The earliest records of saunas in Estonia date back to the early 13th century. Today saunas form an inseparable part of every private home, summer cottage and farm. While the saunas in people’s homes tend to be of the steam variety and are often heated by electricity rather than wood (especially in the city), spas, tourist farms and other businesses offer a diverse range of sauna experiences.
Saunas do a lot of things that are good for your health: they speed up your metabolism; they help rejuvenate your skin; they give a boost to your heart and lungs; they take some of the pressure off your kidneys; and they promote circulation.
How to make the most of your sauna experience
To get the most out of your sauna experience, you should first wash yourself with soap under warm water, then exfoliate your skin when sitting in the sauna using sauna honey. That way you’re sure to come out with a more youthful complexion. And if you’re looking to speed up weight-loss, make sure you rub sea salt into your skin.
One thing you definitely shouldn’t miss doing in an Estonian sauna, which is commonly referred to as ‘whisking’, is gently beating yourself (or having someone else beat you) with birch twigs, which accelerates perspiration and both massages and cleanses your skin. Birch is most often used because of its pleasant aroma, but you can use any plants really – why not try a combination of juniper and nettles for example? When placed in hot water the stinging effect of nettles is neutralised.
Estonian saunas – the options are endless!
Today saunas form an inseparable part of every private home, summer cottage and farm. While the saunas in people’s homes tend to be of the steam variety and are often heated by electricity rather than wood (especially in the city), spas and tourist farms offer a diverse range of sauna experiences.
You won’t find a single spa in Estonia that doesn’t have a proper sauna complex of its own. You can relax in a salt sauna to exfoliate your skin; unwind and breathe deep in a steam sauna on a cold winter’s day; pamper your body from the inside out in an infrared sauna; and soak up the atmosphere in an aroma sauna.
Older and more traditional saunas are often found in tourist farms. One of the most special sauna experiences is without doubt the smoke sauna. This is a ritual in itself – the sauna is heated for almost half a day, and the amount of time spent in it in total can amount to many hours. There is no emphasis on washing yourself clean, since repeated exposure to steam and constant ‘whisking’ and cooling off cleanse you very effectively in their own right. It’s said that your mind too will come out of the smoke sauna as purified as your body. Võru region's smoke sauna tradition is listed in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
Estonians have such respect for saunas that they’ve built them in some very unusual locations, including on buses, old fire trucks and barges – where in between enjoying the sauna itself and one another’s company the sauna-goers can jump into the lake or river straight from the sauna door. Indian sauna tents are an experience all of their own, too, while many tourist farms have their own barrel saunas, in which you can immerse yourself in steaming water out in the open air surrounded by nature.