Finland’s Sauna Tour Is the Relaxation Vacation of Our Dreams

A trail of nine saunas in Kuusamo, Finland, introduces visitors to the many different kinds of Finnish sauna in the coziest way possible.

Finland’s Sauna Tour Is the Relaxation Vacation of Our Dreams

The path to the sauna at Isokenkäisten Klubi

In Finland’s southern Lapland region, the municipality of Kuusamo is a beloved outdoors destination known for its spectacular landscapes filled with rugged pine forests and river valleys shaped by the Ice Age. The Finns have a traditionally close relationship with nature; the country even celebrates an annual Nature Day. But while the country’s wealth of outdoor pursuits is renowned, there’s nothing more Finnish than the sauna.

Finland has more than 3 million saunas—enough to accommodate the country’s entire population at once. For centuries, it’s been a place for physical and spiritual cleansing, for getting bare in all senses of the word, and reconnecting with humanity. And there’s no better place to explore the world of the sauna than in and around Kuusamo, where a Sauna Tour lets visitors sample sauna-related wellness treatments.

The Sauna Tour is a guided experience where visitors learn about the history and importance of the Finnish sauna—all while relaxing in the heat. Nine saunas in the region have banded together to offer a variety of experiences to those interested in dipping their toe into the tradition; even though it’s an incredible experience to hit them all, you don’t have to visit all nine. Each has its own appeal, from a quiet sanctuary to a natural retreat to a place to regain your vitality. You can focus on the characteristics that speak specifically to your needs.

The saunas on the tour fall into three different categories, each highlighting a different mood. On the “Alive & Strong” menu, for example, is Pohjolan Pirtti in Vuotunki (one of the oldest villages in Kuusamo), known as Sauna of the Old Time Stories. The Pohjola estate dates back to 1686 and is now owned by the 11th and 12th generations of the founding family. The current sauna building—home to a traditional wood-heated sauna, a steam sauna, and an electric Finnish sauna (the type found in almost every home in Finland)—used to be the estate’s cowshed. Wander between the saunas, take a dip in the outdoor hot tub, soak your feet in a wild herb footbath, snack on treats, and listen to family members telling stories of the old days on the estate.

On the banks of Lake Heikinjärvi, Isokenkäisten Klubi—part of the tour’s “Slow & Silent” menu—is known as the Seven Star Smoke Sauna. The traditional smoke sauna is the modern-day sauna’s ancient ancestor. With no chimney, the smoke and heat of the sauna’s fire is trapped inside, until sauna-goers open the door, allowing the smoke to escape. The lingering scents of smoke and tar mixed with the birch leaves from the traditional bundles of birch twigs (that sauna-goers gently whip themselves with for smoother skin) create an atmosphere that Finns hold in the highest regard. Take your time in the heat and steam of the charred-log walls, then go for a dip in the cool lake water before starting all over again.

The remote Iivaara Wilderness Sauna on the “Wild & Free” menu gives visitors the sense of being out in the Finnish forest, away from the sounds and lights of civilization. It’s a great place to imagine the days (only a few decades ago) when the sauna was a gateway into and out of this world. Women used to give birth in saunas, and upon a person’s death, the body was given a final wash there. Don’t worry—all you have to do at this sauna is enjoy and relax in the light of the fireplace. Later, you can roast sausages on an open fire, a sauna tradition. In winter, consider a quick dip into the outdoor ice pool, and look to the skies above, in hopes of glimpsing the aurora borealis.

Another “Wild & Free” choice, the Wild Herb Sauna of Ukonkivi features ointments, rubs, and baths made with local herbs, which add seasonal scents of the surrounding forest to the sauna experience. Finland’s wild food and herbs, nourished by a combination of short summer nights and the trifecta of clean air, water, and soil are an essential part of the Finns’ love for keeping nature close. Spend your time here in either the traditional Finnish electric sauna or the gentle, steamy sauna, but save some time to lounge in the heated bathtub under the starry sky while wearing a sauna hat. It’s high fashion in Finland.

>>Next: The Best Places to Go Stargazing This Winter

Jill K. Robinson writes about travel and adventure for AFAR, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Outside, Sierra, and more. She has won Lowell Thomas, Society of American Travel Writers, and American Society of Journalists and Authors awards for her work.
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