After visiting 50 saunas in half a dozen provinces in the north of Sweden Henrik Harr has three golden rules for a great mountain sauna:
* It should have a scenic view.
* There has to be near a lake, river or stream.
* It must be wood-fired
“The best saunas also have benches opposite each other, so you can enjoy a good conversation while you sweat it out,” says Henrik Harr.
One of his favourites is the sauna in Geunja, a sami settlement in Vindelfjällen. There Mikael Vinka has built a genuine mountain sauna, including not just the wood-fired stove, but also a roof made of three layers of birch bark, walls built of hewn logs and hand-forged nails. Even the flat foundation stone that the sauna heater rests on is picked by Mikael Vinka himself and transported over the lake Tjulträsk in a small boat.
After every time it’s been used Mikael Vinka cleans the whole sauna with a soap based on linseed oil. That keeps the wood inside light and clear.
“The whole place is made with such craftsmanship and delicacy,” says Henrik Harr.
Another pick from his book include the little wood-fired sauna by the river Sylälven at mountain station Sylarna. It’s situated just beneath the Sylarna massif. With it´s 1 700 meters Sylarna is actually the highest alpine area in Sweden, south of the Arctic Circle.
“It’s one of the most beautiful spots in Sweden to have a sauna and sit down and relax.”
A third place to visit if you’re looking for heat and a good view is the sauna at mountain station Blåhammaren. Even tough it’s not wood-fired, it’s spacious, mixed, has showers and a legendary round window, with a great view over the mountains.
Henrik Harr’s development into a connoisseur of mountain saunas started in a basement in Sandviken. His father built a sauna and the whole family used to press in there. After a while the rest of the family got bored, but Henrik and his father stayed put.
Those early sessions was the beginning of a lifelong obsession. “I love to have a sauna after I’ve been out skiing, walking, swimming or doing something physical,” says Henrik Harr.
After writing a book about being a dad on parental leave he set out on several trips during 2010 and 2011 to chronicle the small, simple saunas that you can find along the Swedish trails. The result is the book Fjällbastu (Mountain Sauna, Gullers, 2011).
Some of the saunas, like the one in Geunja or the little hut at Lilla Offsjön has no showers. You get down in the lake or roll in the snow to cool yourself down. Others, like the one at Blåhammaren, has running hot water, a a real changing room and a small shop next door where you can buy yourself a beer.
Some saunas have almost no windows at all, others enjoy a spectacular view over the nearby scenery, The sauna in Tärnaby – where the world famous skier Ingemar Stenmark was born and bred – even has a 360-degree “sauna-cockpit” on top of the local hotel (to add to the excitement you have climb a narrow ladder from the dressing room to reach it).
But wherever you sweat it out there are some simple rules to obey if you want to make it in the Arctic sauna:
* Don’t forget to bring what you took. Wood-fired stoves means you need firewood. Make sure you leave the sauna with plenty of firewood left for the next session. The same goes for buckets of water – fill ‘em up before you leave.
* Some people like it hot – but ask first. It’s a no no to walk right in and throw water on the stones on top of the heater. Simply ask first. It’s even worse to pour water on the stones and then walk out (because it turns to hot). Such behavior will not be popular among your fellow bathers.
* God created us nude, society made us aware of our nudeness. Tune in, feel the vibes and rather than wiggle your toggle carelessly, drape your genitals with a towel when you embark and disembark the benches. A towel is also hygienic to sit on.
* Drinking is mandated. A beer or two is part of the coziness in the sauna, but drunkness in the heat is bad for your health and also as a breech in the sauna code of conduct.