As one who constantly feels the cold, the idea of choosing to sleep on a bed of ice in a room made of ice always seemed slightly strange to me. I feared that the novelty of my wintry abode would wear off halfway through a chilly night’s sleep.
I needn’t have worried, and neither should you! The combination of an all-in-one thermal suit and Arctic sleeping bag provides the most satisfying solution to the frosty surrounds, leaving you free to lie back and admire the stunning architecture. My room at Icehotel – Jukkasjärvi contained the most incredible ice sculptures and set the scene for one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years. Indeed, I was swept away by the experience that has become one of my absolute favourite hotel stays.
On p20 of this issue you will have discovered Kemi’s fabulous SnowHotel, winner of the 2016 World Luxury Hotel award. In the grounds of the SnowCastle, the SnowHotel is home to one for the Arctic’s truly unique experiences – the chance to spend the night beneath the Northern Lights in the Olokolo Nest.
No doubt the ingenuity of Kemi’s winter wonderland has piqued your interest and there’s more inspiration here. Because the ice hotel is gaining popularity with every passing year and it’s no way a case of seen one, seen them all – each offers something truly special to visitors.
Icehotel – Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
This is where it all started back in 1989 – the world’s very first Icehotel. Located in the north of Sweden, it’s only a short transfer from snowy Kiruna Airport (which can be easily reached via Stockholm) and you can expect a warm reception, where you are handed your Arctic clothing. It may make you look like a space explorer, but everyone else is wearing one and you quickly become used to it – not to mention appreciative of the warmth. After a quick tour, you are shown to your room; each has been individually designed with intricate ice sculptures – it’s like sleeping in a kind of modern art gallery, albeit a cold one. You can keep your belongings safe and warm in a locker but you’ll find you need surprisingly little during your stay.
Most guests stay only one night in the ‘cold’ Icehotel; there is an adjoining ‘warm’ hotel which is very comfortable and – yes – very warm indeed. The area is perfect for a host of activities including dog sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Be sure to visit the world-famous Icebar and sample some fine cocktails while you’re there. www.icehotel.com
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort – Finland
Could there be anything more romantic than staying in a glass-domed igloo in Lapland, while observing the seductive swirl of the Northern Lights overhead? This resort has been carefully designed with the discerning traveller in mind. There are glass igloos made for two or four guests. You’ll need to head to a separate block for the showers and saunas, but that’s a small price to pay for such a special experience as this. However, if you prefer to have more home comforts close at hand, there are log chalets and ‘queen suites’ which feature their own hot tub and sauna – the ultimate combination of luxury and feeling close to nature.
Skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, husky safaris, ice fishing and reindeer safaris are just a handful of the many activities on offer at this Arctic retreat. Unlike many other ice hotels, it is open in summer, too, and is a good place for a spot of hiking or mountain biking.
Hotel de Glace – Quebec, Canada
The first and only true ice hotel in North America, the Hotel de Glace has been successfully welcoming guests since 2001. Handily located at just 4km outside of Quebec, it features 44 rooms and themed suites, from the basic ice room, which has more of an igloo feel about it, right through to Premium Deluxe Arctic Spas: gorgeous, themed suites with a private fireplace and spa bathroom. There are packages available directly from the hotel, which combine a stay with a luxury hotel in Quebec, so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds during your visit.
There are five on-site restaurants and bars to choose from and a host of winter pursuits, most notably snow sliding, which is perfect for thrill-seekers. From December to March, both adults and children alike can take a slide down the steep slopes close to the hotel – named the Himalayas – on a giant rubber ring, while taking in the stunning scenery of the Jacques-Cartier River and valley.
Kirkenes Snow Hotel – Norway
Tucked away in the furthermost corner of northern Europe, Kirkenes offers as good a chance as any of seeing the Northern Lights. It also has its own reindeer farm and pack of husky dogs, so there are activities aplenty for all the family to enjoy. The hotel is surprisingly well insulated from the icy chill of the outdoors and remains a relatively balmy -4°C throughout the season. Uniquely for an ice hotel, the Kirkenes Snow Hotel features real beds surrounded by ice, rather than ice block beds. Along with the thermal sleeping bags provided, this guarantees a cosy night’s sleep.
Alongside the traditional ice hotel are some newer cabins, built in traditional Sami style but developed by architects from Switzerland. Underfloor heating, natural tiles, Villeroy & Boch bathrooms all make a stay here supremely comfortable. Large, panoramic windows enable guests to observe the Northern Lights from the comfort of their own cabins. The cabins remain open throughout summer when activities such as rowing, hiking and fishing take centre stage.
Bâlea Lake – Romania
What makes this place really different is that it is only accessible by cable car. Set at 6,700ft above sea level, Balea Ice Hotel is located by Bâlea Lake, in the FagarasşMountains. All of the rooms have been made by local craftsmen who used ice blocks from the lake. There are just 12 bedrooms here and an ice bar, restaurant and a neighbouring ice church, which is regularly used by guests for baptisms and wedding blessings.
Local activities include ice-skating, ice sculpting, snow shoeing and snowmobiling. Unlike many other ice hotels, the restaurant here is also made of ice, as are the plates and glasses. Thankfully, the thick mattresses on the beds and the thermal properties of the reindeer fur blankets will keep you from catching a chill. It all feels wonderfully isolated and the surrounding area is simply spectacular.