There are practically as many types of sauna as there are people in Estonia — well, we may be exaggerating, but there is a type of sauna for every type of person. Like super hot? Try the Finnish sauna. Looking for traditional? Head to the smoke sauna. Can't stand the heat? Take a seat in an infrared sauna. Read on to find out more and take your pick of Estonian saunas.
Many people consider the smoke sauna to be the most proper version of sauna, and for good reason. The smoke sauna is the oldest, most archaic, genuine, feels the best and provides the most pleasant steam. The smoke sauna is the ancestor of all other saunas, familiar as grandmother's pancakes or grandfather's music tune. The smoke sauna is distinguished from other wood-heated saunas by the fact that there is no chimney in the sauna, so the sauna room and the space around it is filled with thick smoke as the sauna is heated. After heating, an hour or two will be spent waiting for the smoke to disappear until only heat and a pleasant light smell of smoke remain. Then it's time to go to the sauna and enjoy its long, mild steam, which leaves a lingering aroma of smoke to the skin and hair. For those who have never been to a smoke sauna before, then this could be one of your goals for the Year of the Sauna 2023.
Classical or Finnish sauna
The classic sauna, like the smoke sauna, is a very old version of sauna. Known as the Finnish sauna, it could just as well be the traditional Estonian sauna. The sauna is characterized by dry, almost breathtaking heat, as the sauna is usually heated to 90-100 degrees Celsius. The steam is sudden, biting, even overwhelming. Fortunately, those who prefer a milder steam can just move one step lower in the sauna, as usually benches are set in two or three steps in the Finnish sauna. For true sauna enthusiast, this is the real traditional sauna, in addition to the smoke sauna - the steam must be at least 100 degrees and the whole experience will take at least a couple of hours. Whisking is an important part of the sauna experience, after whisking it is a good idea to cool off in a nearby pond or some other body of water. Saturday-night sauna has been an important tradition for many Estonians since childhood, and every proper household had a sauna attached to it until the last century.
Sauna with electric heater
This is a quick and easy solution for today's fast-paced world and, besides, electric heaters are getting better and more stylish. After all, it is quite convenient when you start driving from the capital, then do some skiing in Otepää and sauna will be ready for you when you get to your house in the countryside! With the help of modern smart solutions, such a luxury is quite possible. There will be no need to carry logs of wood, deal with the wood debris, and the sauna will be ready at your desired temperature range. Sometimes an electric sauna is also the only possible solution, e.g. in apartment buildings, hotels and spas. True sauna enthusiasts, of course, turn up their noses when it comes to electric saunas, but any port in storm, as they say.
Russian sauna (banya) is a combination of smoke sauna, Finnish sauna and steam sauna. Similar to a smoke sauna, here too, smoke rises through the heater stones, but similarly to a Finnish sauna, this smoke goes out through the chimney. The chimney is wide, often like a mantle-hood chimney, and has a hatch inside. For steam, the hatch is opened, water is thrown into the heater through the hatch, and the heat enters the steam room through the same hatch. The peculiarity of the Russian sauna is also the relatively lower temperature (about 50 °C) and high humidity. So much water is thrown at the steam heater that thick clouds of steam are formed – this way, the Russian sauna is also similar to the steam sauna. The Russian sauna is derived from the Roman steam bath and has reached Russia through Turkey.
The modern steam bath is an inheritance from the Greeks, who in turn adopted it from the Romans. The steam room is also the ancestor of the Russian sauna. The steam room is heated to only 40–45 °C. However, the principle of heating is different from the Russian sauna: the steam boiler generates super-saturated water vapor, which is passed through the pipes to the sauna room, where it then floats as visible steam clouds. Essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender and other herbal oils are often added to the water. The steam bath opens the pores not with heat, but with moisture. If you enjoy intense heat you may be disappointed by the steam sauna, but there are many who do not like the sudden heat of the Finnish sauna at all and who enjoy the steam room's steady warm humidity and countless health benefits. The steam bath is also known as the Turkish sauna (hamam).
Salt sauna is mainly used for treatment purposes but it is also very enjoyable. For a long time, salt has been known for its medicinal properties: rubbing salt into the skin has a good effect on the skin and boosts blood circulation, while inhaling helps with respiratory diseases. The heat in the salt sauna is very mild, almost at room temperature, and therefore it is perfect for relaxation. To achieve the treatment effect, you should go to the salt sauna often and regularly, then the healing properties of the salt will have their impact.
Native American sweat lodge
For ancient native American tribes, sweating in the sauna and cleansing the body and mind has been at least as important as for Estonians. Sauna was a religious experience and going to the sauna was an important ceremony. The sweat lodge itself is a small dome-shaped tent with a hole in the middle, this is where the fire-heated stones are placed. People sit around the rocks, side by side, singing and saying prayers. Initially, the sweat lodge was unique to the plains tribes, but it later spread to other tribes, as part of the ethno-futuristic movement. The native Americans themselves find that the sweating ceremony should be carried out only by the experienced spiritual leaders, otherwise the rite may even be life-threatening. Unlike the saunas in our area, sweat lodges are not attended naked, people use light clothing.
