By Cacinda Maloney
How on earth can I write a story about Finland without the mention of a sauna experience? I don’t believe I can and this time will be no exception. I dove into the culture and history of the Finnish sauna on my last trip to Helsinki that you can read about here. The immersion into the culture of a Finnish sauna is quite a foreign concept to a southern American girl like me, but refreshing nonetheless. And I love this:
This trip to Western Finland, of course, included a sauna. This time it was in a traditional kota smoke house, as well as a regular sauna and an outdoor jacuzzi. We arrived at the farmhouse on the late-ish side of 6 o’clock in the evening and had been quite warn out from our other excursions that day. All I wanted was an electric plug (iphone 5s drained) and a bathroom, but our hosts had a different idea and swept us into a tiny, stand-alone log cabin built centuries ago and immediately had us sit down to a beautiful spread of food, along with a guide who would tell us a little about the farm, the sauna and the way of life in this area of Finland.
Soon enough they gave us directions as to where the changing room was and showed us the area where their darling “kota” smoke house was. A kota (as they are called in Finland) is a sort-of native Indian hut that is typically elongated and lower to the ground. The standard type of sauna, which has remained unchanged through centuries, is this one-room, rectangular log hut that houses an open rock stove. Many Finns still consider this style as unrivaled when it comes to the sauna experience. When the rocks in the stove are heated, the smoke from the burning wood rises and circulates in the room before escaping through a vent in the ceiling. The smoke blackens the room with soot and and the heat rises up.
I quickly slipped into my suit and cover-up and made my way through the creaky white -crackled gate and down the path to the sauna house. Because we are guests, we were allowed two things that are different that traditional saunas: clothing (bathing suits) and mixed company.
“Being naked in the sauna is a key feature of the Finnish sauna culture, which the Finns consider completely natural. However, they are aware that other cultures are intimidated by it, and so they don’t impose it on their foreign guests. They believe that wearing a swimsuit is unhygienic and as uncomfortable as having a shower with your socks on!” 1
Once inside, there were two levels of benches to sit on. I took the lower bench, as I remembered how this sauna thing works: heat rises. I knew I didn’t want to be up on the highest benches in the hut and so I was nice enough to let our wonderful Finnish hosts take those prize spots! Once we were all in, the time for the scoop of water to go onto the coals came and you can imagine that the heat overcomes you like stepping into a forest fire, with the smoke/heat running up your nostrils that almost makes gasp to catch your breath. Murmers were heard from the back row, as yelps and squeals follow from the front row, as the foreigners all try to figure out the passion for this cultural tradition. Over time, someone relents and heads out the door and I soon follow, ready for a breath of fresh air, but the mosquitos are out in full force and so my only options are to retreat back inside into the heat or head on over for the heated outdoor jacuzzi.
Honestly, I don’t think I stayed inside the saunas long as the traditional Finn’s would, but I gave it a hearty try, as my skin did began to feel rejuvenated and moist and so off to the jacuzzi and the other non smoke sauna it was.
With all these options, there is plenty to do at this traditional farmhouse, where a farmer and his wife hosts small parties and places for small groups of people to stay in this rural town in Finland. Eventually I retired back to the changing room and got dressed for dinner.
Our amazing farmhouse chef (a local farmer’s wife!) cooked our group a wonderful meal and the whole experience was quite homey, cozy and wonderful! The farm house itself was extremely quaint and the farmer and his wife are breeders of some really cute dogs and so we had a great time playing with and watching the doggies play, as well as the sauna and the dinner.
The time spent here had the feel of going to your neighbor’s house for dinner and was excellent exposure into the local Western Finnish way of life.
Disclosure: My trip to the Liminka Farmhouse was in association with my trip to Western Finland by VisitFinland with #OutdoorsFinland campaign. The unique experience I had were all my own.