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 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 there were no Italian doctors, so I decided it was about time to have my very first sauna experience. And let’s face it, is there a better country to do that?
How to enjoy a proper Finnish sauna in Finland
Obviously, you can have a sauna in many places, but Finland is where the tradition is most strongly felt. The Finnish sauna is to be taken naked, but unlike in Germany, where this rule (like all others) is to be followed very literally, here foreigners can wear a swimwear, like I did, or wrap themselves with a towel if they don’t feel comfortable in just taking their clothes off.
Being this custom so common, it came with no surprise that you find many places offering sauna services and that it’s not even expensive, but what struck me was to learn that most modern private houses actually have a sauna inside. It’s like I come back from work in the evening and instead of relaxing with a bath or shower or a book, I take a sauna. This suffices to make me want to move to Finland.
While in most countries a sauna is simply a moment of relaxing, in Finland these wood-panelled rooms have a whole greater meaning which, according to an interesting post on the subject on Visit Finland’s website, has nothing to do with sex, and even suggesting it doesn’t make you look cool.
Sauna in Finland: 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. At 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.
My first Finnish sauna experience took place on the very first night at quaint Hartola’s Linna Hotel, a 200-year-old former cowhouse and that has been revamped into a cosy hotel and restaurant. Being the area in the middle of a bog, our sauna was enriched with peat, 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 about what you are looking for every single evening.
The second experience involved a traditional smoke Finnish sauna and took place in Kammi, close to Vierumäki Sports Center, in a wooden hobbit-like house overlooking the beautiful Mustajärvi Lake where, right after our 85-C° sauna, we throw ourselves in for a 13-C° swim with Finland’s national bird, the swan. This inevitably contributed to creating the magical atmosphere and giving the feeling of being whirled back in time when (and where!) sauna was invented about 2000 years ago.
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.
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 in 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 a 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 relaxing and detoxing treatment I need after a day of writing.