In April, I had the pleasure of visiting the ICEHOTEL 365, created in 2016 as a permanent new sibling for the original ICEHOTEL. The year 1989 saw the birth of the iconic hotel, a work of ice art created annually and painstakingly from scratch. The structure has acted as the benchmark for ice hotels since then from mid-December each year, imitated by many but matched by few. By mid-April nature takes its course, the warming rays of the sun slowly melting the hotel and returning it to back to its pristine natural surrounds. In recent years, the demise of the seasonal ICEHOTEL and its lack of permanency left many disappointed, with lost opportunities in the endless new activities that the three other seasons bring. And so, in 2016, the ICEHOTEL 365 – a year-round ICEHOTEL – was born.
As a veteran of all things Scandinavian and having had an abundance of opportunities to overnight in snow rooms, I approached a visit to the ICEHOTEL 365 with some scepticism – how on earth could the team possibly surpass the bar it had set itself and why would one want to spend a night in a glorified freezer over the original offering? I got my comprehensive answer following a visit in early April.
The ICEHOTEL's presence on many a bucket list means that expectation on arrival is huge. However, first impressions are understated as you check in at the Riverside Lobby, where the process can take some time due to the natural myriad of questions that come from guests. But, the wait pales into insignificance when you drop off your suitcase, don your outer thermal clothing and go and explore. Turning the corner, we were greeted by the iconic door of the seasonal ICEHOTEL silhouetted against a clear blue sky. No less impressive was the adjacent ICEHOTEL 365 structure, both blending in perfectly with their surrounds.
We first toured the original, seasonal ICEHOTEL where they revealed the exquisite ‘celebration room’ for those wanting a winter wedding with a difference. Branching off from the main hall were 35 ‘cold rooms’, all of which have the classic icy décor and are curtained off to form a snug ice cave of art, strewn with reindeer skin. For something even more ornate, guests can opt for an elegant Art Suite, created into anything from an eerie Queen of the North to a giant King Kong. The sense of excitement is palpable for those staying here and the fact that the communal changing rooms, toilets and sauna are in a separate building is no bother – the short dash across the ‘courtyard’ simply adds to that sense of adventure in my eyes.
We then entered the ICEHOTEL 365 and could immediately see the opportunity a permanent structure was able to bring to the designs. The high ceilings enable the Master Sculptors to create towering floor-to-ceiling works of art, and any preconceived ideas I had that we were staying in the ‘second best’ ICEHOTEL were quickly dissipated. In fact, the more I saw, the more I thought that this may even be the better option. Each suite comes with a proper door enabling more privacy, a Carpe Diem mattress (covered with reindeer skins) and even Wi-Fi. However, it is the Deluxe Suites in the 365 where the ICEHOTEL team has raised the standard to an exceptional level, truly setting a challenge to its imitators.
Each Deluxe Suite reveals an exhibition of ice carved by the most experienced sculptors, some showcased after a myriad of ice mazes and twisting corridors. My room had a set of steps which took me to a reindeer hide-strewn ice seat from where I could survey my kingdom – rather like Elsa in Frozen – and enjoy the complimentary bottle of champagne (served in ice flutes of course). Located discreetly at the back of the room was another door which revealed a warm and cosy sanctuary made up of a sauna, deluxe bathrobes, chill-out chairs and an en-suite bathroom complete with underfloor heating, a private toilet and shower. I could have cried! It was such a welcome antidote to the chilly main room.
The delights don’t end there, as earlier this year the ICEHOTEL culinary team went one up and introduced the ‘Chef’s Table on the Veranda’, a 12-course tasting menu that showcases the skills of head chef Alexander Meier and his team. It’s an intimate affair with only 12 settings and the occasion is like attending a relaxed dinner party with friends. As per Scandinavian tradition, you leave your shoes at the entrance, donning a pair of fetching felt slippers before being welcomed with a glass of champagne, your hosts explaining the culinary delights that are about to be prepared. It goes without saying that each dish highlights the very best of local and traditional cuisine, from Kalix, caviar and king crab to exquisitely presented truffle, mushrooms, reindeer, mussels and moose. As the wine flowed, perfectly complemented to match each dish, so did the conversation. It was truly one of the best culinary experiences I have ever had and it was with a warm heart that I made my way back to my suite for my next adventure.
The instructions for your overnight stay in the cold rooms are to wear your thermals and let the sleeping bag and reindeer skins do the rest. I have to admit that I also added a hat, scarf and some thick woollen socks! It must have done the trick though, as the next thing I knew there was a knock on the door and a warming cup of lingonberry juice was by my side. It was truly a luxury to have the en-suite bathroom as I revelled in the sauna and steaming shower, banishing any last vestiges of chill. I appreciate those with a desire to experience the ‘original’ ICEHOTEL, but, to me, this was the upgraded version!
As I left, it was clear that the ICEHOTEL 365 is far from being inferior to its original. It does, in actual fact, deliver a level of luxury not found in any other snow hotel. Add to this the excellent Chef’s Table and you have an experience that’s simply unrivalled, especially with the year-round availability, from autumn’s return of the aurora to the never-ending days of summer, inviting you to hike a mountain or river raft on the flowing Torne River at midnight if you so wish. Just like the region and its inhabitants, the team behind the ICEHOTEL have adapted and evolved to welcome a new set of guests – those who want luxury without compromising the traditions of this iconic hotel.
Our visit to the ICEHOTEL was a fleeting one, but we did have the opportunity to go on a spectacular snowmobile excursion traversing the forests, trails and lakes of the area. One of the highlights on this trip was a stop at Fjellborg Arctic Lodge – only accessible by snowmobile, husky or helicopter.
Back in the early 18th century, Kenth Fjellborg’s forefather was one of the first settlers to build a permanent home in the region and nine generations later, Kenth works closely with the ICEHOTEL team, offering a unique husky experience. It incorporates a day of mushing your own team of huskies with a stay in one of his delightful and cosy wilderness cabins – no experience is required other than a love of dogs and a desire to be at one with the Arctic nature. Evenings are spent dining from a menu inspired by local fare and served in the sociable surroundings of the main lodge or around the camp fire.
Kenth has also introduced a new luxury concept with the Master Cabin. This 4-bedroom luxury lodge nestles comfortably on the shores of Lake Vakkara among the snow laden trees. It’s tick-box perfection for those wanting a private, bespoke experience – whether that’s a custom-made romantic weekend or an inspiring family break tailored to suit multiple generations, Fjellborg Arctic Lodge can deliver, alongside the ICEHOTEL, to create the ultimate Arctic break.