Most heat-seeking spa lovers have tried Finnish saunas and Turkish hammams; but many have not been to a Russian banya. Although not as widespread as other spa facilities, you don’t necessarily need to travel to Russia for this unique experience. Banya No. 1 is a Russian spa in London that attracts A-listers and received top reviews from the likes of Renée Zellweger, Kate Moss and Justin Bieber. Happily, the Russian bath house in London isn’t restricted to celebrities. This article describes the whole Russian banya experience, including their special parenie leaf and stick massage.
“Who knew that heaven was on Micawber Street? Wish so much gratitude to our No. 1 family! See you soon! SPASIBO!”– Renée Zellweger and Doyle Bramhall, Banya No. 1 Guest Book
What is Banya?
Banya can either refer to the entire Russian spa complex – or it can refer to the heated room, which is like a hybrid between a dry sauna and a humid hammam. The most important feature of the banya is the authentic brick furnace, which surrounds a superheated cast iron structure. The banya staff will occasionally splash water upon the iron to adjust the humidity levels, which should stay between 40 – 60%. Visitors can relax on wooden benches in the warm Russian banya – or, for further indulgence, they can book a spot on the wooden table for a special parenie Russian massage treatment that takes place within the confined space between 60 – 70°C.
Banya No. 1 Treatments
Banya, Bucket Showers & Plunge Pool
The banya ritual includes cycling through the toasty banya, the frigid plunge pool and the comfortable salon. When you first arrive, the order of events may sounds overwhelming, but don’t worry, the Banya number 1 staff stationed throughout will guide you through the process. Take a shower and enter the banya with your borrowed Banya hat. Stay no more than ten minutes, and hang your hat next to your towel in the wet area.
Brace yourself – because upon leaving the banya, you have to stand beneath a bucket with a rope handle… When you yank the rope, you will be doused with cold water, shocking you out of your malaise. (If you look too timid, the banya staff will pull the handle for you, so there’s really no escaping this step.) To further invigorate the body, you can step into the plunge pool (9°C) before showering – this time, at any temperature you prefer – and wrapping up warm.
Rest, Relaxation and Food
Rather than resting on a lounge chair surrounding a pool, as in other spas, everyone takes to Banya No. 1’s restaurant area. The spa recommends sipping on a pot of herbal tea (to help rehydrate after your sweat session in the banya) as you slump into the plush emerald booths. Try the fireweed tea for something different – or switch your traditional kombucha order to kvass (also spelled kvas); it’s a fermented, non-alcoholic Russian drink.
The kitchen serves a good selection of traditional Russian fare. The borscht beet root soup is anything but boring, and their pelmeni dumplings are homemade, their taste reminiscent of Chinese xiao long bao soup dumplings, although they’re served with a side of Baltic sour cream, rather than soy sauce. They also serve a variety of seafood and pickled vegetables. You have got plenty to entertain your taste buds busy, while you allow your body to acclimate for at least twice the amount of time that you spent in the steam room.
Banya No. 1 Treatments
Parenie: Russian Massage in London
The famous banya massage is called parenie, and it takes place within the heated confines of the banya. A professional banshik uses a swath of leafy branches, called a venik, to give a massage. Different tree species, such as oak and birch, bring different benefits to the treatment as the leaves release oils. According to the spa treatment menu, during parenie, “Leafy, fragrant bundles of twigs … shift the steam and make you sweat profusely. [Parenie also] stimulates blood circulation, improves metabolism and relieves stress.”
The treatment begins prone on a massage table, the head and feet resting on bundles of leaves. Each banshik has a unique style, but the banshik began my parenie by flourishing the branches over my back, shaking warm water droplets onto my skin. As the leafy branches brushed along my body, the strange image of Big Bird platonically caressing me floated into my mind.
At one point the venik swept the length of my body, and at another, they tickled the bottom of my feet. The branches trap heat, so at other times, they work well as a compress. In addition to brushing and pressing actions, the banshik also uses the venik to give a good thwack every now and again. The leaves are soft and supple, so it’s not at all painful.
Here’s some parenie perspective from Eugeniy Chichvarkin, a London-based Russian and regular of Banya No. 1 since its opening in 2012:
“I love the classical parenie and put my trust in the experienced banshiks… After parenie, you feel like a new person, refreshed, relaxed and full of strength.”– Eugeniy Chichvarkin, Banya No. 1 News 2017 /1
Honey Salt Body Scrub
The body scrub smells delicious enough to eat, but despite its sweet scent, the treatment is much rougher than the parenie massage. After you hoist yourself onto a warm marble table, water is run over the body. Next, the specialist scoops salt scrub and efficiently runs her hands over the body, wrapping around the torso to exfoliate the front back and sides. I winced as she scrubbed the sensitive décolleté area, and the exfoliation of the arms and legs were also mildly painful, but I appreciated particular attention to the hands and feet.
Once thoroughly scrubbed, you toss on a robe and trudge back to the banya without a rinse. When you emerge, most of the salt scrub may be stuck to the robe; but you can shower and thoroughly wash off the rest of the gritty substance afterwards. You will surely notice that your skin is softer, and then you can decide if the benefit was worth the pain.
- Although celebrities come to Banya No. 1, you probably won’t see any during your visit – because they book the private Banya Taiga for up to 10 guests. To feel like a VIP, why not book it yourself?
- With all of the heat (and sweating), you’ll want to stay hydrated. Don’t just order a cup of tea; go for the whole pot.
- Bring your own slippers and towel – if you’d rather not pay to borrow items at the banya.
If You Go to London’s Russian Bath House
Address: Unit B01, 17 Micawber Street, London N1 7TB
Nearest tube station(s): Old Street, Angel
Opening hours: It’s best to speak with staff about opening hours because the spa is occasionally only available to one gender at a time.
Price: You can choose from a variety of 3-hour packages with different inclusions (such as the parenie, body scrubs and massages) from £60. Otherwise, you can access the facilities for two hours without treatments for £30. The cheapest packages are for specific ‘off peak’ times.
Phone Number: +44 207 253 6723
All information correct and up-to-date at time of posting.
Have you ever heard of Russian spas or Russian banyas? Let us know which aspects of the spa ritual you find most appealing in the comment field below.