Nordic Sauna Culture Tour
Ever wanted to experience the beautiful nature of the North in general and the archipelago with it's closeness to the sea and forty thousand islands in particular? Sure, there is so much to see! Lonely islands and islets, amazing granite rocks, juniper bushes in the moulds and orchids growing in remote places. If the season is right you can also finds lots of blueberries or mushrooms. Still all this doesn't give you the whole deal without getting to know the people who live here and find out how they spend their time. But, how to meet locals in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere? For sure there is no better place to do that than in a really typical wooden-fired sauna by the sea! Once in the sauna, with a beer in their hand, the otherwise so closed off Swedish people will tell you everything you might want to know and perhaps even more. And finally, don't be surprised if you just happen to get new friends for life!
One of the most well-known parts of the Nordic cultures is the sauna. In general people think that this way of cleaning and refreshing your body, especially during the long and cold winters, was invented in Finland. Quite certainly no one can really tell where it was invented but as a matter of fact the sauna culture is wide-spread in virtually all the northern european countries, from Norway in the west, through Sweden, Finland and Estonia all the way over to the Russian far east.
Although these cultures have a lot in common, there are some differences, though. While the Finns prefer their Sauna really hot, they spank themselves with leafed branches from a birch-tree and sometimes even go for Sauna competitions, the Swedish sauna is typically kept at a lower temperature, rarely exceeding 90 degrees (centigrades). On the other hand Swedish people love to drink their beer inside the Sauna (it is more or less an unwritten rule that you can never enter a sauna without a beer in your hand!), which the Finnish don't and still different is the Russian way of drinking vodka between the turns. In Estonia, for example, you never have the fire burning while going to the sauna but instead you will find a big bunch of stones that are heated in advance and the fire is extinguished before use with just the smell of smoke still left inside.
Still there is a lot that Nordic sauna culture has got in common. For example you typically will heat up inside the sauna three times and every turn should be followed by a bath (or if the water temperature allows, swimming around a bit) in the cold waters of the sea or a lake. Going to the sauna is something you do in the evening since there is nothing more beautiful than looking at the stars over your head while you take your swim or enjoy the flickering light from the wooden fire in the sauna oven. Having an enjoyable sauna-session takes time. You will not likely just heat up a bit, take a shower and then be finished.
Finally and most important. Sauna-bathing has got nothing to do with wellness in the modern sense!!! The sauna is our "living-room". Here you meet friends (or make new ones), drink alcohol, have a lot of fun, spend the evening and just as a bonus you will have that relaxed feeling in your body and in your skin a sense of being a new-born baby. Some guys would perhaps even tell you it is a test of your masculinity!
Enough said about sauna in general. Since you are still reading, I assume that this essential part of our culture attracts you in one way or another. Let's, then, get down to those islands of natural beauty that you will have the opportunity to experience on the "Nordic sauna culture tour" on board S/Y Viribus Unitis.
To start with, the island we will stay at for the night isn't really Sandhamn but it's neighbour Lökholmen. Here you will find a big yacht harbour with amenities such as toilets, showers, a restaurant and a sauna. Still it is at firsthand a beautiful boat parking in the midst of some amazing nature. A connecting ferryboat over to the town of Sandhamn is included in the harbour fee and runs once every hour.
Once in Sandhamn you can expect to find a very eclectic variety of sights. In recent years most famous for it's hotel and gourmet restaurant belonging to the royal Swedish yacht club and for being the place where the Stockholm Jet Set goes for summer parties, the island has a lot more to offer. For example the old town with all it's typically Swedish wooden houses all mixed up along narrow streets (if they at all can be called "streets"...), a very nice sand beach (one of just a very few natural ones in the whole archipelago), the chapel and pilots tower, a rather small but cosy spa or the oldest inn in Sweden that hasn't been closed for one single day since 1674! A dinner at the inn is strongly recommended since food is good and prices surprisingly reasonable.
For those who like to party there are a few places to hang out and outdoor concerts are common at the docks throughout summer. On the other hand, going back to Lökholmen and experience a typical Swedish sauna with beautiful views of the sea as well as the town of Sandhamn while swimming in the Baltic sea can be really rewarding and certainly gives you a glimpse of what Swedish culture is all about. The sauna at Lökholmen is wooden fired and offers a big panoramic window with stunning views of the harbour and the open sea in the background. Typically it is not very crowded and as such a great place to relax.
Even though the name sounds like one island, there actually is no single island called "Björkskär". Thus, the name is rather an abstraction given to a group of larger and smaller islands which together form something like an offshore archipelago of their own. The main island which, again as a matter of fact is just the second largest in this area, is owned by the municipality of Lidingö and is not a nature reserve in the judicial sense. Still there are no private buildings here and except from the sauna the only building on the island is a ranger station where the only person living here can be found.
