If you’ve ever dreamed about ice palaces, ice castles or ice cathedrals – they do exist. During the annual Quebec Winter Carnival – there is a beautiful ice castle with a nightly discotheque. But, not far away, there is actually a hotel made of ice, complete with ice bars, ice slide, Nordic spa, Ice Cathedral for weddings and of course…ice beds. Welcome to Hotel de Glace.
Wait, don’t dismiss this as total insanity – it’s actually growing in popularity each year and even this intrepid reporter spent a most enjoyable night there recently. Since its origin, over 35,000 people have stayed overnight.
In its 13th year now, the equivalent of 20 million ice cubes are expertly piled, stacked, formed and carved into a virtual piece of art that attracts visitors from around the globe. Some of the ceilings are 19 feet high.
One of only two authentic, functioning ice hotels in the world, Hotel de Glace is open from January 5 through March 24, 2013. There are 44 rooms this year, covering 32,000 square feet, and the demand for rooms increases every year.
The hotel is open every day and the decorated suites can be toured before 9 p.m. To get the total experience, you need to tour it both before and after dark – its personality changes that much. At 9 p.m., the hotel is closed to all but overnight guests.
If you arrive in the afternoon, you’ll have time to familiarize yourself with the facility and take part in some of the daily activities planned by the hotel’s staff.
What looks like a tall, frozen waterfall is the area outside where you can learn ice-climbing from a talented instructor. You bring your body – they’ve got the equipment you need. With crampons on your feet, an ice ax in your gloved hand, and a safety rope attached to your harness, you’re off to scale the vertical wall of ice. Think rock wall climbing – but covered with slick ice. Looked to be great fun – but didn’t have time to try it.
For the kids, or the kid in all of us, there is a much tamer, circular ice slide inside the Ice Hotel. Simply walk up the curved ice stairs, sit down and enjoy an ice slide that whisks you around circular icy walls down to a padded landing zone. Even the littlest kids can do it.
Two bar areas give you a clue that warm or warming adult beverages are very popular with day and overnight guests. The selections of specialty drinks befit an Ice Hotel and are served in square blocks of ice – hollowed out appropriately to hold just the right amount of liquor.
Walking around, you’ll be amazed at the carving talents of the 15 artisans who sculpt all the artwork. Scenes of Eskimos, forests, cruise ships and animals delight your imagination and provide “what’s-around-the-next-corner” fun as you wander this long house of ice.
As the sun goes down, changing, soft-pastel lights begin to illuminate the interior and exterior of the Ice Hotel, transforming it into a fairy tale vision you’ve only dreamed of. Enjoy that beautiful sunset orange hue while you can; because now it’s turning into cotton candy pink. If cerulean blue is your thing – it’s coming, as is lime green. The colors react differently on the various ice surfaces – some being rough, almost liked packed snow, others as translucent ice and yet still others as perfectly clear ice.
Before bed time, (you’ve decided to spend the night now haven’t you?) one of the hotel staff will give a presentation on the fine points of sleeping on a bed of ice. Okay, you really sleep on a comfy mattress atop a base of ice, tucked into a provided, Nordic sleeping bag rated for -40F degrees, in a room that never dips below +23F degrees. With certain specific suggestions, you’re guaranteed to stay warm; but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
First, you want to raise your body’s temperature before jumping into your bag. Heated changing rooms, as well as a warm restaurant, lockers, coffee pot and more are located right next to the Nordic spa area, just outside one end of the hotel. Changing into your swim suit, and wearing flip-flops, you make a speedy dash out the door and pop into one of four luxurious hot tubs. As the steam rises to the starry sky above, you sink lower and lower into the tub, letting the water jets relax any tight muscles from the day’s activities.
When you’ve had enough, pop out, close the top of the hot tub, and head for the big barrel looking sauna. Once inside, there’s no way you’ll care how cold it is outside – it’s toasty warm in here. After drying off, grab your robe and head back to your locker for you pj’s. Now it’s off to your room for the night.
Your room for the evening has a Nordic sleeping bag waiting in a storage bag. Open it up, change into perfectly dry socks and slip into your liner, then into the sleeping bag. A Velcro flap snugs the bag around your neck, holding in your natural body heat. Pull the hood up over your head, and snug the draw strings to suit. The body parts left exposed are your eyes, nose and mouth. Everything else is quite comfortable inside the bag. Before you know it, you’re in dream land, dreaming of ice castles. But, it’s not a dream – you’ve actually spent the night at Hotel de Glace.
If you are there during the Quebec Winter Carnival, do check it out. It’s one of the best winter events I’ve ever seen.
Also published on Medium.