Icehotel, Sweden – where nature and art fuse
The Icehotel, a sensory experience that goes deep beneath your skin, penetrates far beyond your iris and seeps profoundly into your soul. A place where you can sense, touch and see the simplicity of nature fusing with art, nestled in the heart of the Arctic Circle.
Visiting the Icehotel has been on my Bucket List for years; for as long as there have been cobwebs in the corner of my bedroom. And as our 2019 Summer in Scandinavia road-trip with our camper took shape, I knew that a visit was inevitable. My Bucket List was about to get a great big, fat tick.
I had been in touch with the Icehotel and found out that we could park our camper at their campingplats. So that was it – we set our course north. With my mind focused, I planned our route through the spine of Sweden searching for moose, reindeer and the Midnight Sun along the way. All the while my excitement began to blossom. Quietly at first and then it transformed into a galloping herd of stallions. With every day, my anticipation became as sharp as a razor blade and my fear of disappointment lurked surreptitiously in the shadows. Would the reality create an overcast sky on my sunshine bright hopes? We were about to find out.
Check out our video for a real visual submersion into our adventure.
Once we had parked up in the Icehotel’s official campingplats, we took ourselves off for the 4.00pm tour. I might as well have been in Santa’s Grotto as I took in the image before me. The first thing that struck me was the simplicity. Wooden cabins, called the ‘warm rooms’, stood in avenues each with their own rooftop decoration. They had an earthy feel about them and they fitted into the winter woodland environment perfectly. In between the cabins, statues of all shapes and sizes caught my eye, the hotel making sure that the art theme was consistent, inside and out. The roofs covered in moss and grasses gave them a sense of camouflage amongst the insatiable 24 hour daylight that blesses this part of the world in June. And in the distance, the blue tones of the river Torne sparkled with mischievousness. The river is such an essential component to the Icehotel’s existence, as we would soon learn. A river that, with its crisp coldness speeds eastwards to a destination known only by the river gods, creates a playground for Europe’s white-water rafters.
“And what of the Icehotel?” I hear you cry. Well beneath its own natural grassy canvas, this incredibly understated palace of ice pulled me in along its boardwalk. If I could have run up to it, like a lover towards the embrace of their long-lost partner, I would have. Although a certain amount of decorum is needed, surely? Decorum and patience.
Check out our gallery below.
Sweden’s Icehotel is the first of its kind in the world and is the brain-child of Yngve Bergqvist who was inspired by Japanese ice-sculptures. After inviting some sculptors to become instructors in Jukkasjärvi, in 1989 Bergqvist built an Igloo art gallery, and it was from this seed that the world-renowned Icehotel was conceived. Year by year, as each unique gallery of rooms melted back into the arms of its creator, the Icehotel brand grew from strength to strength and now has global recognition.
The Icehotel is a exclusive concept. Each winter a totally new personality emerges, as artists from around the world are invited to submit their ice visions. A totally unique, annual Art Gallery that temporarily showcases its masterpieces before the spring sun dawns from behind its winter curtain.
In March, ice is harvested from the frozen river Torne, which offers up its 80cm thick treasure ready for its transformation. Two ton blocks are cut from the motionless winter river and stored in a massive refrigerated storage unit until the next season’s construction is ready to begin. And as the first snow begins to fall, a special combination of ‘snice’ – snow and ice, blend together like the mortar between bricks. Within six weeks, the main structure is ready and the artists arrive, tasked with turning their visions into an icy reality – within just two weeks! What an evolution. A special artistic expression that has such a short lifespan of beauty.
The Icehotel Tour
On the nose of 4.00pm, our guide Jenny took us on one of the four daily tours. We started off at a structure that looked something like an aircraft hanger. Two arched frames that act as the backbone for the winter hotel. And as I looked to the ground, electric cables were neatly encircled on the earth as they wait, in summer hibernation until their autumnal cue. Here is the very foundation for the winter hotel. Of course, now in full summer, this year’s hotel has already melted back into the earth, its soul waiting patiently for a reemergence in October. For now we can only imagine how Icehotel 30 might look.
The refrigeration storage unit, which is the paternal belly of the Icehotel, is home to the precious blocks of crystal blue ice. Priceless cubes that not only morph into works of art the following autumn, they are also shipped across the world for companies’ PR creations. It is here that the Ice Bar glasses are created and where ice has become a growing commercial commodity – who would have thought it?
Now for the exciting bit… the rooms of the year-round 365 Icehotel and the obligatory Ice Bar.
365 Icehotel Experience
As the doors of the main 365 Icehotel slid back, they presented to my eagerly awaiting eyes, the hotel’s world of ‘snice’. I felt the tingle of anticipation rise from my toasty warm feet. Donning our Artic capes and gloves that would shrivel Superman into a melted puddle of fear, I waited for the moment of revelation. The coldness immediately hit my face. Yet it was as if I had been invited to run naked into the warm Mediterranean Sea – there was nothing holding me back.
