinking tea and sampling baklava and grapes, I recalled what Bains had said about the meaning of the word ‘mirage.’ In the Arabic world, ‘mirage’ means an ascension to paradise, and that’s exactly what this had felt like, an ascension to some kind of eucalyptus-infused paradise.