Sandunovskiye Baths

Lonely Planet review

The Sandunovskiye Baths, in the city centre's northern winding streets, is Moscow's most famous bathhouse. The fading but grand 19th-century baths are a mixture of sauna and social club, with sexes strictly segregated. For hours you can move between steam rooms and pools, interspersed with massages and twig whippings.

Travellers to Russia have for centuries commented on the particular (or in many people's eyes, peculiar) traditions of the banya (bathhouse), regularly enjoyed by numerous Muscovites at Sandunovskiye. The banya's main element is the parilka (steam room), which can get so hot it makes the Finnish look like sauna-wusses in comparison.

The first stage is to strip down in the changing room, wish 'Lyokogo para' (something of the order of 'May your steam be easy') to your mates, then head into a dry sauna. After that it's into the parilka where, after a good steam, someone will inevitably stand up, grab a tied bundle of venik (birch branches) and, well, beat themselves or each other with it.

Next you run out and plunge into an ice-cold pool (basseyn ). With your eyelids now draped back over your skull, you stagger back into the changing room to hear your mates say 'S lyogkim parom' ('Hope your steam was easy!'). Then you drape yourself in sheets and discuss world issues before repeating the process five to 10 times over a two-hour period.