Deep Freeze - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Prue Rushton, Issue 28 – Spring 2006|
|(Ice Hotels) |
|IN ONE OF THE MOST EXQUISITE COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN MAN AND NATURE, ICE HOTELS ARE OPENING UP NEW REALMS OF DESIGN AND LUXURY.|
|It’s minus 45 degrees outside. Inside it’s minus five. Only your nose registers this, the rest of you is Christmas-wrapped in acrylic fleece and anorak. You’re tired. You have to wait until 9pm for your sleeping bag to be delivered to your hotel room. The last time you held a glass it was made of ice. The last time you sat down, the chair was made of ice. You stare now at your bed – you guessed it, made of ice. Welcome to the Ice Hotel.|
Transforming oneself into a human ice popsicle, at first, seems an odd ambition for a holiday. Nevertheless, it’s a concept that so richly mixes luxury, escape, creativity and one-off exclusivity that in the past 15 years ice hotels have proliferated across the northern hemisphere.
Carved out of tons of ice then packed with snow, ice hotels are an exercise in ephemera. Like, say, the sand mandala’s of Tibetan lamas, they are designed with exquisite precision, forming great visions of beauty, then, before they can be enjoyed for too long, insistent nature intervenes and melts them out of all existence.
Unlike mandala’s, ice hotels are ripe with earthly pleasures. As humans we have a strange attraction for places we weren’t made for – under the sea, in the air, on ice – especially if they come laced with alcohol, gourmet food, visual thrills, sport and the promise of an exotic romp.
Back in 1990 a group of visitors to an art exhibition, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, cuddled down for a night in an igloo art gallery and declared the experience ‘warm and exciting’. Entrepreneurs saw dollars and the idea of the somewhat eponymous Icehotel was born. Constructed each year from ice out of the Torne River in Lapland, Sweden, the architecture of this original Icehotel has grown to more than 60 rooms that take you beyond the crystalline reception hall, there are individually artist-sculpted suites, the world-famous Absolut Ice Bar, an Icehotel Cinema with ice-screen, an Ice Church, an ice-art exhibition and, most recently, a Shakespearean-modelled Ice Globe Theatre.
When Icehotel’s sister opened in Quebec (pictured above) in 1999 the hotel’s web site crashed after being bombarded by 1.5 million hits. Similarly, it has concentrated on designer sexy and ultra-romantic suites as its ultimate drawcard. No two ice hotels are ever the same. Shipping in crews of architects and artists to decorate each room in a different design – this year’s Icehotel in Sweden featured many Australians designers – you can find yourself sleeping in something akin to a minimalist New York hotel suite through to Marie Antoinette’s boudoir.
What seals this themed luxury as uniquely special is, of course, the ice itself. Inside this cool blue cocoon, it’s a strangely soft and silent world full of ethereal beauty and glistening light. The temporal nature of the experience sinks into your soul. For just a few short months, great forces within the physical realm have been captured and reshaped into extravagant citadels, only to change their state back once again. All that remains belongs to memory… and, perhaps, a digicam.
Despite being a singularly astonishing phenomenon, the first question on most ice virgins’ lips tends to the more prosaic, ‘Will I sleep?’ Ice hotels are probably the only place you will attend an orientation on how to perform sleep. While bed platforms are made of ice, most are packed with soft mattresses and covered in the warm comfort of reindeer pelts. A ‘mummy-style’ sleeping bag snuggles you into the shape of a cocktail frankfurter. Generally, clothing involves wearing woollen or acrylic long johns, with just-in-case extras packed in the bottom of the sleeping bag.
Nevertheless, experts counter-intuitively argue that no clothes can be best. Humidity murders heat. The less you sweat the warmer you’ll be. Which in a roundabout way brings us around to romance. Two frankfurters in long johns hardly set the scene, however getting naked in zip-together sleeping bags opens up a whole new kink. Just watch where you put your tongue – ice can be a sticky encounter.
Ice hotels are like a great one-night stand – totally intoxicating, but you don’t want to hang around too long in the morning. Operators, sensitively enough, seem to understand this and construct these momentous lodges next to sturdily heated hotels. At Ice Hotel Canada, they even go as far as to helpfully provide back-up suites: if you wimp out mid-way through a cool experience you can totter off ten minutes (by car) up the road to warm lodgings.
Whitepod, a high-tech eco camp in the heart of the Swiss Alps beneath the Dents du Midi, has cleverly combined the best of hot and cool comfort. While you must forgo the experience of sleeping beneath a crystalline-sculptured ceiling, none of the designer edge is lost inside this futuristic, insulated fabric-style igloo. Perched on a wood-floor platform, there’s a wood-burning stove for added warmth, organic sheets and bedding for comfort and a 12 guests-only policy for utter privacy. A chalet built in 1820 provides a charmed indoor zone with organic restaurant dining and spa. A massage might lure you in-pod, but the pull of paragliding and back-country skiing will get you out again.
While ice hotels themselves are soaking in Bond-style glamour (think Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry in Die Another Day slinking through an ice hotel in Iceland), they also can be kid friendly. SnowCastle in Kemi, Finland had its start in 1996 as a gift from UNICEF and Kemi to all the children in the world. A snow-made rampart opens to the three-storey fortress that appears like a snow-vision of something straight out of Disneyland. Characters in snow costume and concerts keep kids wide-eyed, while dining in Mammut Snow Hotel circulates around fur-covered ice banquettes and tables.
Snow Village in Lainio, Finland, is the only ice hotel that opens in December (most open January to April), bringing Santa visits and a reindeer ride, just like Rudolph. While rooms in any of the ice hotels also catering to kids might involve getting comfortable with a snow sculpture of Bou Bou the bear staring down at you, if not quite a Bond experience, bunking down en famille here is certainly a bonding experience.
In all ice hotels, the ice bars provide their own adult retreat. Observing your feet through a 30cm-thick lens of an ice block table is an interesting exercise. So is drinking from fist-sized cubes of ice with holes drilled to hold cranberry-flavoured vodka and the like – all to the gentle throb of cool jazz. It’s a curiously warming experience, insulated from ice by a fur-covered seat.
Amid the novelty, there is time to contemplate what tomorrow can bring. Here, there is a range of new experiences on offer – anything from ice climbing, husky rides and northern lights snowmobile tours through to quietly indulgent snow sauna and snow bath. Ice hotels, ultimately, are about giving yourself up to the wild beauty of imagination and nature – even for just a moment.
|Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada: www.icehotel-canada.com|
|Whitepod: www.whitepod.com |
Snow Village: www.snowvillage.fi