We will soon come back in more detail to our Finnish adventures, but today I want to share with you the discovery that will probably surprise me the most (and refrigerate): the traditional sauna in Finland, the top of the top in terms of wellness made in Scandinavia!
Finnish sauna: A whole institution!
Before coming to Finland I had already vaguely heard that people in Nordic countries were sauna enthusiasts, but honestly I didn’t think it would be that much!
Come on, numbers speak louder than words.
Finland, 5.4 million inhabitants and 3 million saunas registered! Which still makes an average of 2 saunas per household! That’s pretty hot, don’t you think?! (okay, enough with laim jokes)
In fact, this important figure is relatively easy to explain. It is customary here that each house has at least one sauna in the bathroom.
And for the more modest people it is generally at least one sauna per building. Add to that the fact that in Finland, 70% of households own a holiday home by a lake, and that of course no holiday home is complete without its sauna!
A sauna to be found in every single household
Quite often the sauna is even a small additional house in the garden, so in Finland forget “the cabin at the back of the garden” and replace it with “a sauna at the back of the garden” as it was the case during our stay in Aland. 😉
And the Finns are enjoying it a lot! Of all the Finns we have met, all (absolutely all) go to the sauna regularly. Our couchsurfing host from Helsinki told us to go there “only twice a month”, but otherwise the average would be more like twice a week!
When the sauna “sport” is pushed to the extreme
Good on the other hand, you shouldn’t abuse the good things, right?
The year 2010 was notorious for traditional sauna lovers…. Every year in Heinola was held the world championship of steam sauna, everything was going well until the final…
A Russian and a Finn were still in the race, and they were fighting hard to stay as long as possible in a sauna heated to 110 degrees with stone watering every 30 seconds!
Results? The 2 candidates lost consciousness…. Unfortunately, the Russian did not survive the experience, while the Finn escaped after several months of coma and burns all over his body! No, but seriously? They are sick, i’m telling you! But don’t worry, in a “normal” use, the sauna is pure happiness for the body (especially when it is over) 😉
Types of saunas
The smoke sauna
This is THE traditional Finnish sauna par excellence! It is a type of sauna without a chimney in which wood is burned in an oven placed under hundreds of kilos of stones. Once the sauna is hot, the fire is extinguished and the smoke is evacuated by ventilating the room.
It is then the heat accumulated in the stones that takes over in the heating of the room!
But be careful, this type of sauna requires the intervention of a connoisseur, because it is important that the smoke is properly evacuated, as it could be dangerous to your health if it remains stored in the sauna.
And well, the “preparation” process takes between 6 and 8 hours, so it’s not meant for express sauna sessions!
The sauna with a wood fire
The most romantic version! Yes, in this sauna, equipped with a fireplace, you settle in by observing the crackling fire in the stove. This is the most common type of sauna in Finland, as it remains authentic and traditional, while being more practical and easy to start than the smoke sauna.
The electric sauna
The version is called “apartment sauna”. This sauna does not require any preparation except pressing a button to turn on the beast! Easy, practical is the version that many Finns choose for their bathroom and small daily sauna.
Finnish sauna traditions
In the pure Finnish tradition, the sauna is done naked
With family, friends, colleagues, whatever: everyone goes naked!
But in general, men and women are still separated (except in families).
But as we were in a group and especially a mixed group, we did not respect this custom and wore our swimsuits. 😉
For novices like us, peat has probably been the most special experience. We start by going to the sauna for the first time, then after a refreshing bath we coat the body and face of this kind of brown paste before returning to the sauna to let this delicious mixture take effect.
The goal? Purify the skin (and give it an irresistible look).
Where to sit in a sauna?
While the Finns rush to the spots in the upper part of the sauna, I must admit that personally I had a tendency to set my sight on the lower benches…. Well yes, the heat is rising, so the higher you sit, the hotter it gets!
This is the name given to the Finnish custom of hitting one’s body with a birch branch (with leaves). This practice stimulates blood circulation during the sauna and does diffuse a pleasant smell in the room at the same time.
Pronounced Leu-lua, this sentence you will often hear it in a traditional Finnish sauna. Löyly refers to the act of pouring a ladle of water over the hot stones to create steam and thus increase the room temperature by a few degrees and increase the ambient humidity!
The final fashion advice:
To avoid suffering from the cold it is strongly recommended to go to the sauna wearing a cap, or even better a special sauna hat!
It protects the head from excessive heat in the sauna, and limits heat loss once outside or in the water.
Personally, I’m not convinced that it makes a real difference when it comes to diving in 2 degree water, but it’s nice to have a little Finnish troll look! 😀
Would you like to take a refreshing bath after sauna?
All Finns will tell you, a sauna session is not a real sauna if you don’t go through the swimming stage or a little angel jump in the snow!
Not wanting to look like cozy little ones, we devoted ourselves to tradition “with pleasure”… well… let’s say that we simply did it! And not just once, friends, no no no no no, as tradition has it, we went there after each session!
Snow, frozen water, cold shower, we tested everything!
In Finland it is cold, very cold! As a result, lakes, ponds and even rivers tend to freeze! In short, every good sauna owner who respects himself will draw his ice pick and make a hole to give reckless wellness enthusiasts access to the water!
The after sauna: a small barbecue at -15 degrees?
Still in the tradition, it is advisable to finish the sauna by tasting a small beer (artisanal if possible) while enjoying a good sausage by the fire (knowing that the sauna is made after dinner, there is nothing better than a small sausage for dessert ahah)!
But just to push the vice a little further, the fire is outdoors! In short, we were cold… very, very cold even! But we respected the tradition! And after the sausage, it is customary to drink a small improved hot chocolate.
Improved? Well yes, we add a small drop (or more if affinity) of mint liquor!
A delight! Even if all these traditions put together will probably have made us regain all the weight we lost by trekking in Patagonia… 🙂
The finnish bath
The softer alternative is to drink your beer in a Finnish bath. This means a pool filled with hot water outside!
Or if you prefer, a kind of Jacuzzi without the bubbles. And where the water is heated by a wood fire under the pool!
No need to explain that, I greatly preferred this option! I’m a small player what do you want?
So that’s it for the topo on Finnish sauna culture! We leave Finland with our beautiful sauna hats in the bag, memories of memorable evenings and who knows, maybe even a desire to come back to Finland to continue to discover more about saunas. Well, maybe next time we’ll come in summer, the bath will be less harsh!