Finland is the land of the sauna. It has a population of 5.1 million and 1.7 million saunas - one for every three inhabitants. Finns are great sauna enthusiasts.
It is generally believed that the first wooden saunas were built in Finland between the 5th and 8th centuries AD. In those early days the buildings served as both dwellings and saunas.
The traditional sauna is a wooden building in which bathers sit on benches, splashing water onto the hot stones of a stove and gently beating themselves with leafy birch whisks. ‘Sauna’, the most commonly borrowed Finnish word, has been adopted by a number of world languages.
The expression 'to take a sauna' covers the whole bathing process, including the perspiring in heat and steam, known as 'löyly', born from the water thrown on the stones. 'Löyly' is described as the spirit of the sauna. The sauna cleanses and heals the body and soothes the mind.
Public saunas in cities have nearly all disappeared, as almost everybody has access to a private sauna now. It is perfectly acceptable to enjoy a sauna without wearing a bathing suit. Real sauna pros take a dip in a cold stream, shower or nearby snow afterwards.