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The Warsaw Voice » Other » January 7, 2009
On the town
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Fun in the Cold
January 7, 2009   
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One of latest trends among foreign visitors to Poland is to take a vacation in the region around the northeastern city of Suwałki, the coldest in the country. Here, winter temperatures stay under zero longer than anywhere else apart from in the mountains. Ice fishing is a popular pursuit while iceboats are a convenient way of getting across frozen lakes. And if you find yourself freezing to the bone, you can seek refuge in the so-called Suwałki sauna.

Eastern Poland is the only region of the country where you can find traditional baths where steam is produced by pouring water onto red hot stones. The Suwałki steam bath is better known as the Russian banya, because it is commonly accepted that the first bath houses of this kind appeared in the region with the arrival of Russian settlers. They left the historical Ruthenia region because they could not come to terms with the schism in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 18th century.

High humidity
The tradition of taking steam baths nearly died out in the early 20th century. But the Wigry National Park and the Białowieska Forest still have typical wooden buildings with wood-fired furnaces inside used to heat stones. Traditional bath houses were usually built near ponds and streams. In contrast to the Finnish sauna, characterized by high temperatures and low humidity, the humidity in a Russian banya reaches 100 percent, so that the temperature feels extremely high. The effect is achieved through repeatedly pouring copious amounts of water over red hot stones.

Delightful torture
No banya is complete without birch or oak twigs on the walls which produce a characteristic scent. You also use the twigs to lash your body. As you leave the bath house, you cool down by splashing your body with ice cold water, rubbing yourself with snow or taking a plunge in a lake. To complete the tradition, you should repeat the cycle several times, which enthusiasts of steam baths say is the best way to regenerate your system.

Steam baths are recommended when you are tired after demanding physical effort and for people suffering from insomnia, anxiety and stress. You may also like to try a steam bath if you are prone to colds or have a skin condition.

Spas with banyas
Aware of the growing interest in traditional steam baths, owners of boarding houses, hotels and private lodgings have been renovating old bath houses and building new ones to attract tourists. Traditional Suwałki steam bath houses can be found in Studziany Las by the Wigry Lake, Buda Ruska, Maćkowa Ruda and other locations along the Czarna Hańcza River. New banyas, modeled on traditional Russian structures, are also being built in other parts of Poland as growing numbers of hotels with spa facilities extend their range of treatment with steam baths.

If you do not feel like exploring the country in search of a traditional bath house, can get one for your own home. There are many companies in Poland which can fit a sauna or a steam bath into virtually any room.

Przemek Molik

Traditional banyas
w Sioło Budy boarding house, Budy 41, 17-230 Białowieża, www.siolobudy.pl
Wigierski boarding house, Mikołajewo 22c, 16-503 Krasnopol, www.wigierski.pl
Wodziłki "Ruska bania", 16-404 Jeleniewo, tel. 0-87 565-17-45
Galeria w Przełomce, 16-427 Przero¶l, tel. 0-87 569-15-71
Dworczysko nad Hańcz±, Mierkinie, 16-407 Wiżajny, tel. 0-604-06-01-18
Cyziówka Training and Vacation Center, 39-122 Kamionka 286, www.cyziowka.pl
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