For those who don’t worship the sun: Sweden’s Ice Hotel

Ice Hotel, Sweden

Soon after the national outcry for summer heat, is the nation lamented when temperatures soar too high? Why not avoid this dilemma altogether? Surely it is better to adopt a fatalistic attitude and admit that as Brits, our constitution is not one built for the calescent.

Avoid the long afternoons of sunburn and perspiration and consider a holiday that celebrates the vast vistas of tundra that have captured the hearts of endless poets, artists and explorers. To those who complain that such style of holiday would in turn be too cold, I argue that it is much easier to warm up than cool down; with indulgently warm clothing, open hearths, open hearts and hearty food, you’ll find the cooling climes are a welcome factor in your relaxing escape.

Here is my recommendation for one of the most unique and memorable destinations for those who don’t worship the sun: Sweden’s Ice Hotel.

Ice hotels are constructs comprised of sculpted blocks of ice and snow and are reconstructed every year due to the transience of the medium. The effect is otherworldly; with ice sculptures lacing the halls, crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and glaciated columns supporting your surroundings, you feel as if you’re invited into the Snow Queen’s domain for a stay (only one that is met with hospitality rather than a wicked fairytale sorceress).

The particular ice hotel I am recommending is the original, located in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, and one with a history threaded with as much poeticism as the building itself.

Sweden, Ice Hotel

In 1989, Japanese ice sculptors travelled to Jukkasjärvi and created an exhibition of ice art. Following their success, friends Par Granlund and Yngve Bergqvist decided to further the cultural potential of the village and build an exhibition space; an igloo built to house the artworks of French artist Jannot Derid.

Both an art installation and a place to promote the arts, the igloo was built in the traditional Inuit style and had just 50 square meters of floor space. During one fateful night, visitors to the igloo asked permission to sleep in the exhibition hall as there were no rooms available in the village, and slept in sleeping bags and quilts of reindeer skin. This prompted Granlund and Bergqvist to build a larger igloo with each passing year and include ice-rooms in the late nineties for those wishing to stay for longer and be seduced by the building’s grandeur. It is with this growth, the Ice Hotel has become the crystal palace that isn’t ‘the crystal palace’ it is today.

The Ice Hotel gets its life from the nearby Torne River, where tons of ice blocks are harvested for its creation. Due to the wrath of summer’s temperatures, the Ice Hotel is only erected during the months of December through to April, and at the end of its lifespan, about 1000 short tons of ice is recycled for the construction of the next Ice Hotel.

Today’s Ice Hotel spans over 6000 square meters and includes an ice bar, a chapel, a main hall and ice suites for over 100 guests all designed by approximately 50 individual artists, each selected by a dedicated jury.

These suites range from snow rooms to art suites and are individually crafted, unique from each other and all previous and future designs. The art rooms in fact contain individually commissioned art sculptures, much like the Japanese artists who marked the genesis of the Ice Hotel’s story in 1989. True to the original igloo, you really would be staying in a building dedicated to the celebration of craftsmanship. As with the Ice Hotel’s lobby and hallways, the bedrooms are equipped with furniture made of sculpted ice that in this case takes the form of chairs and beds. Despite outdoor temperatures reaching -30 degrees Celsius in Jukkasjärvi’s winter, the hotel itself is limited to a temperature falling between -5 and -8 degrees but with perks like a wake-up call of hot lingonberry juice, a breakfast buffet, and a morning sauna; it is the charm, not the chill you will be noticing. Sleep in one of these rooms is facilitated by the use of complimentary winter clothes, sleeping bags and reindeer-fur quilts from the astutely named ‘warm building’. In fact, the warm building offers rooms as a supplement or an alternative to guests who are looking for the spellbinding experience of the hotel but rather sleep in a more typical environment; a typical stay would be one night in an ice room to a few in a warm room.

Gotham on Ice

To warm your insides amidst the enchanting frozen palace, you can visit the hotel’s nearby restaurant, an establishment influenced by the Lapland’s heritage and delivers hearty regional delicacies such as elk and reindeer with a modern finesse. The Ice Hotel Restaurant sources its produce from local hunters, fishermen and berry-pickers and it is a respect to Jukkasjärvi’s eco-system that makes the cuisine on offer an homage to high-quality produce, to customer satisfaction and to its locality. The cuisine is not just rustic and local but also notable for its place on the global gastronomic map, and is a recipient of the prestigious Werner Vögeli Statuette.

Almost as famous as the Ice Hotel itself is the Ice Bar, a similarly crafted ensemble of ice blocks and ornaments, with versions popping up around the world, albeit not always in frozen palatial locales. The Ice Bar continues the frozen theme and prides itself on serving drinks not on, but in the rocks. That is because, the very glasses themselves are made from ice and come filled with both cocktails and the finest of Swedish spirits. Similarly, for maximum indulgence, sip a hot-chocolate and relax into the specially crafted cosy areas the bar keeps consistent in its annually changing architecture.

Ice Bar

The Ice Hotel does not simply offer wondrous views and luxury, but has a thorough range of excursions and activities. You may find yourself being pulled along on a husky sledge or for those who rather take the driver’s seat, indulge in an ice driving experience, wherein you are able to manoeuvre a car on friction-free tracks of ice. For anyone looking to capitalise on the romanticism of the setting, there are ice sculpting sessions, in which you are taught to emulate the ornate sculptures that line the interiors of the Ice Hotel. Furthermore there are northern lights tours, available on husky sledge, snowmobile or horseback, and where a passage through snowy forests and over frozen lakes attempts to locate the rare and legendary natural light-show in the sky.

Aurora Borealis Norway

Whether or not the Aurora Borealis make a show during your trip to the Ice Hotel, it will be one that is remembered as mesmerising, mysterious and makes you see a white panorama as one that is in fact filled with colour and splendour.

The Ice Hotel is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the sheer beauty of your surroundings will make you feel as though your dreamscapes have been captured and encapsulated in ice.