A-listers Kate Moss, Renee Zellweger and Justin Bieber are frequently spoiled by the world’s best body treatments, with spas such as Banya No. 1. being at the top of their lists. They, along with other celebrities, rate the London-based spa a five-star establishment that combines exclusivity with Russian spa traditions – leaving guests feeling like a star.
A Russian Banya is like a cross between a dry sauna and a hammam, in terms of both humidity and temperature. A Banya will remain about 158°F, while retaining humidity levels of 40-60% from water splashed on a superheated cast iron within an authentic brick furnace. Guests’ first trip into the Banya should last no more than 10 minutes, the enclosed environment causes the body to sweat and kick starts the detoxification process, according to the Banya No.1 staff.
However, the cozy warmth of the steam room is only one part of the Banya experience. Just outside of the Banya, ropes dangle down from cold bucket showers. When you pull the rope, chilled water pours down upon you, which shocks the body into releasing adrenaline. As if the bucket showers weren’t shocking enough, the next step requires anxiously traipsing to the dreaded plunge pool and dunking your entire body into the 48°F water.
The Banya ritual combines hot and cold, but leaves plenty of time for relaxation, too. When you emerge from the frigid plunge pool, you will shiver your way to the regular showers, where you can select your own water temperature. Next, towel off and find your way to the lounge. As a rule of thumb, you should rest for at least double the amount of time that you spent in the steam room. Placidly sip upon tea, while chatting with your friends in your booth, or order Russian nibbles. Give the savory pelmeni a go; the meat dumplings are homemade.
You can spend the rest of your time cycling through the steam room, cold elements and lounge; but if you only try one treatment, make it parenie. The 10-minute treatment takes place within the Banya, completed by a pair of banshiks, who seamlessly switch places halfway through. Parenie is wrongly thought of as being a beating with a wad of branches. The ritual is much more nuanced and sophisticated.
The Banya No. 1 spa menu explains that “leafy fragrant bundles of twigs [are] used to shift the steam and make you sweat profusely” during parenie. First, warm droplets of water from the collection of branches (called a venik) tantalize the back of the body. Then the bundles of oak, birch and eucalyptus leaves trail across, pat and press into the body. The treatment finishes in a seated position, where the banshik dishes out a few hearty thwacks with the branches, but they’re not painful. It’s reminiscent of the strong claps that conclude Thai massage.
Some spa-goers claim that Banya is addictive, and weekly Banya visitor Sergey Larkin explains that the ritual helps you to experience a lightness “in your body, but also in the mind.” If you can brave the heat, the cold and the branches, make the trip to Banya No. 1. ■