Two hundred ­kilometres north of the Arctic circle in Sweden, The Ice Hotel is more a destination than a hotel. It’s where we went to embrace the discomfort, and where sleep was an afterthought. It’s built entirely out of a single material — ice. Harvested from the frozen Torne River steps away, each year, the ice blocks are cut, carved, chiseled and shaped with utmost precision.
Despite the fragility of the material, the edifice created is strong and functional with immense delicacy and beauty. We were drawn to the glassy transparency of the carved ice pillars, partitions, beds and chandeliers and to the blue lights captured in them. The frothy white ceiling and walls had the texture of ­hardened snow. We felt it, ­tasted it and heard its ­crunching sound underfoot. We ­marveled at its purity. If the Ganges were to freeze over and an Ice hotel carved from it, we would undoubtedly find a bizarre collection of flotsam in the murky walls.
Sweden's The Ice Hotel
Exploring the Swedish 60 room creation stoked our sense of wonder. It was like being in an awesome art gallery with a whole selection of rooms, the art-suites, specially designed in keeping with each architect’s theme. ‘Pole Dancing’ had sculptures of two life-sized polar bears wrapped around poles. ‘Frozen Flower’ was a medley of snowflakes and winter flowers. ‘Mind the Gap’ was designed as a cabin from the London Underground.
The central hallway had an enormous unicorn sculpture, and it led to the Ice Bar where everyone gathered late into the evenings, sipping drinks out of exquisitely shaped ice glasses. It was early April, and we knew that it was soon going to start dripping, and then melting to the ground, flowing back into the river it came from.
Hallway with ice chandeliers
Many avatars since 1990
Each year in March, when the Torne River is most thickly frozen, 500 tons of hard packed cuboids are harvested from it. They’re stored in a temperature-controlled warehouse, and as soon as it is cold enough in November, the cutting and carving begins, and the 60 rooms open, as they are ready. By Christmas, the chapel is completed. A priest consecrates the impressive ecclesiastical igloo and couples come all the way to tie the knot, hoping that unlike their wedding, their marriage will not be on thin ice!
Minus 5 degrees centigrade
The idea of being cold is off putting, but my memories of being uncomfortable in the four days we were there, are trumped by the thrill of the experiences we enjoyed. Our first night was in an Art Suite, where we slept in thickly ­padded sleeping bags atop reindeer skins. The bag was somewhat slippery, and I zipped myself up, feeling like a seal with a blowhole. As a nightly ritual, I’d placed a glass of water on my bedside, but it soon froze at minus five. We were woken at seven with warm lingonberry juice, walked over to the warm reception area to get ready for the day’s adventures.
The next two nights were spent in a warm, wooden ­chalet nearby. We spent our days dogsledding, visiting the indigenous Sami folks at a reindeer farm, enjoying the delicious meals at Ice Hotel restaurant, but the highlight was seeing the ­magical ­northern lights late one night on a snowmobile ride.