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A smoke sauna in Estonia, Source: Võru County

Going to the sauna in Võru County

Going to the sauna in Võru County

The smoke sauna tradition is inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Compared with its Baltic neighbours, Estonia has a much lower coronavirus infection rate, but nevertheless, localities are doing away with big celebrations and gatherings for the festive season. One local tradition, however, is more resilient than the corona scare - going to the sauna on Christmas Day.

The age-old custom is especially cherished in Võru County which abounds in smoke saunas. Unlike other types of sauna, the smoke sauna has no chimney, so the burned wood fills the room with smoke. Smoke has disinfectant and germ-reducing properties, contributing also to the preservation of the wood interior.

Sauna users need not worry that they will choke, as after the appropriate temperature is achieved inside, the fire is extinguished and the room is aired. The sauna is constructed in such a way that it retains sufficient heat for the duration of one session.

Healing the body and soul

According to Eda Veeroja, the hostess of Mooska smoke sauna farm, the sauna is a sacred place which has a healing effect on people.

"The holiday season is about you doing things that you like, that are good for your health and that keep your friends together. So going to the sauna is a quiet and thoughtful experience to be shared with a family member or a friend. Different societies create different saunas which evoke different stories, different thoughts and different feelings," Veeroja tells public broadcaster ERR.

Eda emphasizes that the frame of mind of your sauna companion is of great importance, as the sauna always amplifies the thoughts and feelings that are in your head. So being with a positive thinking person can enhance the healing properties of the sauna.

Smoke saunas become tourist attractions

Eda is among ten Võru County farmers, who have recently decided to open their smoke saunas to tourists with the help of the Internet. They have been encouraged by the shift in tourist attitudes to more sustainable and closer-to-home experiences due to the pandemic.  

Smoke sauna has originated in Finland but is still very popular in the three Baltic states. The smoke sauna tradition is inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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