Sweden/Finland: No phone, just fun… follow us to these unusual saunas

Some 90 meters deep, under the blue glow of a flashlight, bodies steaming with steam emerge from a sauna before plunging into the turquoise water of an underground lake. Among the frozen landscapes and snow-covered forests of Bergslagen (central) in Sweden, hidden in the bowels of this mining region is a very special sauna.

A former iron mine closed in 1968, the place, which opened its doors in 2022 in the town of Borlänge, has been rebuilt to accommodate customers looking for warmth, and above all, a “special experience”, explains Daniel Karlsson , CEO of “Adventure Mine”. “Saunas today are more of a luxury experience.” But here, “it’s not just a sauna. It’s a special experience with nature,” he says, dressed in a red jumpsuit, his helmet adorned with a headlamp.

Buried underground, this space offers a moment of respite completely cut off from the world. “Because we can’t see the sun from the mine, there is nothing to distract us from the pleasure of the sauna. No cell phones, no sun, no wind,” notes Mr. Karlsson.

“Fun Views” on the Ferris Wheel

Worldwide appreciated for its relaxing qualities, the sauna, a wooden cabin in which one takes a dry heat bath with a temperature of up to 100 degrees Celsius, has been a social and family tradition for more than 2000 years. It has its origins in Finland and Estonia. Today, some lovers of this tradition want to broaden the experience.

In Helsinki, capital of Finland, the Ferris wheel which overlooks the city center offers a sauna in one of its cabins. The bill is steep: the cost of a session ranges between 240 to 350 euros. “You can get a good steam-to-heat ratio here if you want, even though it’s quite small. We can accommodate (…) up to four or five (people). “And the views are more fun” than in a traditional sauna, argues Viivi Mäkeläinen, head of the Helsinki Ferris wheel.

Listed as UNESCO intangible heritage since 2020, the sauna tradition is well anchored in the Nordic country: there are some 3.3 million saunas for 5.5 million inhabitants, according to the world organization.

Intimacy with the environment

If saunas generally find their location in the privacy of Nordic chalets or apartment buildings, in the Stockholm archipelago, in Sweden, a small house has recently floated on the waters of the capital. This is “Big Branzino”, a 30m luxury sauna2designed and built in 2022 at the request of a Swedish private client.

“A client came to our office and ordered a truly extraordinary sauna, something unprecedented. So we imagined this shape in order to really maximize” proximity to the environment “and we also wanted a breathtaking presence of the horizon,” explains architect Johan Strandlund.

The small wooden structure, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, also includes an upstairs roof terrace. On deck there is an open-air wheelhouse. “Even when the sauna is not active, the fire remains an excellent Source of heat, for example on cold nights in summer,” he adds.

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