Spending the night in an ice cave is not most people's idea of a luxurious winter vacation. Yet ice hotels remain a popular attraction in places like Switzerland, Norway, and Canada, where the conditions allow for elaborate and architecturally complex ice sculpting. True to their name, ice hotels are essentially elaborate igloos and they are, ah, very cold. The temperature in your room will likely less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit and you will spend the night on a solid slab of ice, albeit well insulated in your sleeping bag.
They are, however, beautiful. In addition to their detailed architecture, many hotels use fiber optic lighting to create wonderfully alien colors in the walls. Of course alcohol flows freely as well and frequent visitors often describe the experience as a strange and exhilarating one. If that sounds like a good time to you, and you weren't scarred by the wampa scene in in The Empire Strikes Back, then by all means read on.
Hôtel de Glace, Quebec
Construction of the Hôtel de Glace near Quebec City in Quebec, Canada, begins in early December, or when the temperatures are below zero degrees Celsius for a week-long period. When the cold reaches five below, workers make the snow on-site with a snow blower until they have the 15,000 tons required to construct the hotel. After that, fifty workers will spend six weeks putting together a 44-room mansion, finishing in late January.
Hôtel de Glace, Quebec
Natural snow is too dry and airy to form something that hangs over the heads of paying customers. Artificial snow, then, is a must. Churned several times, it becomes humid and dense, and after a short period turns hard as ice. At the Hôtel de Glace, they blow the artificial snow over huge metal domes and arches—the outline of the village—and wait three days for it to solidify. Then, the workers remove the molds, hauling them elsewhere according to the architectural outline and doing it again.
The huge metal molds are moved along a ski base by a tractor. Once they're out and the snow structure is holding, workers bring in 500 tons of Arctic Glacier ice to make into furniture, columns, sculptures, ice glasses, and ice walls that refract light and "create magical effects" at the ends of corridors.
Of course, supporting 15,500 tons of ice and snow requires a hard, strong foundation. The floor of the hotel, covering 32,000 square feet, is two feet thick while the walls have a base of 1.2 meters thick. The highest vault in the hotel reaches 19 feet.
Like other ice hotels, and B&Bs, the Hôtel de Glace features themed suites. In this room, pick lighting creates a dreamy, almost cloying atmosphere. The density of the artificial snow also makes it easier to craft into shapes along the walls.
A sparse, sterile cube of a room, like this one in the Hôtel de Glace, is probably what comes to mind when one thinks of a hotel constructed of ice.
Of course, just because it's ice doesn't mean it can't be homey. This room from the 2013 Hôtel de Glace was inspired by that year's theme, a journey to the center of winter, inviting guests to experience winter "twenty thousand leagues from home," according to a press release. This snowy bedroom makes for an uncanny visit.
Continuing the Oz-like fantasy of 2013, the buttery atmosphere and bending trees of this bedroom all but threaten to melt. Thankfully, that doesn't usually occur until late May, when you can watch the last traces of the Hôtel de Glace return to the Saint-Lawrence River while the snow hotel team works on designing next year's model, according to a 2011 press release.
The Hôtel de Glace ice bar holds 400 people, which sounds like a suggestion but merely fact.
And if you're the romantic type and you happen to be in Quebec, and you're with someone...
...You can get married at the Hôtel de Glace's ice chapel. The chapel has housed more than 200 weddings since 2001.
Kirkenes, Main Entrance
The construction of the Kirkenes Snow Hotel in Norway was similar to that of the Hôtel de Glace: Tremendous plastic balloons were filled with air and sprayed with snow—a process that took six hours before the balloons could be deflated and the luxury snow fort was complete. Northern lights, as seen here, can be spotted two or three times a week in this region of Bjørnevatn, Norway—normally green (you'll only seldom see purple or red, says Anne Koivisto, sales manager at Kirkenes).
Kirkenes, Taj Mahal Room
"Hey. This is the Taj Mahal room. It's called that because of the representation of the Taj Mahal carved into the wall."
So it is. The Kirkenes Snowhotel features the Indian mausoleum because many of their visitors traveled to Norway from the subcontinent. The room took one and a half days to construct, featuring a bed of ice blocks and a (can't forget) mattress with thermal insulation.
The Kirkenes Snow Hotel features an "icebar," where they serve Vodka in glasses made of ice. (Ice, ice, ice!) Also made of ice: a reindeer sculpture, which took three days to sculpt by chainsaw. Every year, Kirkenes uses about 15 tons of ice for the hotel bar and rooms. The bar itself took four days to put together and maintains a temperature of around –43 degrees Celsius.
Iglu-Dorf Igloo Village, Switzerland
Bearing the almost cartoonish facade of a traditional igloo, this architectural lump of cold is actually a snow hotel, or igloo village, in Gstaad, Switzerland—and it's large and luxurious enough to contain a romantic suite and whirlpool. It's part of the Iglu-Dorf chain that constructs snow hotels across Switzerland, Andorra, and Germany, aiming to build greener, carbon-neutral hotel alternatives that are just as luxurious, if not more, with fantastical, ice-sculpted decor.