The smoke sauna, also known as a “Savusauna” in Finnish, is a traditional type of sauna that has its origins in Northern Europe, particularly in Finland and the Baltic region. It holds a significant place in the cultural history of these areas and has played an essential role in their way of life for centuries. Such is the significance of smoke sauna in Southern Estonia that it has been included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Historical records suggest that the smoke sauna dates back to ancient times when people first discovered the benefits of heat and steam for relaxation, cleansing, and physical well-being. The smoke sauna is distinct from other types of saunas due to its unique construction and heating method.

Here’s a brief overview of the history of the smoke sauna:

Early Origins. The origins of the smoke sauna can be traced back to the rural communities of Finland and neighboring countries. These early saunas were often built using locally available materials, such as Spruce timber and stones. They were used not only for bathing but also for various cultural and social activities.

Construction.  Smoke saunas are characterised by their lack of chimneys. Instead of direct heating, they are heated by burning wood in a stone stove or fire pit within the sauna. As the wood burns, the sauna becomes filled with smoke. Once the desired temperature is reached and the wood is burned down to embers, the smoke is allowed to escape, and the sauna is ventilated. The residual heat from the embers and the stones provides the sauna experience.

Cultural Significance. Smoke saunas hold deep cultural significance in Finnish and Baltic traditions. They were not only places for cleansing the body but also served as spaces for socialising, spiritual rituals, and even giving birth in some cases. Sauna rituals were integral to community life and played a role in marking various life events.

Evolution and Modernisation. Over time, as technology and construction methods evolved, many traditional smoke saunas were replaced by more modern saunas with chimneys and electric heating elements. However, there has been a resurgence of interest in preserving the cultural heritage of smoke saunas, and efforts have been made to maintain and restore these traditional structures.

Tourism and Cultural Preservation: In recent decades, the smoke sauna has gained attention as a unique cultural experience for tourists interested in experiencing authentic traditional practices. Many places in Finland and the Baltic region (especially Estonia) offer the opportunity to enjoy a smoke sauna, complete with the rituals and practices associated with it.

The smoke sauna remains a symbol of cultural heritage, community bonding and the appreciation for the simpler, more traditional aspects of life. While modern saunas have become more prevalent, the smoke sauna continues to hold a special place in the hearts of those who appreciate its historical significance and the connection it offers to the past. There are dedicated small retreats that offer the guest an immersive experience with historical food, drink, music and smoke sauna on offer – such as here;

We continue to use thermally modified timber in our sauna as the wood has a very light aroma as a result of the modification process. This gentle smoky fragrance harks back to the historical smoke sauna (as does adding Birch tar to the water over the stones) linking the past with the present. A deep understanding of this culture and history is what set’s us apart from cheap imports, that have no interest in the long backstory of sauna.