In my last blog post I wrote about how youth hostels have been a vital part of my travels, but lately, and on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been travelling a lot for work which enables me to stay in some rather cool hotels of the Scandinavian variety. Of these hotels, none have been cooler than Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel: in every facet of the word.
After receiving the news that I was going to Finnmark, the area known as Norwegian Lapland, and as part of this trip I‘d be spending a night in one of the world’s most unique accommodations, I could hardly contain my excitement. I felt like I was heading off on an Arctic exploration where I had to brave the harsh conditions of ‘sleeping on ice’; or at least I pretended that was the case. I thought of Roald Amundsen, and after him, Louise Boyd, and for a few wistful minutes I regarded myself in the same adventurous esteem. But in reality I was sleeping inside a glamorous ice hotel metres away from a sauna, hot tub and a cosy wood-cladded bar and restaurant.
High above the Arctic Circle, in a town in Northern Norway, you will find the Igloo Hotel in a small town called Alta. In this part of the world all cities, towns and villages are comparatively very small but they have so much to offer, especially for explorer types in pursuit of their next challenge. However, more recently people are coming to Finnmark for another reason, no longer is it to say “I’ve crossed the Arctic Circle”, but to say “I’ve seen the Northern Lights”. As a result of this popular demand there has been a large increase in visitors, which in turn has helped boost the profile of other activities such as husky-sledding, snowmobiling and – to the main topic – a night in the Igloo Hotel.
The hotel is made completely of snow and ice, even the rooms, beds, and bar – right down to the glasses!
Interestingly, this ice hotel is re-built every year, ice is resourcefully collected from the nearby Alta River and a team of 10-15 people participate in the construction which takes approximately six weeks to build.
The biggest obstacle the crew have to face is the weather; it’s one of the few times people pray for freezing cold weather! Warm days delay the building process, but luckily the temperature this far north is usually always below freezing point during the winter. With this in mind the Igloo Hotel opens at the beginning of January to mid-April, it then melts away until it’s time to begin building again for the following season. This means each year the hotel is completely new, and to emphasise this, the designers choose a new theme each year to decorate the hotel in, last year the theme was Norwegian fairy tales, and this year is Vikings.
The Igloo Hotel is the 1st and biggest ice hotel in Norway, this means that each year the ‘ice architects’ have more experience and familiarity with how this kind of unique engineering works, and it shows! The moment I opened the reindeer covered door and stepped inside was like nothing I had witness before, I stood in a state of wild bewilderment. If a mirror had been held up to my face, you would have been able to see all the unsightly silver fillings in my mouth! In fact, my reaction was very similar to Joanna Lumley’s, England’s national treasure, who stayed in the Igloo Hotel a few years ago. Her trip to the Igloo Hotel and Arctic Norway was part of a BBC documentary called ‘Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights’. This clip is soooo funny you have to watch it:
As I began walking further into the ice hotel, more and more sculptures began to appear, and all the details they carried. I thought I had seen the best of it all until I turned left and noticed a cross carved from ice. I was looking at the Ice Chapel. Sculptures of the bride and groom had been carefully carved, not forgetting the roses – which were real! I’d love to see the wedding photos of the people who have been married here; I’m dying to know what the bride wore on her feet too, because heels are not a wise choice!
I half expected Elvis to make an appearance because that’s how over-the-top everything feels, but at the same time, this place feels surprisingly uncommercialised too. I guess a place in the Arctic isn’t for the average holiday-goer. The climate is cold, and often inhospitable and dark. For a long time such regions were tackled by few: explorers, polar scientists, and sporty types looking to test their endurance levels. But the Arctic is having a renaissance; as I mentioned earlier, the Northern Lights are attracting people from all over the world to visit in hope of seeing this celestial phenomenon, and to meet this demand new hotels are cropping up and airlines are adding new flight routes.
So was I cold, and how well did I sleep?
The temperature is between -4 and -7 degrees in the igloo hotel and surprisingly, I wasn’t cold and slept very well. Obviously, if I had turned up wearing a T-shirt and shorts then I wouldn’t have fared so well. The hotel equips everyone with two sleeping bags that have the capacity to keep someone insulated right down to -25 degrees, and also a reindeer skin to lie on, so combining my own thermals, two pairs of wool socks, and winter clothes, I was extremely well provided for to ensure I would be as warm as possible considering the subzero temperatures. The only area of me that was exposed to the cold was my face, this sensation can be compared most closely to the feeling of sleeping with a window open – quite refreshing I must say!
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy the idea of sleeping on ice then the Igloo Hotel offers day visits, this is something I would definitely recommend because the best bit for me was seeing it for the first time. The startlingly blue light, intricate ice sculptures, and cool atmosphere goes down as one of life’s adventures.
I hope there are plenty more to come….