Lots of different cultures around the world are onboard with communal steam baths and hot spas: everywhere from Japan and Turkey to Hungary and Sweden. But in terms fending off Arctic chills with a relaxing sauna, Finland probably takes the (very hot) cake. They even invented the word: the only Finnish term to make it into everyday English.
The bathing ritual has been performed across the country for thousands of years, and is closely associated with a Finn’s wellbeing, opening minds as well as pores. Like a church or temple, it’s also a place to behave yourself. That’s why we were so delighted to stumble across this page from the Official Travel Guide of Finland detailing 10 Sauna Tips for Beginners.
A sauna, it says, is “a place for physical and mental cleansing”, filled with the scents of birch and tar, and getting invited to one is an honour. Bonding with your fellow sauna-goers is encouraged, as is nudity, and maybe networking, too: “It is said that in Finland, more important decisions get made in saunas than in meetings.”
Feel free to gently whip yourself with a “vasta” or “vihta” – a bundle of fresh birch twigs. Supposedly this is good for your skin. And throw as much water on the stove as you like. (You should drink a lot of it, too.)
Finally, though, the Finns want visitors to relax and enjoy themselves: “There are no real rules when it comes to sauna… The most important thing is to relax, socialise, have a couple of drinks and enjoy the blissful post-sauna feeling of having cleaned both your body and your mind.”
Image by volk-y