In Hungary this week, I signed up for a curated sauna experience at the Zenit Hotel, a wonderful boutique hotel along Lake Balaton. It was amazing, exhilarating, and also ever so hip and stylish. However it was also exhausting, and I slept like a baby afterwards.
I’m a great fan of the sauna experience and the hot springs experience. In fact, I usually try the sauna experience in every country I visit that has a wellness culture.
SAUNA EXPERIENCES AROUND THE WORLD
Most recently, I enjoyed an afternoon of sauna in a cottage on the shores of Lake Baikal in Russia and then in a private club in Tokyo. In Lake Baikal, I prepared the herbal tea and the dried birch leaves for the sauna so expertly that my Russian companions remarked: “You’re just like a Russian woman.”
This is because I’ve had so many sessions in the Russian banya. Many of my past trips to Russia have been planned around the Russian banya.
THE SAUNA EXPERIENCE IN LAKE BALATON IN HUNGARY
Well, the curated sauna experience in the Zenit Hotel in Lake Balaton in Hungary was just so different from anything I’d ever had before. How can a sauna sessions feel like exercise, while also being so hip? It was like doing a spinning class in some trendy gym in Manhattan.
When we checked in, there was a sign in Hungarian announcing the evening’s sauna experiences. The Zenit Hotel offers these sessions on a complimentary basis for hotel guests. Even if the sign was in Hungarian, we could figure it out.
WELLNESS SESSIONS IN HUNGARY
At 830 PM, there was a sauna with beer. Then at 930 PM, there was a sauna with yoghurt. Finally at 1030 PM, there was a relaxing sauna. The three sessions were curated by a sauna master. These were held in the hotel’s small but perfectly done sauna and wellness area.
What is a curated sauna experience in Hungary like? You may be asking.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS
First, the sauna master plans the entire evening carefully to ensure that guests have a memorable time. Many hotel guests do all three experiences, if they are physically up to these. After all, intensive sauna sessions are physically tiring.
So those doing all three sessions rest in between in the jacuzzi or in one of the lounge chairs in the terrace.
NO CLOTHES AT ALL
Before each session at the Zenit Hotel, participants gathered in the sauna area wearing thin towels. It’s a unisex sauna but clothes are completely forbidden. So you can choose to go in with no clothes at all, or to cover yourself with a thin towel. And, as this is Europe, many people do choose to go naked in the sauna and it’s not a big deal at all.
Then the session starts and everyone chooses their places in the sauna room. The experienced sauna goers immediately sit on the top benches which are the hottest areas of the room. The beginners are encouraged to take the lower benches.
Until this point, our curated sauna experience in Lake Balaton in Hungary is pretty much like the experience in other countries with wellness cultures like Russia or Finland.
MUSIC & AROMA
The most interesting part about this curated sauna experience in Hungary was the sauna master’s attention to details. He controlled everything so finely, from the music to the aroma and the degree of humidity in the room.
Our sauna master at the Zenit Hotel was a young and robust man in his early 30s. Like many regular sauna goers, he had really smooth and shiny skin. Yes, that’s what years of sauna detox does to the skin. He also had very strong arms, which came in handy when he needed to swing the hot towels around the room.
HEAT & ICE FOR CONTRAST
He began each session by placing a ball of crushed ice on top of the sauna stove. Then he poured some water onto this before he began swinging scented towels around the room. He used the towels to evenly disperse the heat and also to create more heat.
The entire session is finely tuned in terms of time and timing so that participants generate enough sweat but don’t become physically ill from too much heat. This is where the skill of a really good sauna master comes in.
The sauna master also went one step further by curating the music for the sessions in the sauna. He played music to fit the mood for each session. I really loved his choices.
ALICIA KEYS IN THE SAUNA
For example, for the second session, which was the sauna with yoghurt session, he chose an upbeat tune. He played songs like “New York” by Alicia Keys to get everyone in the mood for a rather physically demanding session.
After the sauna with yoghurt session, a lady handed each guests a cup of yoghurt. We all spread this over ourselves before taking a hot shower and then jumping into the icy plunge pool.
It was so invigorating but also so exhausting. After just one of these sessions, I fell into a lounge chair and I didn’t move at all for around 30 minutes. I was too tired to even breath. But afterwards, I felt so alive and relaxed in Hungary, living a Travelife.