‘Sauna patrons just sit on the icy street’: Manuel Vazquez’s best phone picture

To find out why Finland is the happiest place in the world, the photographer visited a steam room in Helsinki

In 2019, the UN named Finland the happiest place in the world, and Manuel Vazquez and journalist Ana Alfageme were sent by a Spanish magazine to find out why. Saunas are a big part of life there; the country has more than 2 million in residential and public settings. The pair agreed that they’d be good places to find locals to interview.

This photo was taken on a sub-zero November day, when only six hours of light can be expected. The pair had already tried out a swanky coastal sauna. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do it,” Vazquez laughs. “But it really does liberate the endorphins. It’s exhilarating.” Next, Vazquez wanted to seek out a more authentic, traditional version that used wood. He had heard of a particularly popular one in the Helsinki neighbourhood of Kallio. “In winter, the practice is to alternate between the sauna and a body of water, like a lake or the sea,” he says. “But because this sauna is in the city, patrons just go and sit on the icy street.”

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