If you think a frozen hotel and warm night's sleep are polar opposites, think again. Part novelty, part adventure, ice hotels and igloo villages illuminate dark and cold winters. With thermal comforters and natural insulation to keep you warm, the experience is like camping in a winter wonderland. Even better, you'll wake up to resort benefits like restaurants, bars, and even chapels—all made of ice, of course.
From snowy pockets in eastern Canada to the mountains of Romania, here are the world's best ice hotels and igloo villages.
Europe's northernmost ice hotel, the Alta Igloo, is on the banks of the river Altaelva in the northern Norwegian region of Finnmark. With 20 bedrooms it is Norway's largest ice hotel, and also contains a bar, lounges, an ice chapel and the adjacent Lakesestua restaurant, which is in the shape of a tepee and serves traditional Lapp delicacies. Despite the harsh environment, every effort is made to ensure a bit of warmth, including outdoor hot-tubs to plunge into and reindeer-hide mattresses. From mid-November until the end of January the sun doesn't rise here, so the chances of seeing the Northern Lights are also high. And, if guests want to experience more of the Arctic lifestyle, they can join husky sledge trips or a snowmobile safari to spend the night in a traditional Sami tent.
Aurora Ice Hotel, USA
The only ice hotel in the US is set in the grounds of the Chena Hot Springs resort, 60 miles north-east of Fairbanks, Alaska. Sculptor Steven Brice is responsible for designing every detail of the hotel, from the six themed guest-rooms right down to the fibre-optic ice chandeliers and the ice martini glasses used in its bar. Despite failing in their attempt last year, the Aurora's owners plan to keep the hotel standing for a full 12 months. Brice will also be giving ice-sculpting lessons.
Kemi SnowCastle, Finland
The SnowCastle, built anew every year in Kemi in Finnish Lapland, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this winter. Inside the turreted castle are a restaurant, chapel, an Arctic glass exhibition and the Mammut SnowHotel. Each of its 33 Arctic-themed rooms is decorated by local students.
Ice Hotel, Sweden
The world's first ice hotel, now in its 15th year, is in the village of Jukkasjarvi in Swedish Lapland. Each year, 10,000 tons of crystal-clear ice from the nearby Torne river and 30,000 tons of snow are used to build the hotel from scratch. With temperatures hovering between -4C and -9C, guests can snuggle under custom-made sleeping bags and reindeer skins on their ice beds while a pre-breakfast sauna and glass of hot lingonberry juice gets the circulation going in the morning. Guests can take a snowmobile tour and moose safaris, prop up the Absolut ice bar or watch performances and concerts in an open-air venue inspired by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. For those who can't brave the freezing temperatures, the hotel also offers the more comfortable wooden Aurora chalets.
Hotel du Glace, Canada
The Hotel du Glace in Duchesnay, 30 minutes west of Quebec City, is North America's only ice hotel. Its 19 rooms and 13 suites are entirely constructed from ice, as are its cinema, chapel, fireplaces and Absolut ice bar. The 4ft-thick walls act as windbreaks and maintain a constant, if a bit chilly, internal temperature of between -2 and -5C. Fibre-optic lighting casts a warm glow and down sleeping bags topped with deer pelts keep out the chill. Guests are greeted in the morning with a cup of warming hot chocolate and have access to bathrooms in a heated area. Activities include cross-country skiing, skating and ice-fishing. ( THE INDIPENDENT)
Hotel du Glace, 143 route Duchesnay, Pavillon L'Aigle, Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier, Quebec, Canada (001 418 875 4522; www.icehotel-canada.com). The hotel opens 7 January-3 April 2005. Double rooms start at C$520 (£221) with breakfast
Kemi SnowCastle (00 358 16 259 502; www.snowcastle.net), Kemi, Finland. Double rooms start at €220 (£157) including breakfast and a sauna. The hotel opens on 31 December 2004 and closes on 3 April 2005
The Aurora Ice Hotel, Chena Hot Springs, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA (001 907 451 8104; www.chenahotsprings.com/icehotel). Doubles start at $150 (£88) without breakfast, but with a pass for the hotel's hot springs
Alta Igloo Hotel, Alta, Norway, (00 47 784 33378;www.alta-friluftspark.no). Doubles start from Nkr2,200 (£185) with breakfas. The hotel is scheduled to open in mid-January 2005