The ICEHOTEL. Childhood obsession with the Snow Queen and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and all things snowy and polar lie dormant in my head. I have always wanted to (properly) see the northern lights (we saw them in Ireland when I was a child once) and the southern lights too. I love all things sparse and white. I like the idea of the space, the silence and the starkness of it all.
So much so, that in my brief time as a physiologist in university, I contemplated signing up for the British Antarctic Survey. I went to one of their recruitment meetings, so very keen, but realised quickly that I was not the kind of person that could survive three years there.
So I thought that I would visit there. I bought the Lonely Planet guide, studied penguins, made little penguins, bought memoirs and any book with any related stories.
But it was too expensive. So I looked at working on a ship. I really wanted to go. But I never did. I still want to go and I hope that I will soon.
The level of obsession targeted at the Antarctic applies to any similar place. Arctic Canada, places near polar regions like Tierra del Fuego, Greenland, and of course Scandinavia. I want to breathe cold air, see icicles, feel the crunch of soft fresh snow under my feet and feel the sharpness of the cold on my cheeks.
The ICEHOTEL opened 23 years ago and has been in my sights since. I first visited Swedish Lapland 2 years ago in the Autumn and adored the landscape spotted with pretty lakes protected by towering trees. I loved the food – the reindeer, moose, arctic grouse, lingonberry, cloudberry, I even tried bear.
We saw where the ICEHOTEL would be but it wasn’t built yet. It is only built after the river Torne has frozen over, and the ICEHOTEL is built from bricks carved out of it (and snice – snow and ice – from the river sprayed over metal frames and left to solidify in the cold). The whole concept is magical.
What was it like? Startling, bright, cold, a little dazzling. Reindeer hide doors, bristling with a little sparkling frozen ice greet you. To the left a bar, with vodka cocktails in ice glasses and some hot drinks too.
A little further down the arched corridor on the left are the ice rooms. With an ice double bed with reindeer skins and mattresses, an ice sculpture even two ice armchairs and a table. The room itself is soft with no harsh angles, the bed angular within.
Another corridor down are the new northern lights rooms. Stunning with a beautiful recreation of the northern lights on the ceiling of the room. Only a few are ready – The ICEHOTEL has only just opened for the season and they are still building – so I go across to the other side to the Art Suites, where I will make my home for the night.
Each room is designed by different artists, and they vary dramatically. The beautifully elegant Flower room, designed by two Japanese artists, inspired by the recent trauma that Japan has had to go through, it is a symbol that there is always hope.The Eternity room, a stunning but slightly scary room with two large creatures guarding the top of the bed, with the bed facing an angel carved into the wall. There was also the gloriously bonkers Cold and Crazy and a room scattered with UFOs.
My bed for the night was in Whitewater. I steeled my nerves with some cold cocktails from the bar and a hot lingonberry one then went to collect my arctic sleeping bag. When you check in at the ICEHOTEL they supply you with a snowsuit, snow boots, huge mittens and a balaclava. I was taking the balaclava in with me for the night. To stay warm, surprisingly, you must wear only thermals as anything loose on your body or more than one layer will trap cold air near your skin, and make you cold.
I wrapped up, giddy with excitement and with only a small peephole to look out. I wondered if I would sleep. Then I woke up several hours later. My face and legs were a little chilly but I was ok.
I fell asleep again and woke needing the loo – WOE – how would I get out of this sleeping bag, escape the warmth and come back in? I didn’t need to worry, 2 minutes later there was a voice: “Good morning, it is 7.30am, would you like some hot lingonberry juice?”.
Grinning, for I have lasted the night and actually really enjoyed it “Yes, please”.
I drank my hot lingonberry juice and still cold, grabbed a hot chocolate and returned to my warm room where I spent my other two nights and slept again. The sleep in the cold room is very light I think.
There is no actual sunset at this time of year and it is beautifully surreal. A faint sliver of light appears over the hills behind the ice hotel at about 11.30 and then the light disappears and it is dark again. In the snow, and in the silence. Unless of course, you are in the Ice Bar and someone is dancing Gangnam style. Which I was on occasion, although only watching.
Would I recommend it? Yes, wholeheartedly. Would I go again? In a heartbeat. This is the best year for 50 years to see the northern lights, and I have yet to see the Ice Church too (they are building it). Maybe I might even try to go back in Spring.
I travelled to the ICEHOTEL with Discover the World who operate direct charter flights from Heathrow to Kiruna, with packages for 3 nights starting from £1,093pp or via Stockholm from £870pp.