By Carlos Melia
Have you ever wished, during one of those warm nights of summer, to be sleeping on top of a huge bar of ice? Well then, how about spending two nights at a hotel, fully made out it? How does that sound… Brrrrrr freezing right? Indeed. That was my AMAZING experience at the ICEHotel in Sweden, one of the best and most peaceful night sleeps in my life.
If there was an experience that always ranked high on my travel bucket list, it was to visit and stay overnight at the ICEHotel, and so I did. I was there mid-November, just the week before the opening season, and was lucky enough to see how the hotel was designed, built and carved out of the waters of the Torne River. Listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Sweden.
What is ICEHotel? A hotel built of ice and snow, would be the most common response. The first and the largest in the world, constructed using the natural water resources from the Torne River. Located in the northernmost city in Sweden, Jukkasjärvi, with 548 inhabitants in the province of Lapland part of the Arctic Circle.
Your experience will begin once off from Stockholm onboard SAS Airlines to the charming airport of Kiruna (approx. 3 hours flight). Kiruna is 17 kilometers away from the ICEHotel. There you will be hosted by the staff of the ICEHotel, whom will be provided you with your heavy cold proof gear for the rest of your stay, and set you on your way to the hotel.
How do you get to the hotel? well that is an experience on itself. Dog Sledges it is. Who would imagine, that right after flying from New York to Stockholm and connecting to Kiruna, you will be greeted by over three dozen Snow Dogs to transfer you to the ICEHotel. You will set in a journey of approximately 2 hours, including a brief technical stop to taste local delicatessens and drinks, to an amazing white adventure.
ICEHotel first opened in 1990, and since then the hotel is erected every single year from December to April. When temperatures begin to go down in mid-November, designers from all corners of the world, flock to Jukkasjärvi to start creating the art and design of the perishable material. The ICEHotel in Jukkasjärvi opens in phases. The first phase opens in the beginning of December. For each week, another section of the hotel opens up for visitors and guests until the beginning of January. At this time, the entire construction is completed.
The hotel is divided in two sections, the COLD and WARM accommodation. The COLD accommodation is the real experience. This section is built, every single year, from the scratch, to later melt away back to the Torne River, its natural source. Inside ICEHotel, the temperature is never colder than -5 °C to -8 °C, regardless of how cold it may be outside. Dress in warm thermal underwear, put on a hat and slip into the cozy sleeping bag. You are awakened in the morning with a cup of hot lingonberry juice at your bedside.
(video) My COLD Room at the ICEHotel
The WARM accommodation, is where you will find the common areas, bathrooms, restaurant and the warm rooms and suites. Combine one night in ICEHotel with several nights in warm accommodation for that perfect experience.
(video) My WARM Room at the ICEHotel
Hundreds of artists, from around the world, submit their designs and ideas to a jury that chooses a select group of 50. Every year ICEHotel offers a complete different and unique architecture, design and experience, but always featuring an Absolut icebar, church, main hall, reception area, plus rooms and suites for over 100 guests. Furnitures are carved and sculpted from blocks of ice.
How do you keep warm while at the ICEHotel? well the local drink is the Lingonberrie. The most precious beverage to keep you away from the freezing temperatures of the Arctic. Lingonberries, are to Scandinavians what blackberries are to Americans. A warm welcoming drink that everyone in Sweden seems to love and I became addicted to.
You will spend at least one night in the COLD section. When it’s time to go to bed, you will pick up a sleeping bag and sheets from the reception desk in the warm building connected to the ICEHotel. For a good night’s sleep, they recommend sleeping in thermal underwear (such as long-johns and long-sleeved undershirt) and a hat on top of comfortable and warm reindeer skin.
Your luggage will be stored in a locked luggage room during your stay. If you bring it to your room, it will freeze during the night. You’ll find warm bathrooms, showers and a sauna in the warm building connected to the ICEHotel. If you need to use the bathroom during the night, you’ll have to get out of your sleeping bag and go the warm building. So here’s a tip; don’t drink too much before going to bed.
I met the ICEHotel Art Director, and under her strict supervision and in the perfect freezing environment, I had an ice carving and sculpting class. Just for the record, ICEHotel will not have me listed on the potential future designers of the hotel… Ice Carving is not my forte. The class took approximately 40 minutes, and the awful thing that came out of my unnatural devoted new hobby, is exposed somewhere at the Hall of Fame of the ICEHotel.
(video) Carving furniture out of ice at the ICEHotel
On our second day, right after breakfast, taking advantage of the only few hours of daylight you get in Jukkasjärvi during winter, our tour guide told us, ”I have a big surprise for all of you…” So we sais WOW, what could it be now? We could have not guessed what was coming.
Snowmobiling in the heart of the Arctic Circle. I was like a kid in a candy store. Got my helmet and full snowmobiling gear and off I went. I know, no need to say that I looked ridiculous in that uniform. But hey, when everyone is wearing exactly the same, and temperatures are far below zero, then you do not feel too bad or ashamed.
Right after crossing rivers and gelid frozen fields, we stopped at a little hut to enjoy a local meal cooked by our guides. This was also a technical stop for us all to warm up.
ICEHotel offers great gastronomy and multiple activities and courses all year round, like fishing, sculpting, and many others. One of the best chances in world to see the Northern Lights, in Abisko National Park, Nikkaluokta – only one hour away from the hotel.
ICEHotel closes by the end of April when the early rays of the Midnight sun starts to nibble on the walls and roof of the hotel. But the light is always welcome. Visit during summer, the sun never goes beyond the horizon but continues to shine for 100 days and a 100 nights. That is when we turn night into day and experience nature at night.
Now it’s time to take up a fishing rod, go hiking in the mountains and river rafting along Torne River. There is great truth in why Lapland is called Europe’s last wilderness, some of the best fishing and hunting grounds lie just around the corner. ICEHotel was, to me, the experience of a lifetime.
Find out more about the ICEHotel on their website here.
Till next adventure in full luxury. Carlos Melia
Carlos Melia is a Travel Expert, Blogger, Niche Marketing Consultant, Jetsetter, and Bon Vivant, who travels around the world discovering what’s new and cool in Luxury Travel and Hospitality. His reviews on hotels, restaurants, destinations, and attractions, based on his own experiences as an OUT Gay Traveler can be found at www.carlosmeliablog.com