Finland is the original home of the sauna (here pronounced sow (as in cow) -na). This is very much a part of Finnish life: in fact, there are 2 million saunas in Finland, where the total population is just over 5 million.

Ideally, this kind of intense steam-bath should be enjoyed in a little wooden hut by a frozen lake or coastal inlet, where stones are heated by logs of aspen wood, and those taking part can invigorate their naked bodies with a leafy birch-twig whisk before plunging into the water outside through a hole in the ice.

The ideal may be beyond your grasp, but you can still indulge in the sauna experience in more formal surrounds in Helsinki. Among the more famous public saunas in the city are the traditional-style Kotiharjun, and the luxurious art-deco Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. The dress-code is usually naked, but sessions at the public baths are single-sex. (Finnish Sauna Society)

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