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London’s first Russian bath house


By Jane Green

Everyone needs to throw away their stress and spend some time relaxing, especially seeing as we live in a busy, noisy town like London. Writing about this Russian banya was the most relaxing thing I did for this issue, especially considering I wasn’t exactly cheerful as I entered.

My banya experience began with a sauna with a difference. Most saunas have a high level of humidity and after about ten minutes it becomes impossible to breathe; in this sauna, you sweat slowly and in a healthy way.

Ten minutes later I stepped outside and underneath a wooden bucket of cold water, and pulled the rope that tipped its contents over my head. I thought I would freeze, but actually I felt wonderful.

Russians say regular banya visits stop you catching colds. It is believed that a cold-hot therapy strengthens the immune system and the adrenaline helps boost the levels of serotonin in the body.

Eventually, Svetlana came over with a smile to tell me my tea was ready in the café. Everyone who books in advance can enjoy a pot of herbal tea.

Then it was time for parenie, a traditional herbal treatment using oak leaves. The oak bunches were first softened in warm water before they were gently and rhythmically applied. My head was covered in oak leaves and the bath attendant, or banschik, began to lightly strike me with them. This Russian massage is not for the faint-hearted.

Ten minutes later, I went back to the high wooden buckets and tipped more water over my head, then I stepped into the big, wooden tub. Again, it was freezing. Wrapping myself in a towel, I returned to my tea in the café, followed by kvass, a fermented beetroot juice. It was a proper detox day.

Before long, a young lady told me it was time for my scrub. I was scrubbed from top to toe with honey and salt (it smelt magnificent), steamed for 10 minutes, and then showered. At my table in the café it was time for lunch: borscht, a beetroot soup, and herrings served with onions. Delicious.

Sessions at Banya No 1 start at £30 off-peak for three hours, including use
of steam room and showers. Treatments are extra. A three-hour session, including honey and salt scrub, parenie, mud decollete with foot bath and pot of herbal tea, is £95. Separate male and female sessions are available.

17 Micawber Street, Hoxton, N1 020 7253 6723 gobanya.co.uk