As a sauna explorer, I am interested in every bathing culture and ritual. What feels good to the body, the mind, and the soul. How lucky must I be, to be living in a city like London, where one can meet the representatives of different cultures and connect with them. Such started my journey experiencing the Russian Banya.
Banya No. 1 is a traditional Russian steam bath and wellness spa in London, with branches in Hoxton and Chiswick. While Hoxton branch has been there since many years, Chiswick was established in late 2020, and both branches take bookings for when it is safe under the government guidelines to visit.
Situated on the lovely Chiswick High Road, along with other wellness businesses and healthy lifestyle stores, Banya No 1 Chiswick is the perfect place to relax, rejuvenate, find inner alignment as well as socializing and making connections in that special way public baths have enabled across generations.
Upon arrival to the banya, you are offered towels, bathrobes and slippers; and you can conveniently get changed in a room with safe lockers. After wearing your swimming suits and picking your towel, you are ready to explore the spa.
In the dry area, you are given a dedicated seating area with a table and a pot of herbal tea. The seating is arranged to provide just enough privacy to stay alone or to have a candid conversation with your group of friends; but it feels like a combination of a pub and a vintage train compartment. There is the awareness of being in a social setting, a community. No man is an island.
In the wet area, there is the famous Russian banya, shower facilities, an ice-plunge pool and some wall-mounted oak buckets (more on that later!) There is also a massage room, a hot-stone room; and a more secluded room for private-group hires. What strikes me the most here is the level of cleanliness and hygiene, as well as the design and attention to details in the architecture and decor. I feel like I am visiting a luxury spa, even though the experience is an authentic Russian bathing ritual, a practice dating back many generations in the Russian society.
The Russian Banya looks much like a large sauna. The walls are lined with arctic cedar wood, and the smell, mixing with the dry herbs hanged on the walls, take you to the Russian countryside. The specialty of the Russian banya is that here, the banya master makes a superheated steam by splashing water onto a tonne of cast iron, heated to 700°C inside an authentic brick furnace. The banya’s temperature (70°C) is lower than in a sauna, the high levels of superheated steam cause the body to sweat profusely and then detoxify.
The steam in the banya is light, yet powerful. As a seasoned sauna explorer, my skin is quite heat resistant; and I often find it hard to sweat unless I am sitting at the uppermost bench. However, in the banya, sitting up in the uppermost bench is quite difficult; and laying down is advised just to protect yourself from getting burned by the steam.
In the middle of the banya, there is a treatment table, for guests who would like to enjoy the parenie – an invigorating thermal massage, that uses leafy and fragrant bundle of birch, oak or eucalyptus twigs. It is a must see – to watch the banya master as they direct the steam with the bundle of leaves like an orchestra chef, and apply the massage with poetic movements.
After spending 10 to 15 minutes inside the banya, much like the sauna experience, you seek to lower the body temperature either through an icy plunge bath, or taking a bucket shower, which is basically standing beneath a wall-mounted bucket filled with ice-cold water, and pulling the rope. As scary as it may sound, the sudden change of temperature in the body brings a great feeling of relaxation, and health benefits such as increased metabolic rate, post-exercise relief and an increase in dopamine production.
It is advised to rest for at least 15 minutes after each banya visit. The seating area is the perfect place to rest. You can drink your herbal tea, or close your eyes and just feel the sensations in your body. In a typical visit, I repeat this cycle of banya-cold plunge and rest three to four times. The first round gets my body acclimatized, The second round is where I feel the biggest impact, and the third and fourth times, I do it for fun. Or maybe because I love the warm scent of the sauna, the whisks and the herbs.
The allocated slot for each visit is 3 hours, and before you know it, you will come to the end. Make enough time to have a sip of their famous immunity shots made from sea buckthorn, and taste their delicious selection of Russian snacks. This is a place where time seems to stop and go incredibly fast simultaneously. “How is that possible?” you may be asking. I say, come and experience it yourself.
To get a sneak peek before your visit, and to learn more about the Russian bathing rituals, follow the Banya No. 1 Instagram account.
Good to know
- Bring your swimming-suit, everything else you need is provided (bathrobe, towels, flip-flops, toiletries in the shower area, lockers, hair-dryer)
- Mixed-gender facility.
- Packages are sold for 3-hour use. Allow yourself enough time to enjoy it fully.
- Food and beverages sold on site.
- Good for group visits with friends and family.
- Price: $$$