Traditional saunas have long been a mainstay of Finnish culture. In recent years, a range of unusual steam baths have entered the scene. Now it’s possible to enjoy a sauna in exotic locations ranging from a Ferris wheel to the Helsinki waterfront.
Swimming your worries away
Finland is a land of thousands of lakes and millions of saunas, so it is only natural to combine these two elements. The ideal Finnish sauna experience includes a refreshing swim in natural waters, no matter what time of year it is.
Ice swimming is a big part of a Finnish winter bathing experience. While it may sound scary, it is in fact good for you – and nothing could be more refreshing.
Finnish researcher Pirkko Huttunen of the University of Oulu has found that the refreshing effect of winter swimming is good for the body: It improves blood circulation and boosts your metabolism. According to Huttunen’s findings, frequent ice swimming will also lower blood pressure.
Luxury in saunas
Sauna scents, sauna hats, and sauna stove decorations have taken their share of the sauna market. Sauna scents have various options from the scent of smoke to the scent of birch leaves, and sauna hats come in many designs.
Sauna is like a regular part of the Finnish culture, but at the same time it is also considered a luxury. Some brands manufacture towels, bathrobes and other accessories that aim to provide sauna enthusiasts with a spa-like experience.
The business of sauna
There are some 30 commercial sauna stove brands in Finland, and that is totally normal for a sauna-crazy country. According to the executive director of the Sauna from Finland network, Carita Harju, the sauna-loving Finns are sauna-stove connoisseurs.
“There are so many different kinds of saunas in Finland that many types of sauna stoves are necessary,” Harju says.
The biggest sauna stove brands in Finland are Harvia and Helo; approximately 50 percent of their sauna stoves are sold abroad.
In Finnish culture, sauna has always been thought of as a place that keeps people healthy. There is even a proverb that says, “If liquor, tar and sauna don’t help, then the illness is fatal.”
Nowadays it is demonstrably true that sauna can actually heal people, or at least help keep them healthier.
The medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine has published research from the University of Eastern Finland showing the health benefits of sauna. According to the research, frequent sauna bathing reduces risks of cardiac arrest.
Helsinki’s trendiest seaside sauna
Löyly is a monument to the development of modern saunas. An impressive building located on a beautiful stretch of Helsinki waterfront, it is a rectangular, sculptural structure made of heat-treated pine. The elongated wooden shape forms terraces where people can sit and relax. The building consists of two parts: public saunas and a restaurant. The word löyly is the Finnish name for the steam that rises from the stones on top of the sauna stove.
Traditionally men and women bathe separately, but the owners and architects of Löyly wanted the sauna be a place where people can spend time with their friends, regardless of gender. So, in an unusual policy for a Finnish sauna, bathing suits are required at Löyly.
Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara of Avanto Architects, believe that in the future there will be more unisex saunas. They say that Finnish saunas will become more interesting and gain more global popularity, and will be regarded for their curative properties as well as a luxurious place of cleansing. Puustinen and Hara believe that there will be more Löyly-like public bath houses built in cities, since people see sauna bathing as a social event nowadays.
Finland’s oldest public sauna
Rajaportti (Border Gate), the oldest Finnish public sauna still in use, lies in Pispala, in the central Finnish city of Tampere. Its large sauna stove, or kiuas, is equipped with special stones weighing a total of more than 1,000 kilogrammes. It is a challenging task to warm up this sauna, as it must be heated with one-metre logs.
Though the heating process takes time, the steam stones are so large that once they are heated up they stay hot for the whole day.
In Finnish culture, the sauna is a place to rest and cleanse mind and body. Mobile phones must be turned off; it is enough to listen to the calming hiss of water becoming steam as it hits the stones.
Sauna with a moving view
There are always new, exotic saunas popping up as the sauna culture evolves.
In Finnish Lapland, at a ski resort called Ylläs, you can steam your muscles in the Sauna Gondola after skiing. There’s room for four people.
In Helsinki you’ll find a sauna 40 metres off the ground with a marvelous sea view – on a Ferris wheel. Sky Sauna’s unique sauna cabin fits five people, and is probably the hottest way to enjoy a view of Helsinki. The sauna experience is augmented with a hot tub, located safely on the ground. You can enjoy the sauna in the air and then come down and continue to relax in the hot tub.
Close to the Ferris wheel is another relative newcomer, Allas Sea Pool. The unique complex brings together ocean swimming pools, urban culture and of course saunas.
As with most sizable cities, Helsinki has its own Burger King, but with a twist: there is a sauna in this one. The sauna is located downstairs from the restaurant, and can accommodate 15 burger- and sauna-loving people.
By Anni Saastamoinen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine