I spent my 20s in New York, which was perfect. Now it's wonderful to be 50 in Paris. Walking across the Pont Royal recently -- with that stunning view up and down the Seine -- the city seemed very much like a woman of a certain age, still beautiful, if meticulously maintained, respected and gently treated.
I was on my way to La Sultane de Saba, a day spa near the Place Victor Hugo on the Right Bank where I had booked a body and face treatment. As a travel writer, I've written about many spas and have had beauty treatments all around the world, including a flower bath in Bali and a seaweed wrap on the Brittany coast. Believe it or not, it was work, at first, but when I moved to L.A. I started indulging in spa treatments and massages for personal pleasure and rehabilitation. I don't even feel guilty about it anymore. Postcards from Paris readers who think I'm a spoiled, aging American woman who will never be anything other than a tourist in the City of Light -- all true, I confess -- should shut down their computers now.
Given my hedonistic habits, I was disappointed to find few day spas in Paris when I moved here a year ago. It seemed as if French hedonism stopped at the stomach. I had an indifferent massage at a salon near the Marche St. Germain and, recalling an exquisite visit to a Turkish bath in Istanbul, tried two Paris hammams, which feature Middle Eastern-style steam baths and exfoliation.
The first was the Hammams des Grand Boulevards, near the Cinema Rex, where the $80 treatment package included use of the sauna, exfoliation and a brief massage. But there was no hot tub and the atmosphere was YMCA-ish. The second was the hammam at the Mosquee de Paris in the Latin Quarter, where I had a $50 package, including a 10-minute massage, exfoliation, sticky black soap to aid exfoliation and tea. With its green tile roof, courtyard garden, tower and tea room, the mosque is a fascinating spot for sightseers. But the hammam is more a backpacker's delight than a mature indulgence, one of the few places in central Paris that still has stand-up toilets. If you go, keep wandering through the steam to the room farthest away from the entrance; it has a terrifically scalding hot tub.
Having just returned from La Sultane de Saba, I'm feeling a little light-headed. But I can positively say that spa connoisseurs will find it well worth visiting. The facilities are a little cramped, but my $155 package, including use of the steam room, Turkish mint tea, a facial and the full range of body treatments, lasted three hours and lavished upon me all the Sultane de Saba products, including a to-die-for Barbary fig face cream.
I'm feeling very relaxed now, but my hair and skin are greasy, since I was advised to leave on the oils.
It isn't easy keeping yourself up if you're a fiftysomething, which makes me appreciate Paris all the more.