The sauna or bathhouse tradition in Latvia is deeply seated – already in the 19th century there was a bathhouse on every farmstead. Although nowadays sauna is no longer the only place to wash oneself, as every household has hot running water, the bathhouse traditions still remain.
The purpose of bathhouses extends beyond simply washing the body. By observing the wisdom of the bath ritual of our ancestors, you can escape the cares and troubles of everyday life, free yourself of stress, and revive the spirit.
In Latvia the most common are the so-called wet baths, where water is poured over hot stones to produce vapour and make the air humid.
The perfect bathhouse temperature is considered to be 86° C, but beginners may start the bath ritual at a lower temperature. After heating up in the sauna, it is important to cool down rapidly in a cold pond, a pool or a powerful shower. The sudden contrast between the hot and cold exercises the blood vessels, strengthens the body, and improves the elasticity of skin.
The bath ritual also includes swatting with switches, which can be made from the twigs taken from a number of trees. The most common are birch, oak, linden, and juniper twig switches, but bath masters add a wide variety of plants to their swatting bunches, providing healing properties, scents, and energy.
The swatting with switches is both a massage and aromatherapy, also helping to rid the body of dead skin cells. Beauty treatments, such as using body scrubs or facial masks made out of clay and honey, also go hand in hand with the bathhouse ritual.
Bathhouses in Latvia
It is possible to experience an authentic bath ritual in any of the hundreds of guesthouses of Latvia.
A guesthouse with a sauna can be rented for a family or a small company of friends, as well as for hosting various events with a large number of guests.
You can learn more about the history of Latvian bathhouses in the open-air Sauna Museum, where six historical bathhouses are displayed. Here you can also see the black sauna, where the stones are piled up in the middle of the steam room, and the fire burning underneath the stones has caused the entire bathhouse to be covered in soot. The museum is located 40 km from Riga, near the Murjāņi–Saulkrasti road.