The regulars at the IceHotel in Jukkasajarvi, 100 miles into Swedish Lapland and 150 miles beyond the Arctic Circle, tend to be spruce business types.
Spruce trees are big business in northern Sweden and travel-ling spruce salesmen need somewhere to stay in Europe’s last wilderness.
The IceHotel (formerly the Arctic Hall Hotel) was the world’s first ice hotel to open and claims to be the largest and most luxurious. It opened in 1985 and I was lucky enough to be one of the first guests.
Since then, it has changed its name to 365 Icehotel, as it’s now open all year round. However, it hasn’t changed very much in terms of clientele. Masochists of all nationalities still pay for the privilege of seeing how long it takes for their nose to resemble a glazed strawberry and their testicles to start chattering.
In those days the tariff included ice chairs, your own ‘polar-tested’ thermal sleeping bag, a mattress in the shape of a spacious and extraordinarily uncomfortable chunk of regional ice, an itchy reindeer-hide blanket and an en suite pickaxe.
Presumably, the latter is for use in emergency by panicking bed-wetters.
Early morning calls were courtesy of rutting reindeers and randy huskies. There was cold running water, otherwise known as ‘drips’. To wash your face, you just stood on your bed and chipped away at the ceiling.
Every year, some 100 people built the hotel from blocks of ice from the nearby River Torne. The hotel opened in December and melted by mid-April. One thousand tons of ice and 3,000 tons of ‘snice’ were used in the construction.
Double rooms were heated, mainly by body warmth.
The new hotel has 55 rooms (20 suites), a champagne bar and a sauna and opens mid-November. It has been made from 5,000 tonnes of snow. Which is, at the current conversion, about 700 million snowballs.
The hotel still has a chapel and a snowball room, although the two are not connected. Newly-weds are promised their own private aurora adventure – they are also provided with a torch.
Masochists of all nationalities still pay for the privilege of seeing how long it takes for their nose to resemble a glazed strawberry
The bar still serves vodka on the rocks. And it is still full of fuming breath and general chatter. Similar hotels have now been built in Tokyo and Norway.
The management stresses their hotel is not a 5-star igloo. At the Arctic Hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland accommodation comes in the form of silvery, aluminium bubble igloos with solar cells, a kitchenette and complimentary shampoo to get the smell of Atlantic prawns out of your hair.
The Neoprene igloos afford views of the world’s fastest moving glacier.
The Mammut Snow Hotel in Kemi, on the northern coast of the Gulf of Bothia, Finland offers “a remarkable sleeping experience”. And a stable -5°C room temperature.
Engelberg in Switzerland has a boutique igloo hotel. Austria and France both claim snow hotels. As does Rwanda. The Snow Hotel in Musanze near Kigali does not offer sledding safaris, only gorilla trekking.
There is a real hotel (Kaamos) next door to the mother of all bijou ice hotels. The chef specialises in hyperthermia. Its facilities include the Aurora Spa.
The recreational options are still numerous. You can stay in your room and shiver. Or play hide-and-seek with various body parts. Or explore virgin forests in a snowmobile or sledding convoy. Five-day expeditions up and around the “Arctic Trail” are available.
When I stayed in Jukkajasasrvi I shared a room for one night with a Canadian gentleman. It was rather unsettling trying to sleep beside someone who, when he snored, sounded like an old school bus with snow chains.
There’s no travel experience equivalent to being woken up by a disoriented, mature North American male trying to find the en suite bathroom while dressed in a Davy Crocket hat, mittens and fleecy tundra-resistant long johns.
And then, when he has found the loo, starts singing The Mountie Always Finds His Man.
I don’t know why he was in the hotel. But it wasn’t to celebrate ephemeral architectural creativity.
Guests who survive the night receive a certificate proving their insanity. Staying in an ice hotel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience... there is not much repeat custom.
Which confirms the old adage, “once frost-bitten, twice shy”.
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