The idea of a ‘European Sauna Marathon’ in Estonia started as a bit of a joke. It was first a local competition inviting people from Otepää and beyond to discover the great variety of saunas across Estonia’s winter capital.
Yet it has evolved over the past 15 years into a truly international competition, joined by competitors and journalists from around the world. The competition has kept its good-humoured spirit, but does a seriously good job of boosting sauna tourism across Estonia and celebrating Estonia’s rich sauna heritage and expertise with more people globally.
This weekend, the European Sauna Marathon is back bigger than ever after a two year pandemic break — now taking place across two days and two regions of south Estonia, Otepää and Tõrva — and our international sauna friends haven’t forgotten about us.
Organisers have counted twelve international teams. They’re from Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Japan, the US, the UK, Qatar, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany (in addition, of course, to many Estonian teams). There are likely many more nationalities, including in mixed teams, but these are the twelve identified by the organisers.
The Swiss sauna fans
There’s three whole teams from Switzerland all travelling to Estonia together.
They’re part of the Rhysauna sauna association in Schaffhausen, which was founded back in 2019 as a non-profit to take over the running of the legendary Rhybadi Schaffhausen, a 150 year old public bath built on a barge on the river Rhine.
In preparation for the Sauna Marathon, the group met (in their sauna, of course) to plan their costumes, decide what to bring (including Swiss Liqueur), and decide their itinerary so they can enjoy as much of Estonia and its saunas as possible before and after the competition.
They asked if we could recommend other good saunas along the way. Starting in Tallinn, there’s wonderful old and new saunas — ranging from the old Kalma saun public sauna to the hipster hangout of Heldeke, and the new Iglupark sauna complex where you can jump in the Baltic Sea. On the way down to south Estonia, Tartu — the intellectual heart of Estonia — has more than 20 floating saunas (like this one we featured), as well as the National Museum of Estonia, which is well worth a visit. Finally, after enjoying the saunas of Otepää and Tõrva during the competition (and perhaps returning the next day to enjoy their favourites at a more leisurely pace), it’s worth travelling a bit further into Võromaa where the smoke sauna tradition is listed by UNESCO. The most revered sauna there (and probably in the whole of Estonia) is Mooska run by Eda and Urmas, the leading guardians of Estonian sauna culture. Make sure you try their delicious sauna-smoked pork afterwards. We wrote in-depth about their sauna here.
The Swiss group are now thinking about organising their own sauna race in Schaffhausen and have identified old and unique saunas across the picturesque town that they are keen to show off to visitors. Watch this space. And we’d love to be there and document it.
For now, we look forward to seeing all of you this weekend in Otepää and Tõrva for the XII European Sauna Marathon.