Finland's Saunas: The Charm of an Ancient Scandinavian Tradition

Finland's Saunas: The Charm of an Ancient Scandinavian Tradition

The pinnacle of #relaxation can be found in #Finland. With a deep rooted tradition behind them, saunas are a fantastic way to relax, but also a place for reflexion. Löyly, the Finnish word to describe the steam coming off the rocks in the #sauna, is also used in a more spiritual sense to describe the feeling the room itself evokes in its visitors.


The leitmotif of my recent trip to Finland, between a kayaking session and a hiking adventure, has always been one thing: the Finnish sauna.

It's the perfect way to round off a long day, the best place to close a deal, the cosy haven where you can spill out your secrets (sort of), and by all means the only place to effectively ward off your daily stress. Sauna is for everybody. Doctors have always told me not to go for a sauna because I have low blood pressure, and in Finland I realized I had normally followed their advice because in Italy sauna is not that common. However, in Finland, Italian doctors could not see me, so I decided it was about time to have my very first sauna experience. And let’s face it, where's a better country to do that?

The source of the heat to be increased with water repeatedly thrown on hot stones
The source of the heat

Obviously, you can have a sauna in many places, but Finland is where the tradition is most strongly felt. Finnish sauna is to be taken naked, but unlike in Germany, where this rule (like all others) are to be followed very literally, here foreigners can wear swimwear, like I did, or wrap themselves with a towel if they don’t feel comfortable just taking their clothes off.

This is enough to make me want to move to Finland.

Being that this custom is so common, it wasn't surprising that you find many places offering sauna services and it’s not even expensive, but what struck me was to learn that most modern private houses actually have a sauna inside. I could come back from work in the evening and instead of relaxing with a bath or shower or a book, I take a sauna. This is enough to make me want to move to Finland.

Tools for the very much sought after loyly
Tools for the very much sought after löyly

While in most countries a sauna is simply a moment of relax, in Finland these wood-panelled rooms have a whole greater meaning which, according to an interesting post I saw on the Visit Finland’s website, has nothing to do with sex, and even suggesting it doesn’t make you look cool.

The Moister, the Better

That’s right, the more natural, moister and hydrating, the more enjoyable the sauna is. During the sauna, a crucial moment is the löyly, when you throw water on the hot stones to increase the temperature and the humidity. On the very moment you throw water, the temperature goes down and a couple of minutes are needed for the steam to make it increase again. The higher the heat, the more your pores open, the more detoxing the effect is. And this is probably why sauna is so important: detoxing is good for your skin, your body, and your mind. The heavy sweating makes it essential to drink plenty, any drink is fine, obviously water is always the best choice.

The thermometer to see where the temperature is going after all the loyly activity
The thermometer to track our sauna temperature

My first Finnish sauna experience took place on the very first night at the quaint Hartola’s Linna Hotel, a 200-year-old former cowhouse that has been revamped into a cosy hotel and restaurant. Being in the middle of a bog, our sauna was enriched with peat, a mineral-rich raw material dug directly by hand from the region’s marshland. With sauna-induced wide open pores, a twenty minute peat treatment all over your body is just what I'm looking for every single evening.

from  $117

Linna Hotelli

 Kaikulantie 86, Hartola, Finland

The second experience involved a traditional smoke sauna and took place in Kammi, close to Vierumäki Sport Center, in a wooden hobbit-like house overlooking the beautiful Mustajärvi Lake where, right after our 85C° sauna, we throw ourselves in for a 13C° swim with Finland’s national bird, the swan. This inevitably contributed in creating the magical atmosphere and giving the feeling of being whirled back in time when (and where!) sauna was invented about 2,000 years ago.

The löyly tools to throw water on the hot stones
The löyly tools to throw water on the hot stones

In its origins, Finnish sauna was not merely a relaxing place where Finns used to meet to socialize and have fun, but carried a much greater weight. It’s here that in the past women used to give birth, where a traditional festival usually kicked off, and also where important decisions were made.

Our smoke sauna in Kammi was indeed magical for many reasons, starting from the sauna itself, where the water was thrown on real charcoal, carrying on with a spellbinding evening swim in the swan-populated lake, and ending with a medieval dinner (in case the sauna was not traditional enough) with deliciously seasoned fresh salmon, pork shanks simmered in Laiskajaakko beer, roasted lamb, a heavenly spelt with beetroot and garlic cooked in wine all matched with freshly baked bread and, for dessert, a scrumptious serving of frosty sour cranberries in caramel sauce flambé with cognac.

This is where we had our smoke sauna in Kammi
This is where we had our smoke sauna in Kammi

Since each sauna I took in Finland had its own theme, I would say that the theme for my last Finnish sauna was the view. In fact, the last sweating/detoxing/swimming experience happened on the luxurious premises of Kiuasniemi’s Villa Jolla with the beautiful sight of Lake Päijänne and clear skies.

While after only three nights I can hardly say that I got used to having Finnish sauna every day, I can’t deny that often I find myself wishing to sit in silence in a dimly lit room throwing löyly every now and then and letting the steam do all the work. Exactly the relaxing and detoxing treatment I need after a day of writing.

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