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Review: first ever “Sauna Days” provided guests plenty of resonating Nordic experiences

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April 21, 2019

We didn’t hear many Finnish accents during Sauna Days this first year.

Yet if we did, my hunch is that these folks would have felt right at home this past weekend at Larsmont Cottages, Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Spread along 1,200 feet of Lake Superior frontage, Larsmont Cottages “celebrates the immense beauty and natural enormity of the planet’s greatest lake.” The cottages are off set within the 40 acres of private woods off “ole Highway 61” (Bob Dylan) Just South of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Beautifully decorated and maintained, each cottage provides huge picture window private vistas of “the big lake they call…” As if you can hear Gordon Lightfoot’s voice every time one gazes out over the majestic Lake Superior.

The views are unlike anything in the Midwest. More akin to our ocean coastline than an inland lake.

(photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

Odyssey Resorts, the owners and managers of Larsmont Cottages, put together an agenda of activities and guests interwoven within the fabric of sauna culture, and Nordic lifestyle.

Upon check in, we were provided with a Sauna Days’ checklist, which allowed us to follow along with the weekend’s schedule of events.

checking the boxes, all weekend long!


Spring is “waterfall season” along the North Shore. Guests were brought offsite for excursions including a Waterfall Hike and Iceberg Kayaking thanks to the expert local guide service of Day Tripper of Duluth

On property, trails intertwine with native spruce and pine along the shoreline and throughout the village.

Some of Larsmont Cottages 1,200 feet of Lake Superior shoreline
(photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

Yet the pinnacle of Nature is this outcropping along the shoreline, with natural plunge pool and rocky ledge for cold plunge swimming.

Food & Beverage

What better way to arrive Sauna Days than with a shot of Aquavit, the original Scandinavian distilled spirit, from Duluth’s own craft distillery Vikre Spirits? Samples were offered. The crispness of Lake Superior stayed on the tip of the tongue from check in well through the Friday’s social hour.

We were treated to Finnish appetizers and live music in the main lounge. Many guests spilled outside, onto the heated porch, and some settling themselves surrounding one of several “community bonfires around the property.”

The culinary highlight of the weekend was Saturday evening’s Finnish Smörgåsbord Buffet.

Those well familiar to sauna history know that Saturday is sauna day. An afternoon of unhurried sauna rounds followed by a family, neighborly, or a community evening meal.

Larsmont Chef Simon Gilna researched extensively with recipes and concepts for the buffet. “I thought there would be more pickled stuff. But for major holidays I found a lot of cross over to other Scandinavian countries.” As example, the popular Larsmont Cottages’ Swedish Meatballs, transformed to Finnish Meatballs for the weekend (and, wow, were they fantastic).

Chef Gilna used wild rice in the cabbage rolls, giving them a “Northwoods spin.” The pork loin was cooked to perfection. Instead of the classic Finnish salmon soup, Chef Gilna baked the salmon and surrounded the fillet with baked potatoes. The entire dish was drizzled in the traditional dill cream sauce. I overheard someone proclaim “this is the best salmon I have ever had.”

Actually, every item on the menu was stand out.

“You know how, with a buffet, you usually put a little of everything on your plate, then come back for round two with a second plate of your favorite selections?” Asks Will, Saunatimes Sauna Days prize winner. “Well, this was impossible for me because the salmon, the cabbage rolls, the meat, roasted root vegetables, everything was amazing. And the desserts? Geeze!”

(photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

Community Gathering & Entertainment

The musical duo Beth & Les Hazelton greeted guests in the main lodge Friday evening. Saturday, Woodblind’s harmonies and reworking of some classic reggae tunes provided an irie soundtrack to our sauna sessions and for those gathered around the campfire.

Woodland tunage (photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

Whether enjoying a Finnish cocktail or a Sauna Beer from Ursa Minor Brewing, the Nordic folk sounds allowed guests to mingle, listen, and settle right into their Sauna Days.

Ursula Minor Sauna Beer outside the Larsmont wood fired sauna (photo: John Keefover)

We joined the Morning Plunge Club for 10:00 AM service. Our preacher was Ben Hugus from Ursla Minor Brewing and our choir was curious onlookers. Our God was the calm, cool, clear waters of Lake Superior. We cold plunged. We were born again.

Some of the Morning Plunge Club, Sauna Days, Larsmont Cottages

People took spontaneous saunas, and met new sauna guests. Conversations continued from the sauna bench to the lake, and into the lodge.

Hot & Cold

There are many that believe that Duluth, and the surrounding North Country, will be seeing a “reverse snow bird effect.” People in Arizona, Texas, Florida and now many other states, can hide only so long in their cranked up air conditioned cocoons. People are saying en masse: “I miss the crisp cool, fresh air!” United Airlines offers jet service three times a day to and from Duluth and O’hare airport, tempting us all.

Crisp, cool thermal activation (photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

For Sauna Days, the recipe, like Scandinavian architecture, was simple yet elegant: “Here is our cold Lake. Here are our hot saunas.” We had Larsmont’s permanent wood fired sauna, set in the center of Larsmont Scandinavian village. And we had temporarily deployed barrel saunas from Custom Lines set next to Hiki Hut Sauna, creating a budding vibe akin to a classic car show, but more like the soon to be curation of the first ever Upper Midwest Mobile Sauna Festival (in development).

Sauna Days moible sauna village (photo: John Keefover)

We sauna enthusiasts are well familiar with the functional and spiritual importance of hot and cold. Unequivocally, the more intense and extreme, the more we are treated to feeling “ahhhhh” instead of “meh”. Sure, we can hit a sauna round at a hotel or health club, then reach for the cold nozzle on the shower afterwards, but as we work our way down the rocky shoreline at Larsmont Cottages and let ourselves be taken in by Superior’s clear, fresh, bitter cold, we return from the depths reborn.

Oh, and as we take in the beautiful lake vista, after our cold plunge, what do we have? The full moon rising over the lake.

Storm receding, moon rising over Lake Superior (photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

The sauna Gods shining their appreciation of our efforts to embrace the healing properties of thermogenesis in all its simplicity and density. Enough of this woo woo, you say? Back to the sauna we go for a cold Sauna Beer and another round.

A team of sauna enthusiasts from Ursa Minor Brewing shared samples of their Sauna Beer, a recipe developed and batch produced exclusively for Sauna Days. Crisp, light, yet flavorful.

A nICE cold Sauna Beer between sauna rounds. (photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)

Co founder Ben Hugus describes the recipe for Sauna Beer in the most recent Sauna Talk podcast episode (hint: spruce tips!).

In a rare episode not recorded on the sauna bench, Glenn, left, and Ben, right Sauna Talk before round one. (photo: Julia Auerbach Photography)
Packing up to go Sunday morning. Hiki Hut mobile sauna and members of Custom Lines Barrel Saunas. From left, Josh Parmeter (Builder) Cole Schneider (Owner) Glenn (Saunatimes), Luke Fontaine (Sales).

Guests sauna’ed at their own pace, at their own preferred times.

A free flow of sauna heaven.

Those of us here for Sauna Days were easy to recognize. We were the ones with the chilled out, happy ‘sauna glow’ all weekend long.

“Those that know good sauna can find the heat. And Larsmont offers that.” Check out interview with Glenn And April: Sauna Days on Fox 21 Duluth News

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3 thoughts on “Review: first ever “Sauna Days” provided guests plenty of resonating Nordic experiences”

  1. Sounds Amazing for sure. We have our own Sauna built with beautiful cedar inside. So aromatic. Friends love to visit. This year, s ow was too icey to jump into 😯

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