Tucked away on a quiet little back street in Shoreditch is the traditional Russian Spa, Banya No.1. Offering a truly authentic take on the Banya experience, it’s all about the sauna and you are assured of getting all hot and sweaty. Most guests come to try the Parenie treatment which is set in the specially designed sauna. You literally lay down on the sauna bench and get whipped with leaves until your blood boils.
It’s much more pleasurable than it sounds and it is a gentle therapy (to start) with light tapping of the leaves (mostly oak) across the body. The banchik uses the leaves the gather hot air from the sauna and wave this across the body. Focussing on the back, legs and then feet, it’s somewhat soothing and comforting to begin with, then your body temperature starts to rise. Resting your head on the beech with a pillow of eucalyptus and birch branches, these have been dipped on cool water and give a little relief. It’s when the focus shifts to the feet that it gets way too hot to handle.
In minutes, you are asked to turn over and the same follows for your front. All the while your body temperature continues to peak. Just when you think it’s too much to bare you are asked to sit up and more tapping with branches then it’s time to cool off under ice cold buckets of water. This sorts the men from the boys. It’s invigorating and a blessed relief. Once you are checked that you are ok, the banchik then guides you to the ice-cold plunge pool. In you go, shoulders under, then the head and it’s time to get out and calm down on the side.
The contrast of hot and cold is stimulating, invigorating, awakening and incredible. I have never felt so alive. After this, a sense of peace and relaxation follows, you sip Russian herbal tea and honey in the lounge area and slowly come back to reality.
The venue at Banya No.1 is a little bit like a 90’s health club, nothing special and all very functional in appearance. The wet area of the spa is again quite functional with the sauna and plunge pool taking up most of the space. There’s the two ice buckets strung up on the wall and a preparation area for the banchiks to ready their box of tricks for the treatments.
You can add on additional massage and body scrub treatments and if you have time, they would be a great addition to the experience. The lounge area where you take tea is a little like a Russian bistro with leather clad benches and seating, decorated with wood and 60’s and 70’s style Russian travel and film posters. You can order vodka (naturally) and a range of food from beetroot soup to meat dumplings.
Don’t come here expecting five-star spa luxury with relaxation loungers and tea rooms. This isn’t a pampering indulgent spa of that ilk. It’s quirky and gives a real sense of a traditional Russian Banya. I loved it.