Ice, Ice (Hotels) Baby


By Mary Mullaj

Two unusual hotels, one in Sweden and the other in Canada, offer experiences unlike other hotel stays. Using the natural and locally occurring building materials of ice and snow the hotels are rebuilt again each fall. Production of both will start shortly, so now is the time to plan a visit to one of these surreal, ephemeral ice buildings.

The ICEHOTEL in Sweden is a chilly 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle. (That’s 20 hours on a train from Stockholm.) The building process begins in November, and is complete as early as mid-December.  The attention at the hotel is on art and lighting. Each year artists from around the world gather to create an exclusive exhibition. Also included in the construction are a chapel, the ABSOLUT bar complete with ice shot glasses, and ICEHOTEL Restaurant. The restaurant is the only feature not made of ice, but some of the Nordic dishes are served on plates made of ice. Ingredients are local, and include venison, reindeer, whitefish, and arctic cloudberries and raspberries. The hotel rooms are also carved from ice, but in case you cannot face a night in a bed made of snow, there are “warm rooms” too, built in traditional Scandinavian style. For those guests coming from warmer climes, fleeces and hats can be pre-ordered for delivery at check-in. The eco-inspired hotel has plans to become carbon negative by 2015, and puts emphasis on outdoor activities such as dog sledding and experiencing the Northern Lights.

Canada’s Hotel de Glace has a slightly shorter season, but is also more geographically accessible. It’s just 40 minutes outside Quebec City, which appropriately hosts the Winter Carnival each year in February.  The 9th edition of the Hotel de Glace will be open January 4 to March 29, 2009. Its snow archways and crystal ice sculptures are inspired by igloos and snow forts, bringing nature and city living together. A briefing by guides prepares visitors to sleep in a bed with a solid ice base. A wooden box spring and regular mattress will help, as will a thermal sleeping bag and reindeer furs. Several of the 36 rooms and theme suites also have fireplaces, and the indoor temperature is kept at a comfortable and dry -5C, no matter the weather outdoors. Like the ICEHOTEL in Sweden, it has a chapel that is popular for unusual destination weddings, and a vodka bar. Here too the focus is outside – there are jacuzzis in the snow as well as a variety of winter sports nearby.

If sleeping on a bed made of ice sounds like something that should be restricted to a once in a lifetime experience, keep in mind that the hotels are redesigned and rebuilt every year, so the experience of staying outdoors yet indoors will be novel each time.

For more info: Sweden and Canada