Turning up the heat in Helsinki
For a population so adeptly conditioned to cold weather, Finns are surprisingly good at taking the heat. Tossing a large ladle of water over hot coals, a glistening, tattooed Nordic grins gleefully as our dark, charcoal-stained smoke sauna transforms into an angry furnace.
As steam singes my nostrils and beads of sweat form rivulets in every fleshy fold, I bolt for the door and wonder if tourist basting is all part of the entertainment.
There are 3.3 million saunas in Finland, more than one for every other person, but the majority are private. Helsinki’s new Loyly (a term used to describe the steam that rises when you throw water on the sauna’s rocks) represents a return to public, social spaces.
The wooden, steep sloped structure, with a seaside bar terrace and open-air rooftop lounge, is also part of the Helsinki’s drive to embrace outdoor spaces and bask in the long, warm days of short but sweet summers.
Elsewhere, a car park has been transformed into a pool complex and a new law has been passed allowing businesses to turn parking spaces outside buildings into temporary summer terraces. Subsequently, an apparently quiet capital is now outwardly effervescing with life.
Thankfully, I prevent my own blood bubbling so vigorously by retreating to Loyly’s second, more sedate sauna, where horizontal pine slats act like Venetian blinds, revealing near naked bodies descending a step ladder into the sea.
Closer to town, next to the port and fried fish stalls of Market Square, the Helsinki Allas Pool is due to fully open later this month. Local residents and tourists are already making use of the dockside terrace, where filtered salt and fresh water swimming pools will be suspended in the harbour next to segregated saunas. The idea for the complex, previously a tarmac car park, was first touted 10 years ago and has been partly financed by crowdfunding.
Although paddling in the shadow of cruise liners is off-putting, the central location will no doubt prove popular, and owners plan to have a reserve of rentable swimwear for spontaneous sauna goers.