How to Warm Up in Chilly Finland: The Sauna Experience
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? 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 sauna, and families would live in that part of the house while the main part was being built. Even after dying, 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.
"Each apartment has its own one. Some go everyday depending on the family. It is so important that even our UN peacekeepers bring the sauna with them to other countries," says Korhonen.
One of the main bonuses to the sauna lifestyle is the 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 thats what it is. No newspaper and no cellphone. You need to detach from society."
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.
"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 production of organic food: we want to promote our wild food: the food that grows and roams wild in our surround 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 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 Tour
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 individuals customers book just one sauna location for one evening and you can experience a different sauna each day," says Korhonen.
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 a steam in the warm sauna. Ice swimming is optional, but provides a fun rush of endorphines 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.
Isabelle Kagan is a writer from the south shore of Massachusetts. She spent five months studying in Paris and exploring Europe, becoming an avid fan of traveling. In her spare time she also writes for a satire blog. She currently lives in western Massachusetts.