Estonia has declared 2023 the Year of the Sauna and there will be events throughout the year, organised by the Estonian Rural Tourism Organisation, to celebrate the country’s rich sauna culture; the European Sauna Marathon is back following a two-year pandemic break.
For the first time, the European Sauna Marathon will take place over two days – on 17 and 18 February – and in two parts of southern Estonia.
Estonia’s winter capital, Otepää, will again host the main competition on Saturday, but nearby Tõrva will host the “warm-up” race on Friday – enabling participants to visit many more weird and wonderful saunas and spend more time enjoying south Estonia, the organisers said in a statement.
A limited number of sauna marathon tickets went on sale at Piletikeskus, a ticketing service in Estonia, on 16 January –and sold out in hours. It’s €150 for a team of up to four people.
The European Sauna Marathon is an orienteering race between a wide range of saunas. Participants compete in teams of four and need a car.
Saunas also compete with each other
During registration, participants are given a map with a list of saunas to visit, a tracking device for checking in and out of each sauna, and their start time.
The start times are staggered to avoid overcrowding, but the participants can also choose the order to visit each sauna. A team must spend at least three minutes in each steam room, then it can also visit hot tubs and ice holes along the way.
The saunas are also competing with each other to offer the best experience. When the participants complete the course, they’ll need to vote for their favourite saunas based on a range of categories.
The main prize is a hot tub, and there will be several other special prizes for participating teams and saunas.
Helps boost sauna tourism
The first sauna race in 2010 was the brainchild of Indrek Vähi, a local spa director in Otepää who came up with the idea of a sauna orienteering game for the town’s winter festival. The aim was to bring the community together to celebrate the area’s sauna culture and help more people learn about local saunas they could enjoy again in future.
The first competition was such a success that Sirje Ginter from the Otepää Cultural Centre, which is part of the local municipality, took over the organisation the following year and renamed the competition the “European Sauna Marathon”. Unlike other competitions abroad that encouraged participants to stay in overheated saunas for an unhealthy amount of time, this competition is purely for fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, according to the organisers.
The European Sauna Marathon has grown exponentially, bringing visitors from around the world, as well as lots of international media coverage – all of which has helped boost sauna tourism and industry across Estonia while celebrating our rich sauna culture, the organisers said.
Now Otepää municipality has joined forces with Tõrva municipality to further widen the competition. Participants this year receive extra points for completing both days.