Enjoy the spa culture in the Baltic States

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Rather close to Finland, the Baltic States have adapted the Finnish sauna culture and turned it into a pampering spa experience, adding hammams, pools and Jacuzzis to the traditional wooden cabin of its northern neighbour.

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Historical Tallinn, Estonia [Kalev Spa Hotel & Waterpark]

Back to when Estonia belonged to Russia, Tallinn was the location of the Russian empire’s first spa resort in the 19th century. The Hanseatic town attracted the tsar’s family, the Russian nobility and personalities such as Tchaikovsky who came here to relax.

When it broke free from the Soviet dictatorship, Estonia opened to the world and Finns visited in masses. Located across the Baltic Sea, only 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Finnish capital Helsinki, spas were adapted to the taste of its close neighbours, and the Finnish sauna culture spread. Today, the historical spa resort destination’s Old Town is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this lovely hidden gem of a capital makes for a perfect city trip between discovery and pampering!

The Kalev Spa Hotel and Waterpark, just a stone’s throw away from the ramparts of the Old Town, is the ideal place to combine both. The comfortable hotel is where the only Olympic swimming pool of Estonia can be found, and also houses a sensory spa experience. The swimming pool and the well-equipped fitness centre are just what one needs to warm up one’s muscles before honing in on the benefits of the saunas (for more tips about how to make the most of your sauna visit, check out this article). Then, the kid-free sauna oasis is a relaxation heaven with an onsen-type bath, a jacuzzi, a hammam and tropical oasis, and sauna cabins ranging from warm to hot. In the Finnish sauna tradition, the humidity level can be adjusted by splashing the hot stones with water. Time simply stands still and the experience is prolonged in the lounge area and in the massage saloon. Whether to kick start the day, or for the perfect ending to a busy schedule exploring Tallinn, there is nothing better than a sauna!

Insider’s tips:

  • Book a room on the top floor at the comfortable 4-star Kalev Spa Hotel on the edge of Tallinn’s old town with a view on Tallinn’s Old Town.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!

  • Woman looking at hte view on Old Tallinn from the room in the Kalev Spa Hotel
  • View on Old Tallinn from the Kalev Spa Hotel
  • Breakfast at the Kalev Spa Hotel, Tallinn

Pärnu Beach Resort, Estonia [Wasa Resort]

Pärnu, the summer capital of Estonia, was a booming Hanseatic town in the Middle Ages, exporting local agricultural products. The fortified city opened to its seashore only in 1838, when the first seaside bathing establishment was inaugurated: Pärnu was quickly added to the list of Russian imperial resorts. Beautiful wooden summer houses for the elite started popping up.

Even during the Soviet times, Pärnu was a renowned popular summer destination and became a year-round sanatorium as part of the Soviet Union list of health resort towns. Like every other field of society, tourism was organized and centrally planned under the Soviet rule. The Soviet mass health tourism converted Parnü into a medical spa resort and sent thousands of comrades on health retreats, from agricultural workers to miners, to the Baltic city that still represented the most western of all the Soviet Union resorts.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pärnu re-invented itself while keeping its bathing culture. It is today a spa town by the beach where the modern architecture of the newest resorts such as the Wasa are side by side with the historical baths and wooden villas. Close to Finland, the sauna culture has developed nicely following the Finnish tradition. A leisure swimming pool with jacuzzi and hammam complete the sauna cabins for the perfect relaxation, while running on the beach is the ideal workout in Parnü.

Insider’s tips:

  • For the best hotel experience make sure to book the four-star Wasa Resort Hotel SPA.
  • Weekends get very busy, especially in the summer.
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!

  • Breakfast buffet at the Wasa Resort Hotel SPA in Pärnu
  • Breakfast at the Wasa Resort Hotel SPA in Pärnu
  • Breakfast buffet at the Wasa Resort Hotel SPA in Pärnu, Estonia
  • Pool and sauna at the Wasa Resort Hotel SPA in Pärnu, Estonia

Riga Old Town, Latvia [Grand Poet]

As the distance from Finland increases driving through the Baltic States, saunas move away slowly from the pure Finnish tradition. The spa of the Grand Poet hotel in Riga is the perfect example.

The underground of the historic building just across the lovely Bastion Park from Riga Old Town hosts a stylish and modern spa. Fully fitted to welcome hotel guests and visitors alike, it houses a 15-meter-long (45 feet) swimming pool and a fitness centre that are ideal to work out before a sauna session.

A steam room is then the perfect start to open and cleanse the pores while preventing infections and moisturising the skin.

A 100°C (212°F) dry sauna that would make purist Finnish sauna-goers jump is meant to cleanse the body of toxins. Next to it, a lower temperature dry sauna is more accessible and the aroma room beautifully decorated by a wall of Himalayan salt aims at cleansing the respiratory system, helping treat allergies and accelerating the removal of toxins from the body. If the whole spa is very nicely designed, do not look for ladles to pour water on the hot stones and increase the humidity of that sauna like one would do in Finland: it is actually forbidden to do so. Closer to the German sauna culture with time devices popping in the cabins, the relaxation takes over the health benefits but the pampering is no less, especially after one of the massages proposed on the extensive menu.

Last but not least, the jacuzzi with hydro-massage and the warm long chairs are ideal to rest after a sauna session and will get you all ready to explore beautiful Riga!

Insider’s tips:

  • Even if you can enjoy the spa as a day-visitor, make sure to book a room at The Grand Poet Hotel to visit Riga in style!
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)!

  • Room of the Grand Poet Hotel, Riga, Latvia
  • Overlooking the park from the room of the stylish Grand Poet Hotel, Riga, Latvia
  • Breakfast at the stylish Grand Poet Hotel, Riga, Latvia

For more in the Baltic states:

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