For those looking for a truly “cool” getaway, a holiday on ice may be the perfect answer. Global warming is making cold places warmer, and if you’re looking for a unique way to get away from the rush of your daily life, one of these vacation locations may be the perfect way for you to “chill out”. From the truly frigid to the interestingly cool, there’s a vacation on – or near – the ice that’s sure to please everyone.
One of the most famous icy-cold locations is the Ice Hotel, built every year since 1980 in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, 200 km above the Arctic Circle. You’ll need to fly to Kiruna Airport, and then take a transfer to the Ice Hotel, but you’ll find the hospitality warm, even if the surroundings aren’t. The entire hotel is built from ice – including the reception area, bar, rooms, and common areas.
Of course the Ice Hotel only operates during the winter months: approximately November to March, with the “season” varying depending on the local temperatures and when the ice begins to melt. Everything in the rooms is ice, including the beds and couch, though they’re covered with cushy layers of hides, fur, and sleeping bags. Temperatures inside remain within a fairly constant range of -8 to -5, so you’ll be using those furs at night! The restrooms are a short walk away and are, thankfully, heated.
The Ice Hotel started as a simple igloo beside the beautiful Torne River. Today it is a world-renowned attraction that disappears with the spring thaw. Every year the Ice Hotel looks different; new artists design different rooms and suites, and new ice artwork decorates the rooms and the exterior. Many visitors return several times, and each visit is unique.
The Ice Hotel hosts weddings in the stunning Ice Church, co-located with the Ice Hotel. Unique artwork and, of course, the still chill of the church itself create a once-in-a-lifetime environment for a union that will last forever.
Another Ice Hotel is built each winter in Quebec. Operating since 2001, the “Hôtel de Glace” or Ice Hotel, features a broad range of interests for everyone from the seasoned traveller to children and the young at heart. This hotel has snow archways that soar five metres in the air and rooms and suites that change every year with the new designs and the artists’ inspiration. They offer programmes tailored for children, and the experience here is aimed more for families than couples or the solo traveller.
If you fancy a trip to the United States, you might want to visit the Aurora Ice Museum, about 100 km north of Juneau in Chena Hot Springs, up in the state of Alaska. That’s right, hot springs. The “hotel” part of the complex is small – the main attraction is the ice sculptures, and you’ll want to plan several hours for this, because they are truly a sight to behold. But you can stay overnight, and the hotel offers a parka, snow pants and boots to help each guest keep warm. Nearby is a more mainstream hotel, just in case the evening gets a little too cold. But one of the best reasons for visiting here is the nearby snow coach service that will take you out to the top of a hill at night to see the aurora borealis – the northern lights. Watching this example of nature at play is an amazing experience and something that shouldn’t be missed.
The hot springs are nearby, where you can warm up and soak away any aches and pains of the day. There’s also an interesting exhibit regarding the work that’s underway to harness the area’s abundance of natural geothermal energy, a source of power that’s moving from “green” to mainstream.
While Chena Hot Springs Resort offers all the amenities you could want if you’re staying outside of an ice hotel, there’s a place in Alta, Norway, that’s a little more rustic. The Alta Igloo Hotel actually has the hotel portion in one location, and the igloo sleeping quarters nearby. These are true igloos rather than a manmade hotel room or suite. They’re small, with few of the creature comforts. Even your luggage is kept in the main part of the complex. But if you want to truly get a sense for how the Norwegian natives survived in this environment, this is the place to stay. The northern lights play up here as well, and at night you can poke your head out of your igloo and marvel at the free light show in the sky.
If you’re looking for something a little less frigid, a tour or cruise of one of the cooler regions might satisfy, as well. There are some fabulous Alaskan cruises that will take you alongside some of the largest remaining glaciers in the world. An even better option might be a small-ship tour. These smaller boats, which can house anywhere from 10 to 75 guests, can get into the smaller bays and inlets that are too narrow or shallow for the larger cruise ships. Some “adventure” tours give you the freedom to go hiking or kayaking during the day, while the ship moves at night. These types of tours are a fabulous way to see the colder climates up close and personal, while still having your creature comforts at night.
Juneau, Alaska is one of the best locations for viewing the northern lights. The best times of the year for this are in the spring and fall, and you’ll get a good look on nights when there’s a new moon and the sky is darkest. Ester Dome, a mountain summit near the small town of Ester (about six miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska) has one of the best views of the lights, if you’re willing to make the short trip. At the top of the Dome you can see the sky from horizon to horizon, and there are few lights to block your viewing.
These cooler climates are becoming a precious resource, and experiencing them now means you won’t miss out.