Experience Aufguss, Austria’s Spectacular Sauna Ritual

Last fall, three cowboys – accompanied by country music, flashing lights and waving towels – strutted into a dark, steamy room packed with people. It wasn’t a Shania concert, or a western-themed rave. It was an international sauna competition in Berlin, and this trio of mavericks was performing “show” Aufguss, an amped-up version of the continental European sauna ritual.

In Aufguss (meaning “infusion”), a sauna master, or Aufgussmeister, throws essential-oil-infused water onto a sauna’s burning stones, then swings towels to circulate the hot air. The stylized towel movements, akin to tossing pizza dough or waving a lasso, allow the Aufgussmeister to control the temperature in the sauna while periodically directing blasts of fragrant steam toward guests to evoke different moods and sensations.

Show Aufguss is gaining momentum in European countries with strong sauna cultures, like Austria, Germany and Italy. Combining a sauna’s endorphin-fuelled euphoria with storytelling, costumes and music, it takes place in large event saunas outfitted with high-tech lighting and sophisticated sound systems.

September 25, 2019
The wooden interior of Aqua Dome’s Canyon Sauna
Aqua Dome’s Schluchtensauna (Canyon Sauna).   

Aqua Dome, a futuristic-looking spa hotel in the Ötztal Valley of Austria’s Tyrol region, has championed Aufguss since it opened in 2004. Most of Aqua Dome’s Aufguss rituals are held in the 60-person Schluchtensauna, or Canyon Sauna. (It was the primary venue when Aqua Dome hosted the Austrian Aufguss championships in 2012.) Now, spas across Europe hold national and international competitions featuring both classic and show Aufguss.

If you’re an Aufguss first-timer, the classic experience is a show in itself. In the Canyon Sauna, the Aufgussmeister might circulate the air using birch branches and infuse the room with local herbs, like thyme, mint or primrose, while the floor-to-ceiling windows provide a backdrop of dramatic valley views – just don’t close your eyes, or you’ll miss the show.
 

Go Sweat It Out A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Munich, this ultramodern spa (floating pools!) is nestled in an alpine valley. Aqua Dome, Oberlängenfeld 140, Längenfeld, Austria
 

Where to Find Aufguss Closer to Home

Thermëa, Winnipeg Aufguss masters add a Winterpeg spin to this daily ritual, dropping essential-oil-infused snowballs onto the Finlandia sauna’s hot rocks.

Skyspa Quartier Dix30, Brossard, Québec In addition to a more classic Aufguss experience held daily, a fluorescent-body-paint-adorned Aufgussmeister leads a glow-themed ritual every full moon.

Le Nordique Spa, Stoneham-et-Tewkesbury, Québec Everyone gets a refreshing slice of frozen orange or grapefruit after Sunday Aufguss held in the large Finnish-style sauna.

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