How to Warm Up in Chilly Finland: The Sauna Experience

A visitor steps out from the Ice Sauna. All photos from Saunatour.
A visitor steps out from the Ice Sauna. All photos from Saunatour.

A Visitor’s Guide to the ultimate Finnish Sauna tour. Even the Bus Has One!

By Isabelle Kagan

What comes to mind when you think of a relaxing vacation? Sand, waves, and palm trees are usually at the top of the list, but what about spas, saunas, and arctic temperatures?

Everyone wears swimming suits or towels in the saunas; your guide will instruct on what to do.
Everyone wears swimming suits or towels in the saunas; your guide will instruct on what to do.

In Finland, their idea of relaxation involves relaxing in steaming hot saunas, taking a dip into freezing water, and even being whipped by a birch branch to soften the skin.

Wellbeing in Wilderness is truly something else than a trip to the nearby spa. Its Saunatour grants you access into an authentic and traditional Finnish experience that takes place over 12 hours and in five different sauna locations, however, the itinerary is completely customizable.

Each sauna on the tour is unique and family-owned. The Finnish sauna is a staple in family life, which is one of the reasons why the experience is so eye-opening.

Its authenticity offers you a glimpse into the northern way of life, which is vastly different from the western world.

Origins of the Sauna

As Eveliina Korhonen, the Saunatour sales operator says, “Sauna is the only Finnish word that has spread to other languages. It spreads throughout our history, too. Before, women gave birth in a sauna, and families would live in that part of the house while the main part was being built. Even after death, the bodies were washed in the sauna. It was very much part of the life cycle.”

They are ubiquitous in the country, and are very much ingrained in Finnish culture; they are basically considered a requisite of everyday life. In fact, you won’t find a hotel in Finland without a sauna, whether it be outdoor or indoor, or a traditional or wood-smoked sauna.

The ice sauna is a hot sauna built from blocks of ice.
The ice sauna is a hot sauna built from blocks of ice.

“Each apartment has its own one. Some go every day depending on the family. It is so important that even our UN peacekeepers bring the sauna with them to other countries,” says Korhonen.

Healthy Living

One of the main bonuses to the sauna lifestyle is health benefits. Researchers have studied Finnish men and found that those who attend it more regularly throughout the week are less likely to die from heart disease or heart attack than those who went only once a week.

Korhonen notes that health-wise, “the most important thing is to take the time with family and friends and relax. We don’t call it meditation and mindfulness, but that’s what it is. No newspaper and no cellphone. You need to detach from society.”

Taking the Saunatour

Customers can choose from five different facilities, which feature various types of saunas. The saunatour involves anything from a herbal scrub on the body, to being whipped by birch branches, to an ice igloo sauna. Unique dining and cuisine is also a special aspect of the tour. The key is to offer each visitor an understanding of Finnish history, culture, and society.

Birch branches supposedly have rejuvenating properties for the skin.
Birch branches supposedly have rejuvenating properties for the skin.

“In our sauna spa treatments we use the different wild herbs we collect from the surrounding forests: we use traditional birch or junipers whisks in the sauna, and of course wild food is an important part of Saunatour.

“As our harsh nature doesn’t allow extensive agriculture and therefore the production of organic food: we want to promote our wild food: the food that grows and roams wild in our surrounding wilderness.

Our restaurants’ dishes are made from ingredients that are gathered from the surrounding forests, lakes, and food from the local producers” describes Korhonen.

Sauna guides are a way to give their customers the real Finnish sauna experience, as a lot of the beliefs around it are misinformed. “All sauna tours have a guide who tells about the history and the Finnish sauna culture as well as shows you what to do in there…People have so many different perceptions.”

We have wanted to make the Finnish Sauna Experience easy to participate and enjoy for everyone from all around the world.” For instance, visitors don’t have to be buck naked in the sauna…bathing suits are ok!

Details of the SaunaTour

Each Saunatour sauna is located five minutes to 45  minutes apart. The tour will transport you on a sauna bus, which of course also has its own 90C sauna with a woodburning stove. “Most of our individual customers book just one sauna location for one evening and you can experience a different sauna each day,” says Korhonen.

The saunabus is one of the nine different saunas on the tour.
The saunabus is one of the nine different saunas on the tour.

The Saunatour is also family-friendly, making it the perfect alternative travel getaway. According to Korhonen, “Saunatour is suitable for everyone from babies to grandparents!

Finnish children start going to sauna when they are 3 months old! In the Finnish sauna, you stay in the hot room only as long as you feel good: we don’t have any timers. Your body will tell you when to go out.”

If you’re daring, you will even venture into the frozen lakes, a Finnish tradition that perfectly accentuates steam in the warm sauna. Ice swimming is optional but provides a fun rush of endorphins for the braver souls.

“Between the heats, we have a drink, go outside, roll in the snow or dip in the lake – and then we go back to the hot room! As many times as you feel like it.”

Saunatour is located in a town in Finnish Lapland called Kuusamo. In terms of traveling, the fastest and easiest way to get there is to fly to Finland’s capital city, Helinski. From there, smaller, connecting flights can be taken daily to reach Kuusamo. Trains and buses are also available.

For more information, and for booking, see the Saunatour Facebook page. Many other Finland activities are offered through Wellbeing in Wilderness.

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