In a way Björkskär is kind of a typical representative of the outer archipelago. The nature is rough with granite rocks dominating the landscape. Only in the moulds of the islands you can find trees and the dominating sight is the open horizon of the Baltic sea. These conditions contribute to the feeling of being on a real outpost. Still the good harbour conditions and the relatively easy access to the main island has made Björkskär popular and therefore a given place for a public sauna and - which is very seldom this far out - a sheltered harbour with docks.
Even though Björkskär attracts certain numbers of people it normally isn't crowded. The Sauna is, of course, the meeting point for the yachtsmen and sometimes it can be lively there. A good opportunity for some nice conversions. On the other hand you can also wait with your bathing until midnight and you are likely to have it for yourself! Anyway, the nature surrounding the tiny little cabin without electrical power even nearby is stunning and stands out of compare to most other sauna places in the area.
As a good representative for the middle archipelago, the island of Träskö-Storö is located in a more sheltered and wooded area in between thousands of other islands of various sizes. In some way the nature here will rather give you the impression of an inland lake system than actually being part of the Baltic sea. Of course also this has it's charms.
The island of Träskö-Storö has never had any larger population and the last people living on the island left in the sixties. Only one of the original houses is preserved and is now maintained by the Stockholm archipelago foundation, which has turned the island and it's neighbours in the area into a nature preserve. Some paths are maintained showing the typical nature of the middle archipelago and also some of the preserved traditional farmland that can be found here.
The big value of Träskö-Storö is probably it's really spacious and very well-sheltered natural harbour which has made it very popular amongst yachtsmen. No docks can be found but the natural cliffs with their often perfect rounded slopes provide good mooring for many boats. The archipelago foundations decision to build a big sauna here was thus natural.
In fact the sauna found here is two separate ones of which one can be reserved for groups and the other is public at all times. Since they are very popular, you shouldn't expect to be here alone, especially not during the main tourist season. On the other hand it is a great chance to learn what going to the sauna as a social event is all about for us Swedes!
- Gathering at the port 8 am. Embarkation, stowing of luggage and provisions, briefing about the tour.
- Approx 9 am departure from ILBK.
- Depending on the winds and weather we will go by either sail or engine through the archipelago and head for the north-east were we finally end up at Lökholmen, the lovely neighbour island next to the archipelago capital of Sandhamn.
- Approx 1 pm, arrival at Lökholmen. Here the day can be spent with a trip to the town of Sandhamn to see the typical Swedish wooden architecture, have a good meal at one of the most famous restaurants in the archipelago or just relax at the beach. In the evening there are often outdoor concerts and there are also a number of pubs and discos. On the other hand you can also stay on Lökholmen, go for a trip with the dinghy or barbecue on a rock next to the harbour.
- Dinner on board, as a barbecue ashore or in one of the local restaurants.
- In the evening visit to the wooden fired sauna and swimming in the Baltic sea.
- Breakfast on board
- Approx 11 am departure from Lökholmen. This day we head east to the harsher environment of the outer islands, where we after some beautiful impressions end up at the island of Björkskär.
- Approx 1:30 pm arrival at Björkskär where we will have plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful nature. You can go for a walk over the rocky island, explore all the small skerries with the dinghy or just relax.
- Dinner on board or as barbecue ashore.
- Of course a visit to one of the most picturesque saunas that can be found is strongly recommended. No electricity, no light, no shower, just wooden fire and the beauty of nature!
- Breakfast on board.
- Approx 11 am departure from Björkskär. Slowly we now head back for the middle archipelago and it's more cosy and vegetated nature. We will pass through the national park of "Möja skärgård", which is a real gem of natural beauty and finally we end up at Träskö-Storö, which in fact is another nature reserve but with quiet a bit different character.
- Approx 3 pm arrival at Träskö-Storö. Time for walks on the island, excursions with the dinghy or relaxing.
- Dinner on board or as barbecue on land.
- In the evening visit to the sauna which, again, is wooden-fired but this time a lot bigger. Since this has become a popular spot for sauna-bathing, you will have great opportunities to meet locals and make new friends in a relaxed way!
- Breakfast on board.
- Approx 11 am departure from Träskö-Storö. This day the trip will take us back to our home port. Still this doesn't mean that the nature would be less attractive. Probably a short stop will be made at the gas-station in Stavsnäs to fill up water and fuel. Finally we will be back at our home port, where the tour also started.
- approx 4 pm, arrival in our home port on Ingarö. Disembarkation, debriefing and discharge.
- approx 5 pm, end of the tour.