I do love a good spa experience. A few days ago, I tried something new and exciting which I have never tried before. We visited Banya No. 1, a traditional Russian bath and wellness spa located in a quiet residential area, very close to Old Street. They opened in London in 2012 and have branches in Nice and Dubai. They are apparently quite popular with celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Kate Moss, although sadly I didn’t spot any during our visit!
After registering at the reception, we were each given a towel, an electronic wristband for the lockers and a woollen hat. We were encouraged to wear these felt hats at all times inside the steam rooms to protect our heads from overheating.
After a quick change into our swimming gear and securing our valuables inside individual lockers, we headed to the main spa area to begin our spa experience. I recommend carrying a pair of slippers with you, as the disposable ones from the spa are a bit flimsy.
We spent about 10-15 minutes inside a Russian steam room with a traditional stove, either sitting or lying down. The temperatures inside are supposedly lower than an average UK steam room (although we felt the opposite). Initially, I found the heat quite challenging, but the longer I stayed, the better the experience became.
We then cooled down with a lukewarm or cold shower using the cedar wood bucket showers provided. That in itself was an exhilarating experience.
After that, we relaxed in their fully licensed lounge area with private booths and helped ourselves to some natural herbal tea and fresh fruits to rehydrate. The tea helps rebalance the body fluids after excessive sweating inside the steam room. Banya No. 1 also have a range of traditional Russian delicacies and drinks on offer that are high on salt to rehydrate and replenish the body’s electrolyte levels. It is recommended that you spend double the time for rest and relaxation that you spent in the steam room.
Herbal Tea – Linden, Mint, Camomile, Thyme
Boiled Potatoes, Herring, Smoked Ham, Russian Gherkins, Salted Cabbage, Salo Ukranian
We were then invited by the therapist for our respective treatments. In particular, we were there to experience their key signature treatment called the Parenie. This is an invigorating thermal treatment which forms part of your spa experience. It uses venik – leafy and fragrant bundles of oak, birch and eucalyptus twig – to shift your steam and make your body sweat profusely. The excessive sweating helps release toxins from the body, thereby cleansing the skin. This also helps boosts blood circulation and relieve muscle tension and stress.
For my Parenie session, I was asked to lie face-down on a wooden table inside the steam room and my head and face were covered with damp leafy bundles.
Over the course of next ten minutes, I was ‘beaten’ up and down with the bushy bundles by a banshik. The essential oils released by the leaves in conjunction with the steam boosts the immune system and prevent skin from premature ageing. You do feel the heat from the wet leaves, especially when they rest on your skin for a few extra seconds, but otherwise it is not painful. The whole experience felt bizarre at first but then you get used to the heated moisture and start to enjoy it. Part of me was also giggling inside that two burly Russian men were ‘beating’ me with leafy sticks! The leaves had woody scents (reminiscent of pine trees) from the natural oils and I felt instantly relaxed and calm.
After my Parenie session, I was splashed with cold water from the aforementioned bucket showers and then asked to take a dip inside their ice cold plunge pool where the water is a chilly 7 degrees. This process of sharp temperature contrast helps close detoxified pores in your body as well as release adrenalin and serotonin that aides rejuvenation.
It was all a bit overwhelming at first, but very soon I was feeling quite relaxed and sleepy and my skin was feeling smooth and tingly. The banshiks were really lovely and kind, pushing when they thought they could but also knowing your limits. Because it was my first time, I think the they were a bit gentle on me, but you can definitely intensify the pressure and the temperature to suit your preference and health goals.
Besides Parenie, Banya No. 1 has a range of very reasonably priced treatments, wraps and scrubs using handmade and organic ingredients like honey and coffee to maximise your spa experience. They also have separate session days for men and women. I thought the prices were quite reasonable. The use of the spa facilities for two to three hours costs £30 (off-peak), with additional treatments starting as low as £22.
After our session, we met co-founder Andrei Formin and also had a look at their private banya facilities – Taiga – which opened in 2016 and are available for group hire. This is a great luxury venue for a corporate event, hen party or special occasion group social activity, as you can have the spa club all to yourself and your group, including your very own lounge and mini bar, changing rooms, massage room and traditional steam room. The most interesting feature is the steam room – a traditionally constructed log cabin constructed using interlocking kelp timber logs, seen in Russian countryside banyas.
Since I am scared of deep water, I could only submerge myself up to my neck. It was freezing but welcoming after the heat treatment. After that, I was asked to just sit still, relax and take it all in.
Banya No. 1 was definitely a unique spa experience for me. A lot of people visiting the spa were regulars and told me of the long term benefits of this treatment. Besides the obvious therapeutic benefits for the body, it also helps with mental well being. The more regularly you do it, the more benefits you reap. The inhalation of eucalyptus-infused air also helps with those suffering from asthma.
Having said that it is perhaps not for someone who suffers from claustrophobia, as your face is covered in leaves and it is inside a closed steam room. However, if you like your intense heat-centric treatments (aka me), this one is for you.