Everyone has a personal protective gnome, and there are spirits everywhere. I was already wandering here in Kuusamo, Northern Finland, when these lands were roamed freely by the Forest Sami people and only we spirits could perhaps be said to own them.
People here have always lived in harmony with nature.
Three centuries ago, farmers from other parts of the country moved here, and the way of life of the aboriginal peoples, which was based on fishing and hunting, gradually faded away. However, sources of livelihood with firm roots in nature, including reindeer farming, fishing, and hunting, are still very much alive here.
The nature-based religion of the Forest Sami also lives on, through incantations and rituals. The locals are still familiar with the concept of seitas too, holy places where people presented offerings to gods in ancient times. The name of my spa comes from this tradition.
Several years ago now, a main building, two kotas (wooden huts), a lean-to, and a sauna building with three partially underground saunas were built here. Guests were beginning to arrive from all over the world.
Sometimes people stay in the sauna until morning.
Most of them come to Kuusamo by aeroplane. At the airport, they are greeted with appropriate outerwear – the journey of a couple of kilometres through the forest to my spa will be on foot or on horseback in the summer and by husky sledge or reindeer sleigh in the winter. Many visitors opt to go rafting, canoeing, fishing, hiking, bird-watching, or on a photography hike before enjoying the sauna.
To prepare them all, a spell with healing words is uttered for sauna-goers before they enter this special space.
The voice of silence
Some sauna-goers like to cool off in my forest pond or in a hot tub ('palju') inside the sauna building. And when hunger comes knocking, we tame it with food from the wilderness, served beside the fireplace of the main building or by the campfire in the kota. The cook prepares the dishes from fresh, clean ingredients supplied by the local forests and waters: fish, reindeer and other game animals, berries, mushrooms, and herbs.
For many, however, the silence is the most unforgettable experience that the wilderness supplies. The peace in these forests and at my spa is unbreakable, enduring beyond time. Finns have washed themselves here, healed their sick, given birth, and died in saunas for centuries. A calm and respectful sauna bath is one way of honouring these traditions, showing appreciation for the place and the sauna gnome's domestic peace.
I once heard a tour guide remark that there are as many as two million saunas in Finland.
When night falls, the guide takes the visitors to the kota for a good night's sleep in sleeping bags. The shaman drum is often played nearby, to lull my guests to a peaceful sleep. Sometimes people stay in the sauna until morning – under the stars or the northern lights in the winter and beneath the midnight sun in summertime.
This is when I sigh in satisfaction.
Anne Murto, the owner of Rukapalvelu, was interviewed for this article. Rukapalvelu has managed Seita Forest Spa in Kuusamo, Finland, since 2007. In addition, the Web site www.lappi.fi was used as a resource.
The Fastest Way to Kuusamo
Flights to Kuusamo and to the other Lapland Airports locations take about 1 h 15 min from Helsinki Airport.
Text: Terhi Kivikoski-Hannula