The sauna and the Kota | Two must-see institutions in Lapland

The sauna and the Kota | Two must-see institutions in Lapland

In Lapland, you shouldn’t be afraid to try out some sometimes chilling experiments. Let me introduce you to some Finnish traditions and institutions that you’re likely to come across on your trip to Lapland.


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I wanted to start by introducing you to Kota. Wondering what it could be? It’s simply a kind of Tipi for North American Indians.

A little history before telling you more. Long ago, the Sami or Sames, indigenous people of the northern Scandinavian peninsula, 5000 years old, lived by fishing, hunting and reindeer herding, hence their ancient nomadic lifestyle. In fact, they followed the reindeer on their migrations, and it was thanks to them that they were able to withstand the harsh climatic conditions, as the animal brought them everything they needed: food, clothing, tools and means of transport. The Sami lived in Kotas, pyramid-shaped tepees made of birch bark and reindeer skins. These dwellings were easy for the nomads to transport and, once erected, featured a smoke hole at the top, giving them a central hearth on the ground for keeping warm, chasing mosquitoes and smoking meat, for example!

Today, the Kota is made of canvas or traditional wood and can be found all over Lapland. It’s a chance to get together indoors to tell stories, roast marshmallows, drink hot berry juice and then head out on snowshoes for a night hike to watch the northern lights. It’s a very convivial place where I’ve spent some incredible moments with my friends, who will recognize each other, grilling sausages, watching the northern lights at -25°C and laughing out loud.




Sauna is part of everyday life, and has been a social and family tradition for over 2,000 years. In Finland, the sauna is a national institution, like the dinner table in France: Finnish people meet to discuss and even negotiate. Indeed, many great business decisions were and still are made not in company meeting rooms, but in saunas. The sauna is sacred! It’s a place of peace where swearing, quarreling and even loud talking are frowned upon! In the past, political and economic negotiations took place in a sauna, where women gave birth because it was hygienic and the cleanest place in the house.

You’ll find it everywhere: in homes, hotels, residential palaces, boats, businesses, gyms… Did you know that the Finns build their sauna first, then their house? well, I didn’t know until I moved to Lapland.

The sauna is a sign of hospitality for our dear Scandinavian friends, so don’t turn it down! Don’t be surprised if pregnant women go there during their pregnancy; they get their children used to it by the time they’re 1, leaving them there for a few minutes. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention something: in Finland, the sauna is done in the nude, as bathing suits encourage the development of germs. The towel is used to absorb the heat of the wood, and mixed use is not ruled out. And yes, the Finns aren’t very modest, and are used to having a sauna with family and friends from an early age.

Authentic Finnish saunas are generally dimly lit and have no sound system whatsoever. The only scents to be detected are those of fresh birch branches and natural pine tar. You may also smell toast, which is simply the smell of beer. And yes, you get dehydrated very quickly in a sauna, so the Finns have figured it out by drinking a nice cold beer! If you don’t like it, remember to drink water and get out of the sauna if you feel your head spinning or your heart racing.


  • The electric sauna

It’s a fir-wood cabin with steps and an electric or wood-burning stove. It’s a dry heat bath heated by wood fire or electricity.

But how do you use it? well, we heat volcanic stones and throw water on them, releasing steam. Temperatures range from 70°C to 100°C, and the heat has to be turned up slowly. Beware, the higher up the bleachers you go, the hotter it gets, very hot. On average, you spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sauna, then quietly, without rushing, get out and roll around in the soft snow. For the more fearful, you can also take an ice-cold shower, but that’s less charming!


  • The arctic sauna

If you’ve never dared, now’s your chance to try out the sauna, and more specifically the Arctic sauna. I can already see your eyes looking at me and saying “she’s crazy”, but believe me, the sensation is incredible! In the mokki, those little Finnish country houses, it’s common practice in all seasons to bathe in nearby lakes or rivers rather than take a conventional shower after the sauna.

In the middle of winter, I tried out the Arctic sauna several times, an incredible discovery that froze every limb of my body. How does it work? The Finns simply dig a hole in the ice. After saying a prayer (humor), you descend into the frozen water using a ladder. How to tell you…. it’s very invigorating! Rest assured, we’ll be there by stealth, and we won’t put our heads under water! Don’t overdo it either! Firstly it’s not good for your brain and secondly it’s a bit stupid! Once you’ve finished, you return to the extremely hot sauna, as the Finns had time to water the stones while you were away, and repeat the experience. In the countryside, during the heat bath, you can also take the opportunity to flog yourself with young birch twigs, forming a sort of semi-rigid martinet to further stimulate blood circulation. Ouille, Ouille Ouille…

My photos are a little cloudy, but taking a picture of this moment at -25°C isn’t that easy! I challenge you to do better.



  • The sauna treatment

It was the first time I had tested it in Finland in autumn and I invite you to discover this unique Finnish technique with its insane benefits. It may sound crazy, but flogging with a birch, maple or oak whip, coupled with steam, has a therapeutic effect, a deep wellbeing that spreads throughout the body. This ancient practice opens the flow of your energies while cleansing you physically and producing a massage effect. This technique relieves mental tension and rebalances the body.


  • The smoked sauna

The smoke sauna is a traditional Finnish sauna without a chimney. It’s harder to find in Finland, as it requires a lot of maintenance, wood and elbow grease to heat. It needs to be heated for several hours over a wood fire so that the smoke fills the oven. However, if you’re lucky enough to try it out, the sensations are similar to those of an electric sauna, except for the smell, which is different because it smells of wood.





Make a sauna It’s very good for your health and your hygiene. The sauna calms your nerves and relieves stress. It helps you sleep better, eliminates fatigue, stimulates blood circulation, eliminates toxins from the body, accelerates sweating, cleanses the skin, softens muscles and eliminates muscular tension. The sauna is not recommended for people with heart disease or varicose veins. Before we leave you, we lose an average of 1 liter of water per hour, so keep well hydrated during and after to avoid headaches.

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