Finnish Sauna Festivals and Kalajärven Saunafestarit 2019

Episode 54

Recorded back in summer 2019, I was welcomed to experience my first sauna festival by the organiser of Kalajärven Saunafestarit, Tero Knaapila. Tero talked me through the origins of this event and what one can expect from a sauna festival. He then took me into his converted motor home sauna (which is still road legal!) before a cooling dip in Lake Kalajärvi.

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Show Notes & Links

Kalajärven Saunafestarit 2019

I’d been aware of the concept of the sauna festival early in the life of this podcast and blog, but I’d never quite managed to experience one. Then, in summer 2019, I learned about the Kalajärven Saunafestarit in Peräseinäjoki, South Ostrobothnia. Even so, it was still a late decision to reach out to the organisaer, Tero Knaapila, and ask him for an interview.

On a hot, summer day in 2019, Satu and I made the 20 minute journey from Seinäjoki, knowing what was awaiting us but not really sure what to expect! the concept is that individuals and groups build their own mobile sauna, light the stove and allow others to enjoy the unique experience. As you can see from Satu’s photo gallery below, these saunas are built from re-purposed vehicles, old industrial equipment, even a tent – just about anything that can contain the steam emitted by the stove.

Tero’s Camper Van Sauna

It took a while to speak with Tero as, on that same day, the national broadcaster, YLE, had arrived to record a series about foreigners experiencing a sauna festival for the first time – so I wasn’t the only one who thought this was a good idea. In the accompanying podcast, you can hear Tero explain how he came to arrange his event. In partnership with the owner at Ravintola Kalajärvi, the lakeside bar and restaurant, they launched the Kalajärven Saunafestarit in 2015.

Tero then took me into his sauna, a converted motor home/camper van, which he explained was still road legal. Not only that, it could be driven along the road with the sauna ON and with seven people enjoying the steam. Then, after our session, we went into the refreshing waters of lake Kalajärvi to cool off, before i headed off to speak with Heikki from the Sauna Crew – whose black box sauna had a ’emergency bath and shower’ attached to it. Yes, really!

Heikka & The Sauna Crew

Free Sauna Festival at Kalajärvi

Although there are alternative events, Tero is proud that this is the biggest free sauna festival. While other festivals charge an entrance fee, Kalajärven Saunafestarit, is free for visitors to attend and enjoy the saunas. There are public changing facilities and, of course, the restaurant, so while there, you can buy food and drinks. When we visited, everyone seemed to have plenty of drinks.

The word festival is very appropriate. Not only is this a celebration of sauna culture, with enthusiasts sharing their passion and throwing open the doors of their unusual saunas to the public. It is also a party, people are drinking, grilling food and eating at the restaurant. It’s not a place to be shy, Finns are at their most sociable in the sauna and with a beer in hand, you are sure to make new friends throughout your visit.

Remember, as this is a very public sauna, you should wear swimwear. You can even buy a special sauna suit from Koskenkorvan Trahteeri who had a stall at the 2019 event.

Kalajärven Saunafestarit 2022

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th June 2022

When I visited in 2019, I planned to publish this episode ahead of the following event. Thanks to the global pandemic, that is three years later. I’m sure Tero thought I’d forgotten about him. NEVER!

This really is an event that you should not miss. The wide array of different saunas; the enthusiasm of the owners who build the saunas and then happily welcome strangers in to enjoy them; the party atmosphere and live music; the eating and drinking. As you can probably tell, after a break of three years, I can’t wait to get back into the steam and into the lake. Maybe we’ll see you there.

A Selection of Saunas at Kalajärven Saunafestarit 2019

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