2023 is the Year of the Sauna in Estonia — and the European Sauna Marathon is back

The XII European Sauna Marathon will take place over two days in Otepää & Tõrva.

Adam Rang
5 min readJan 4, 2023


Estonia has declared that 2023 is its Year of the Sauna. They’ll be events throughout the year organised by the Estonian Rural Tourism Organisation to celebrate Estonia’s rich sauna inheritance, culture, customs, products, industry, communities and leaders — ultimately to help more people enjoy good leil (sauna steam) together, the Estonian way.

And it’s also the year that the European Sauna Marathon returns — following a two year pandemic break — bigger and better than ever before.

The XII European Sauna Marathon

For the first time, the European Sauna Marathon will take place over two days — on 17 and 18 February — and in two parts of south Estonia.

Estonia’s winter capital, Otepää, will again host the main competition on the Saturday, but nearby Tõrva will host the ‘warm-up’ race on Friday — enabling participants to visit many more weird and wonderful saunas and spend more time enjoying south Estonia.

A limited number of sauna marathon tickets will go on sale at Piletikeskus on January 16 at 9 am. It’s €150 for a team of up to four people.

“The European Sauna Marathon has not been held in Otepää for two years due to the coronavirus so we are delighted to be able to make sauna lovers happy again and to make the event even bigger,” said the main organizer of the sauna marathon, Otepää municipality sports adviser Ago Arro. “This year, many innovations and new saunas and special sauna experiences are planned. As usual, several awards are planned — in addition to the main award, there will be special awards for the best costume, sauna spirit, and many more.”

How the competition works

The European Sauna Marathon is a fun orienteering race between a wide range of saunas. Participants compete in teams of four and need a car.

During registration, you’ll be given a map with a list of saunas to visit, your tracking device for checking in and out of each sauna, and your start time.

The start times are staggered to avoid overcrowding, but you can also choose the order to visit each sauna. Your team must spend at least three minutes in each leiliruum (sauna hot room) then you can also visit hot tubs and ice holes along the way.

The saunas are also competing with each other to offer the best experience — from live music to delicious food! When you complete the course, you’ll need to vote for your favourite saunas based on a range of categories.

The main prize is a hot tub by Lemmik Mees OÜ, and there will be a number of other special prizes for participating teams and saunas.

Why Estonia hosts the European Sauna Marathon

The first sauna race was the brainchild of Indrek Vähi, a local spa director in Otepää who came up with the idea of a sauna orienteering game for the town’s winter festival. The aim was to bring the community together to celebrate the area’s sauna culture and help more people learn about local saunas they could enjoy (at a more leisurely pace!) again in future.

The first competition was such a success that Sirje Ginter from the Otepää Cultural Centre, which is part of the local municipality, took over the organisation the following year and renamed the competition — rather ambitiously — as the ‘European Sauna Marathon’. Unlike other competitions abroad (since banned) that encouraged participants to stay in overheated saunas for an unhealthy amount of time, this competition is purely for fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously!

The competition was further developed by Jorma Riivald and Merle Soonberg at the Otepää Culture Centre (Otepää Kultuurikeskus) before sports advisor Ago Arro took over as organiser this year. He brings a wealth of experience having also organised Tristar Estonia and IRONMAN 70.3.

Vähi sadly passed away, yet his legacy has lived on beyond all expectations.

The European Sauna Marathon has grown exponentially, bringing visitors from around the world, as well as lots of international media coverage — all of which has helped boost sauna tourism and industry across Estonia while celebrating our rich sauna culture. To get a sense of what to expect, you can watch a BBC Travel Show report of a recent European Sauna Marathon here.

Now Otepää municipality has joined forces with Tõrva municipality to further widen the competition. Participants this year receive extra points for completing both days.

More information

Journalists can contact the organiser, Ago Arro, by email at saun@otepaa.ee or by phoning +372 523 5762.

Photos of past events for anyone to use are available here.

More information for participants will be announced in the near future and we’ll keep you updated here on this blog — although you should also follow the saunamarathon on Facebook. Updates will also be posted to www.otepaa.ee.

Use the hashtag #saunamaraton. That’s the Estonian spelling without the ‘h’.

The XII European Sauna Marathon is organized by Otepää municipality, Tõrva municipality, Otepää Cultural Centers, sauna owners with their committee, and plenty of volunteers. The cooperation partners are Sky Plus, Tõrva Veemõnula, Kanal 2-e Reporter, Aasta Auto — Škoda’s representative in Tartu, and EstonianSaunas.com (that’s us).

Last competition, we took our ZiL-131 sauna truck to take part in the marathon, which you can watch here below.



Adam Rang

Saunapreneur at EstonianSaunas.com. Previously Chief Evangelist at Estonia’s e-Residency programme.