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Luxury igloos chill out the Davos crowd

world Updated: Jan 31, 2009 11:31 IST
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Perched high above the five-star hotels and heated debate amongst global leaders in the Swiss resort of Davos, an igloo hotel offers the chance to chill out and enjoy life as an Eskimo might.

Set in the midst of the groomed, snow-clad ski slopes 2,600 metres up (8,500 feet), where temperatures sometimes hang around minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit) during the daytime, the cluster of igloos nonetheless takes a few liberties with the genuine polar experience.

Iglu-Dorf is built out of packed snow, but the network of 15 igloos linked by tunnels looks more like a cross between neolithic caves and an eco-housing complex perched in the Alps.

They also offer some creature comforts that are not so common on the wild expanse of polar icecap, such as a sauna and whirlpool bath. And they were not hewn out of ice.

"We built the complex in five weeks using giant inflatable balloons which were then covered with snow," explained Alexander Lau, one of the staff at the Davos igloos.

"Building in a traditional manner would have taken us all winter," the tanned snowboarder grinned.

The balloons were covered by the snowploughs used to prepare the ski runs every night, and the cold did the rest.

Once the purpose-built plastic moulds were deflated, the ideal home appeared: rooms, bathrooms, bar, restaurant, an even a conference room.

Inside, four Swiss couples were enjoying a rather more manageable minus five degrees (23 Fahrenheit) as they embarked on their overnight stay.

"I was expecting anything but this," said Marc, whose wife offered him the frozen night out as a present.

"I'm surprised by the beauty of the decoration and the size of the rooms, I never imagined you could build such enormous igloos," he added, sitting on a chamois leather-clad bench carved with a chainsaw.

The igloo hotel was born out of a bet. Adrian Guenter, a Swiss snowboarding fanatic, swore he would be the first on the slopes in the morning so he built an igloo nearby. Over the years, it turned into a lucrative business.

Thirteen years on, Guenter presides over Iglu-Dorf, a thriving company that now has four village-hotels in Switzerland, one in Germany and, for the first time this season, a hotel in the tiny principality of Andorra in the Pyrenees.

Last year, 9,000 people spent a night in accommodation ranging from a more summmary standard igloo (119 euros on weekends) to the "romantik-iglu plus" (339 euros) complete with candles, carved features, animal skins, a private whirlpool and even the luxury of a toilet.

While the wind howled relentlessly outside, the last guests left the bar or sauna for their private igloos, to slip into sleeping bags fit for a polar expedition - "minus 50 certified" according to Lau.

The next morning, the first clients emerged from an icy night. "I didn't manage to sleep," muttered a bleary-eyed Conny, while her husband, Fredi, claimed he had spent "a very good night."

The prospect of the bitter cold seems to do little to deter the more adventurous winter holidaymakers.

"The demand for our igloo stays is growing," said Joern Grundmann, the manager of the Davos igloo hotel.

As a result, the Swiss luxury igloos are on their way to the mountains behind the Russian city of Sochi, the Black Sea resort that will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.