Washington Baths has a communal lounge and library area. Photo by Greta Rybus

The Danish concept of hygge – that is, using coziness and togetherness as a salve for getting through long winters – has been making the international rounds in recent years. And now its popularity seems to be taking root in Portland.

“Nordic countries know how to embrace the winter instead of just tolerating it,” said artist Asher Woodworth. “They make the darkness and coldness a time for being cozy, reflective and social in everyday life. And Maine has a climate that’s very similar to them.”

With that in mind, last year Woodworth, along with fellow artist Izabel Nielsen, took a page from Scandinavia’s book and opened Portland’s first public sauna. And although it shares a focus on relaxation and wellness with traditional spas, Woodworth is quick to point out the difference.

“The idea of a public bathhouse is more communal, whereas the spa experience is more individual,” he explained. “There are no private rooms here. You’re with whoever else is there and that’s by design, so the community aspect is part of the experience.” (All day on Fridays the facility is silent, so guests can be with others without talking.)

The structure, designed by architect Kiel Moe, is heated by 16,000 pounds of natural stone that gets fired to 800 degrees at the beginning of each day, and then radiates heat and is subjected to various cycles of steam that happen throughout the day.

Co-ed pools come hot and cold at Washington Baths. Photo by Greta Rybus

The bathhouse is divided into men’s and women’s areas, with separate locker and shower areas for each. Outside sits a co-ed garden and patio that’s home to a co-ed hot pool and cold plunge pool. Back indoors, guests eat, read, sleep, relax and chat in the lounge/library. In the front is a small cafe serving Nordic-inspired snacks and light dishes – the likes of malted Finnish rye bread, pickled vegetables, Swedish-style fish soup and beverages (alcoholic and non).


The Baths operate with no reservations or memberships. “Just show up, and if we have a spot for you, come on in,” said Woodworth. “If we don’t have space, then there’s a wait list, but it’s typically 15 minutes or less.”

Admission is $35, and guests can stay as long as they like. “If you want to have a quick schvitz and get on with your day, that’s great,” he added. “But if you’d rather linger and get into the dreamlike quality of the space, we encourage that, too.”

Washington Baths, 145 Washington Ave., Portland, 207-253-1555; 2-9 p.m. (last entry at 8 p.m.) Thursday through Monday. washingtonbaths.com

Liven up dull winter skin with a Salt of the Earth Exfoliating Scrub at Cliff House in Cape Neddick. Photo courtesy of Cliff House Maine


Rather stave off the cold with a more traditional spa experience? Try one of these standout treatments.

Salt Of The Earth Exfoliating Scrub: Fifty minutes that includes a full-body dry brush and scrub, spotlighting organic algae, sea salt and coconut oil. $175, The Spa at Cliff House Maine, 591 Shore Road, Cape Neddick, 207-361-1000, cliffhousemaine.com


Siddha Detox: Detoxifying herbs, warm sandalwood oil and a blissful scalp massage follow an exfoliating dry brush in this one-hour treatment. $140, Nine Stones Spa, 185 Fore St., Portland, 207-772-8480, ninestonesspa.com

Hydralessence Facial: A deeply hydrating and restorative facial chased by a papaya and pomegranate mask, all of which can be customized for all skin types. $115, Lucinda’s Day Spa, 263 Route 1, Cumberland, 207-829-3100, lucindasday.com

Mud wrap: A one-hour process that starts with a body brushing, continues with a cocoon of detoxifying, mineral-rich mud and ends with a warm wash. $100, Pure Vida Day Spa, 138 Maine St., Brunswick, 207-725-1233, puravida-dayspa.com

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.

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