While our European cousins love getting overheated in wooden boxes, we Brits aren’t quite so enthused by the humble sauna. To make a sweeping generalisation, the average UK spa-goer has a more hedonistic approach to spa-ing, and withstanding intense heat is more torture than pampering.
Even I, as seasoned sauna user, can barely do 15 minutes without staring at the sand-timer, willing it to go faster. In most UK spas, about five couples will have come and gone in this time. In Europe, I will be the wimp who leaves first, long-before I have turned full-puce.
It’s a shame, because getting insanely hot and taking an icy plunge after is one of the best legal highs you can have: and it’s good for you. It is also, after a while, rather addictive. Luckily, I am not the only one to feel we are missing a treat. Spas have found creative ways to engage even the most heat-averse. From English treetops to Finish Gondolas, here are some of our favourite sauna moments.
1 - Sauna in the treetops
Aqua Sana Sherwood Forest launched the flagship Forest Spa, which allows guests to spa with nature. The jewel in its crown is the Treetop Sauna. High up among roosting wood pigeons, overlooking ducks bobbing around in the stream below, the hideaway has breath-taking views over Sherwood Forest. The Forest Terrace's balcony is the perfect place to relax after a treatment. Climb into a large bed and doze off listening to the sound of birdsong and rustling trees.
2 - With added semi-naked men dancing
In an Aufguss, or sauna ritual, you can sit in the sauna watching a Sauna Master twirl towels and waft heat towards you. He also adds essential oils to the coals, and if you are lucky, will hand out ice-cold drinks, or pour ice into your hands to rub on your skin. Largely entertaining, and allegedly purifying, it also keeps you in the sauna longer, and you will learn about the benefits. Rudding Park Spahave just introduced their Aufguss this month. Savant Spy enjoyed the same ritual with a Celtic twist at Galgorm Resort and Spa in Northern Ireland.
3 - While being beaten with branches
In a Russian Banya, or bathhouse, you can allow a man in a felt hat to whip you lightly with birch leaves in a super-hot sauna, then dunk you in icy water – and repeat. Why on earth would you want to do that, you might wonder? Because you emerge from your feverish high feeling amazing. Try at Banya No.1 in London, or the South Kensington Club.
4 - With panoramic views
Panoramic saunas are another way to keep you in a very uncomfortable situation, even if every cell in your body is screaming to get out. Our favourite panoramic sauna was at the Bürgenstock Resort in Switzerland, where we remained fixed on the stunning views of the Alps and Lake Lucerne, then needed to cool off in the icy outdoor lake pool after. What a high.
5 - On rooftops
Rudding Parkin Yorkshire have a sauna cabin with glass sides as part of their lovely rooftop garden. Looking out over the gardens and treetops is wonderfully tranquil and distracts from the heat. After, cool off under the outdoor shower and relax on loungers, or in the hydrapool, among the fragrant salvia and order a glass of fizz to sip in the sunshine.
6 - In barrels
Utopia Spa at Alexander House Hotelin West Sussex has a barrel sauna in their secluded garden, encased in a verdant backdrop of shrubs and trees. It is barrel shaped, seats around four people. It has little shelves at the front to place your towels or help yourself to a refreshing drink of water. Either side is a tall, curved outdoor shower and robe rack.
7 - On your back
If getting a hot head is too much, you can enjoy an infra-red sauna that focuses purely on your spine and back. Thermae Bath Spahas a rather beautifully designed and very large one of these. It does get very hot, but is great for relieving back pain.
8 - Like a Shepherd
This must be the most English way to sauna: in a Shepherd’s Hut. The new bijou outdoor glamping accessory has been adapted by The Garage Spain Country Durham into the ultimate cosy heat experience. After, curl up in the Secret Garden in a nest of cushions and blankets, or sit on hammock chairs by the open fire with a hot chocolate.
9 - Like a Scandinavian
In Finland, you will find the largest underground smoke sauna in the world. The Maasavusana seats 124 guests in its caves, and even features occasional live music. The smoke is very oxygen-rich and produces a feeling of wellbeing. Also, in Finland, you can try a gondola saunaat the end of your day skiing, gliding over forests and mountains, presumably not in full ski gear…