Banya No. 1 is London’s first (and currently only) traditional Russian Banya. Whilst the word ‘Banya’ may be unfamiliar to us in the UK, for most Russians, it’s a way of life.
Many Russians go to a Banya once a week or more, to socialise, meet friends, and get the relaxing and invigorating Banya treatment. But what exactly is it?
Well, the essential elements of Banya are hot, in the form of an ultra heated steam room, and cold, in the form of an icy cold plunge pool. The steam room is around 60/70 degrees, but crucially, around 60-70% humidity. Unlike your average everyday dry sauna or steam-room, this gives you intense heat, but without the dryness.This is thanks to the Banya’s pride and joy, the stove. Similar to something that might drive a steam train, the Banya stove consists of huge rows of heated stones. When water is thrown onto the stone, the high temperature (around 300 degrees) and large surface area causes the water to immediately evaporate into miniscule steam droplets. This provides you with the perfect balance of heat and moisture.
The cold is quite self-explanatory, and is a chilling three degrees to reduce the heat of the steam room.
Now for the treatments: First, I went for a Honey and Salt Scrub, an invigorating scrub (done in the steam room) that contains natural honey which cleanses the skin without stripping moisture, and sea salt, which not only detoxifies, but also acts as a natural antiseptic. The good thing about this is that the scrub is handmade on the premises from organic ingredients.
I then went for Banya No.1’s signature Venik treatment, the most famous form of treatment in the Banya, that uses Veniks (bushels of branches) to ‘massage’. Different Banyas uses different types of wood for their Veniks, as this is a key part to the treatment. This is because the wood and leaves release essential oils during the massage that offer great health benefits.
Banya No. 1 offer Birch Veniks which help with asthma and arthritis, and Eucalyptus Veniks, which helps get rid of colds. To address the misconception of the Veniks, a lot of people believe they are beaten with branches, but the reality is that they barely touch you. Being massaged with Veniks is more about using the branches to channel the steam in the room to aid detoxification.There is some light touching, which helps to stimulate circulation, and deliver the essential oils to the lungs and skin. So as you can see there is no need to be afraid!
After the Venik treatment (which lasts around 15 minutes), a compulsory ending is a dip in the (very) cold plunge pool. Whilst a slightly terrifying prospect, this is where you feel the amazing effects of the Banya treatments. After three fully submerging dips, you emerge feeling, for only a second, slightly unstable, but then instantly cleansed and invigorated. Personally, I have never come out of a treatment with so much energy.
At the recommendation of my therapist, I then tried a mud facial. This involves specially imported mud (from Latvia) being painted onto my face and décolletage. This super mineral rich mud is said to have a restorative effect on cells and lymphatic drainage. Whilst I looked a bit of a nightmare with it on, I have to say I was more than impressed with seeing my skin after it was washed off.
Combined with the steam room, my skin felt super clean, fresh and I really noticed my pores felt much tighter. Banya No. 1 is not your typical spa, but it is a fascinating insight into Russian culture, with the added detoxifying and energy boosting benefits.
So it may be a Russian spa, but let’s not keep it just for Russians!