Do you want a sauna you can carry with you? In this case, a tent sauna is the right choice. The sauna tauna is lightweight, portable, easy to set up and quick to heat. This tent is very easy to take with you to a road trip. Of course, you also need to bring a suitable small heater, but the bonus is that the small sauna tent gets ready in half an hour and can be used as a sleeping tent afterwards. The idea of a pop-up sauna on the shore of a beautiful forest lake or on a picturesque seafront seems very appealing to people who enjoy mobile saunas. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Special sauna shapes
The traditional sauna has a roof, four walls and a floor. Depending on the type of sauna, the sauna has a steam room and a front room, sometimes also a separate washroom. However, creative people have built very different saunas. For example, a honeycomb sauna, which is a building in the shape of a honeycomb, where the steam circulates particularly well due to its round shape. Some saunas are shaped like an overturned boat, the sauna is then covered with wood shavings both inside and out. Barrel saunas with an oval shape are common, which are manufactured in very different sizes. By their very nature, such saunas are still classic Finnish saunas, simply in a peculiar shape, and they often warm up faster and the steam spreads more evenly. A portable sauna can also be classified as a sauna with an unusual shape, but in essence it works on the same principle as a native American sweat lodge.
Igloo sauna can be also considered to be a special-shaped sauna, where the steam is provided by a conventional or modern wood-burning heater. If in a rectangular sauna the heat bounces unevenly along the wall and eventually accumulates under the ceiling but the igloo sauna is completely rounded, with rounded walls, and the steam is more evenly distributed and spreads faster. Igloo saunas warm up very quickly: in the summer, it is possible to get the steam up in as little as half an hour (70-80 °C), and in winter it takes a little longer. Igloo sauna seems to be the byword of the construction market in Estonia, they can be found from the islands to South-East of Estonia, from Lapland to the tropics, not to mention Tallinn's famous Igloo Park. Igloo saunas covered in wood shavings are pleasing to the eye, blend well with nature and at the same time very contemporary.
As the name suggests, a raft sauna is a sauna placed on top of a raft (or boat or some other watercraft). Therefore, you can be sure that the water is very accessible, and you can jump into water directly from the sauna. Some raft saunas also have a small terrace or barbecue area. Some of the raft saunas are connected to the shore, while others can be used to navigate the water during sauna bathing. Perhaps not so easy when your raft is on the sea or a river, but you can do it on a bigger pond or a smaller lake. The range of raft saunas on Estonian water bodies is surprisingly wide, but unlike most other saunas, this is a seasonal activity.
Infrared sauna works on a completely different principle than other saunas, because the infrared sauna does not heat the air, but the human body. The heating process is carried out by infrared lamps powered by electromagnetic radiation. The air only heats up to 45-55°C, which is why the infrared sauna is also suitable for those who cannot tolerate strong heat. In order for heat to pass through the skin and benefit the body, you should sit in an infrared sauna for at least 20 minutes, or longer. Infrared saunas are popular in water parks and sports clubs, but they are also found in homes, because this type of a sauna requires less space than others. Many also like the fact that regular use of infrared sauna are said to help with weight loss.
It is believed that the cave sauna is the oldest type of sauna. They were especially common in Southern Estonia, where the hilly landscape lends itself perfectly for cave sauna building. Half-cave saunas were also common. The cave saunas still existed in early 19th century and even later. By now, many sauna enthusiasts have (re)discovered cave saunas, and quite a few of them have been restored. The simplicity of its construction favours the cave sauna, because some of the walls are already finished and the rest of the frame is usually made of simple materials at hand. A traditional cave sauna is essentially a smoke sauna, the stone heater is usually located in the corner next to the door.
Some smaller, special shaped saunas are so compact and lightweight that they can also be transported in a car trailer to a suitable location. Some mobile saunas can be built on an open truck base, in a van or even in an old fire truck – the possibilities are endless. With such a mobile sauna, you can drive to any beach, even a seashore where building a sauna is prohibited. There are also sauna buses that are suitable for larger groups. A raft or boat sauna can also be considered a mobile sauna, provided that it can be used to travel on water.
The hot tub has above all a social and relaxing function, and these hot tubs are very popular in Estonia. Hot tubs are often combined with another type of sauna, such as a smoke sauna or a Finnish sauna. What makes the hot tub experience great is that the tub is located outside. It is especially pleasant to be in the tub on a sultry summer evening, during harsh winter freeze or on a dark autumn night. It is also great in the rain or in the snow. The hot tub is heated with wood or electricity, but of course it can also be used as a cold water pool if you want to jump from a hot sauna to cool down in the water.