People have been perspiring ever since our species first evolved – indeed, to sweat is to be human – but it didn’t take long for someone to figure out a way of making even this most basic of physical functions altogether more satisfying.


People have been perspiring ever since our species first evolved – indeed, to sweat is to be human – but it didn’t take long for someone to figure out a way of making even this most basic of physical functions altogether more satisfying.


Evolutionary anthropologists tell us that our capacity to perspire has played a major part in our evolution and ability to become masters of this planet. It is, of course, our method of ventilation and cooling our insides off, but sweating is also a great way to get rid of toxins from the body, and this the ancients right across the globe discovered early on. It wasn’t long before several began to experiment with enclosed huts and chambers that trapped smoke and heat, often scented with herbs or even hallucinatory agents. One of the finest developments upon this theme was the sauna, which would win out as the ultimate venue in which to expel impurities, relax and improve one’s health and endurance.

From the early tribal passage of age rites, group bonding rituals and mind-expanding experiences to the winter-warming practices of those on the Arctic fringe, the sauna has come a long way to travel from the country cottages of Finland and Karelia into the modern hotel, spa and home. Today’s experience is no longer shamanistic in character, no longer connected to the spirits of the forefathers or the mysterious forces of nature. Now it is a relaxing, sensual thing that we experience as a form of recreation but which in essence can also be an integral part of a sound health and beauty regime. It’s not for nothing, after all, that the sauna takes such pride of place in every wellness centre on the planet.

From Finland To The World

The Nordic country may not have invented the concept of heating in this way, but its fires have been stoking for over 7,000 years and its saunas have gone on to conquer the world, now appearing in every corner of the globe. Typically made of grained pine wood, the sauna comes with a characteristic scent courtesy of leaves of laurel and other herbs whose fragrances blend with the steamy air. Add to the temperature and vapour simply by turning the dial up and pouring water on the coals, and in the process you will allow a rich profusion of herbal perfume to fill the cabin as well. Many of the original saunas set in the country were little wooden outhouses of this kind, but in the second half of the 20th century the cabin slowly became a room within a part of the house.
If the sauna moved indoors, then it first bordered bathrooms and laundry areas, later to become luxury accessories alongside the gyms, spas and even bedroom suites of luxurious villas – and occasionally even apartments. › This trend is now well-established, and few contemporary Marbella villas worth their salt come without a state-of-the-art sauna installation of the finest pedigree. Many are bordered by an equally impressive Mediterranean variation of the same thing: the Turkish Baths or Arab Hammams that were themselves further developments of Roman bath houses. Dry heat from the sauna complements humid heat from the possibly even more scented baths, and together with a cool dip – a pool if you have no Russian or Finnish winter lake to hand – it’s the holy trinity of such health regimes.

Modern Sauna Options

Many cultures around the world have sweating, bathing and massaging rituals of this kind, but generally we’re sticking with the Finnish-Mediterranean version, and for this reason most of the finest modern gadgetry of this kind continues to come from countries such as Finland. They have long since transcended early electrical and infrared systems to incorporate the latest styles, materials, lighting, comfort levels and also non-harmful broad spectrum infrared sauna therapies. Though personal tolerance levels vary, the recommended ideal length of time for a good sweat session in a sauna is 20 minutes, after which you’ll feel relaxed and any muscle pains will receive soothing relief.

Instead of the steam-generated heat of conventional saunas, those who struggle with the high temperatures produced can also opt for infrared lamps that many claim also produce more beneficial results. These focus primarily on relaxation and muscle and joint ache relief, purifying, weight loss, better skin complexion and blood circulation, as well as improved sleep. As with most things there is a health warning, particularly for those with heart conditions and also pregnant women, but if the temperature setting and length of stay in the sauna are kept at sensible levels the risks are minimal. Just make sure you drink enough water and don’t fall asleep inside.

21st Century Saunas

From the traditional outdoor cabin house to the classic wooden one in your home, the sauna’s journey through the 20th century has brought it to a new chapter in a high-tech world. The natural feel, scent and aesthetic of sleek Scandinavian pine is still much in vogue, but accessories and exterior design are becoming increasingly modern, while glass frontage is also progressively popular in today’s in-house models – both from a design and space-saving point of view. A whole world of luxury options is now available, whether for stand-alone saunas or those that form part of commercial or private spa and gym areas. Here, glass and wood merge with stone, marble and contemporary mosaic stones and crystals, which together with LED lighting produce stunning effects.

One of Europe’s leading manufacturers of sauna systems is actually Spanish. Freixanet Wellness from Manresa near Barcelona creates individual designs as well as building integrated spa systems, and one of the most exciting new range of products is the Imagine D-Sign – a beautifully styled glass-fronted sauna with a modular feel that can fit into most homes. Featuring pure, simple, modern styling and quality materials, ergonomic detailing and ambient lighting, this little designer cabin makes it possible to incorporate a warm, cosseting relaxing chamber in your own home when you always thought you’d need space for an entire wellness centre. Just lie down, relax, look at the starlit roof and let the fragrant warm air glide all over you.