The Tradition of Saunas (Bastu) in Sweden

Swedish Cold Bath Houses Kalbadhus


Right in the heart of Swedish culture is a tradition that feels as old as Sweden itself: the sauna, called Bastu in Swedish (The word Bastu = Bad Stuga = Bath House). More than just a retreat from the cold, saunas hold a sacred place in Swedish society, offering a sanctuary for relaxation, socialising, and spiritual renewal. They're so popular here, even some apartment blocks have one for the residents to share. I for one am 100% on board with the practice the public sauna by the sea here in Malmo is just dreamy and I try to make sure everyone that visits us makes a trip there to experience it's calming magic. Called the Kalbadhus (Cold Bath House) it's a ritual many love here in Malmo and it's the place I know I can take people for a unique and enjoyable experience.

Origins of the Sauna


The roots of the sauna tradition in Sweden can be traced back thousands of years to the indigenous Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Originally a simple structure built from wood and heated with stones, the sauna served as a place of cleansing and healing for the body and soul.

The Swedish Sauna Experience


Fast forward to modern-day Sweden, and the sauna experience remains as popular as ever. Step inside a traditional Swedish sauna, and you'll be met by the soothing warmth of wood-fired stoves and the earthy scent of birch leaves. As the heat warms your skin your muscles relax, the hushed voices of people chatting is really cosy too ( just make sure you don't make a sound in the 'Tyst Bastu' - this is for SILENT sauna patrons and you'll get a stern telling of or "SHhhhh" if you dare speak ; ) And now the best part, once you're sweaty and ready to combust, you walk out on the pier and jump into the ocean! Even if it's cold out, the heat from the sauna keeps you warm and you dip in the cold sea and then out again (no need to hang around!) - now STOP, if it's not too windy, you'll get this amazing tingly sensation as the heat from within hits the cold on your skin from the dip... I bet some language has a specific word for this (surprised Swedish doesn't tbh!)  leaving you feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and utterly refreshed.

Health Benefits and Wellness


Beyond its social aspects, the 'bastu/sauna' is also appreciated for its numerous health benefits. From improving circulation and detoxifying the body to promoting relaxation and reducing stress, regular sauna visits are believed to contribute to overall health and well-being (time to get my season pass!)

Sauna Rituals and Customs


No look into the sauna tradition would be complete without a nod to its time-honoured rituals and customs. From the ceremonial tossing of water onto hot stones (known as löyly) to the invigorating plunge into icy waters or rolling in the snow (avanto), each sauna session is filled with tradition and symbolism. There are sessions at Ribersborg in Malmo where an attendant hosts a session called Aufguss, it's a German tradition inherited here and the attendant works with water to circulate heat throughout the sauna with a towel. The core elements of an Aufguss are heat, essential oils and music.

Saunas in Swedish Culture Today

Today, saunas are as much a part of Swedish culture as meatballs and midsummer celebrations. Whether it's a rustic wood-fired sauna in the countryside or a sleek, modern sauna in the heart of the city, the sauna tradition continues to thrive, offering a timeless escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

In Sweden, the sauna isn't just a place to sweat – it's a way of life. It's a chance to reconnect with oneself, forge deeper connections with others, and embrace the restorative power of heat and steam. So why not join in the tradition and experience the age-old ritual of sauna bathing for yourself? After all, there's no better way to immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Swedish culture.

If you want to read more about 'Kallis' - the nickname for the Malmo Kallbadhus (Direct translation - 'Cold Bathing House') check out this article.

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