I couldn’t help being mesmerised by a column of ice in the hotel’s entrance that held some river plants in beautiful animation. Art of a different kind; nature in immortalised suspension. I gingerly touched the ice and was instantly drawn to its velvety feel. I’ve been so conditioned to see ice as a substance to freeze your skin, and yet this had the opposite effect. Smooth, silk-like and soft to touch, like a crystal glass yet with an energy and life breathing through its inanimate pores.
The Icehotel’s 20 Rooms/Suites are accessed by reindeer covered sliding doors, that gave me permission to enter into a magical new world. A archway of sparkling ice that had an eery and surreal light to it. Along the corridor, doorways invited me to an artist’s mind, represented by skilful carvings from pure, virginal ice. Different themes that were birthed from their creativity. Some rooms evoked a real wow, whilst others demanded my reflection asking me to stop a while and listen. Whilst the silence was deafening, a couple of rooms greeted me with softly playing music, like a lullaby for the restless child. A bed covered with reindeer rugs invited me to stay underneath its protective shield while the unforgiving ice-cold air threatens to crumble even the bravest resolve.
And yet strangely, as I wandered from room to room like Alice in Wonderland, I found myself glowing in delight. I felt cold, not once. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of excitement coursing through my body. Although could I have stayed the night? Yes I think so. Although of course, I say this with the confidence of knowing that I had the comfort of our warm camper waiting for us up the road.
The intricate detail of the artists’ craft can only to be applauded and to view this living and breathing gallery was a complete privilege. Where else can you see such incredible designs that have such a fragile existence and that cry out to be admired before they succumb to their watery grave?
Check out our gallery of Icehotel rooms by clicking the image below.
The Ice Bar
Of course the obligatory drink to warm my soul was the grand finale. Glasses made of ice were filled with evocative colours, brighter than any rainbow, which made my eyes pop. Carefully, with hands limited by enormous mittens, I scooped up my Wolf Paw cocktail and allowed the unique vessel to touch my lips. With dexterity and mindfulness, this in itself was a skill to master. Although once nailed, resistance to return for a top–up was futile.
The entire room was also constructed with ‘snice’ and embellished with ice carvings and decorations. Protecting our bottoms from the cold were reindeer hides that brought a little colour to the ice-blue hew of the room. And yet, this wonderland landscape was anything other than bland. It was mesmerising. With music vibrating gently around the room, the joy of being dressed ready for the Artic with a drink in hand, was a total privilege and one I will never forget.
One of the most fitting endings to this whole experience was a symbolic committing of our glasses back to the river. Throwing this priceless vessel back into the arms of the Torne that first gave it life, was surprisingly moving. Knowing that this receptacle, born from these waters could return to it, presented the ultimate recycling gesture. What a great finale to our Icehotel experience.
Check out our gallery below.
The Icehotel experience is so much more than just sleeping in an ice room. Getting a flavour of the surrounding area and soaking up the Sami culture is an important part of the adventure. There are the mountains, the river, nature and its wildlife, all taking on completely different characteristics depending on the season. Whether it’s the Northern Lights, the Midnight Sun, ice sculpting lessons, snow sledding with huskies or just visiting the local Sami museum, church and Sami Homestead, there is plenty to keep you entertained. For more information check here.
Check out our gallery below.
Whilst the Icehotel may seem as though it is at the end of the earth, nestled in the heart of the Artic region, it is surprisingly easy to get to.
Driving – it took us just over five days to drive here from Sweden’s High Coast. Although this was a saunter – it can be done more quickly if you are prepared to drive more miles and hours. Equally, if you are in Norway and the Lofoton Island region, then it is around 120 miles (under 200km) from Narvik.
Flying – There are flights into Kiruna from Stockholm which is just 10 miles (15km) from Jukkasjärvi. From mid-December to early March you can fly direct from UK’s Heathrow airport to Kiruna in 3.5hours.
Staying at the Icehotel – prices vary according to the season you want to stay and whether you want to stay in a ‘warm room’ or one of the Ice Suites. As an example, staying in a 365 Hotel room in the summer would be an investment in the region of £215, which includes breakfast, the sauna facilities and a tour. For more information and booking information, check them out here.
Daytime tours – If you are in the area, then you can just visit for the day and do a tour times of which will vary according to the season and are offered in Swedish and English.
Winter Tours; 349SEK
Summer Tours; 295SEK
Camping – If you have your own camper, then why not stay here overnight in the warmth of your own home while still experiencing the uniqueness of the hotel? One of their 10 pitches will cost 350SEK, which includes electric hook up and the use of the sauna and showers at the main hotel reception.
Our Closing Thoughts
Nature’s art breathing with simplicity and mastery
The Icehotel has seamlessly blended a commercial concept with nature – without exploitation. Using what Mother Nature gifts each winter, they have designed a modest and humble venue that honours the environment, art and Laponian culture. A visit here is so much more than just an overnight stay in a hotel. It is an experience, an adventure that allows you to be present with this symbiotic relationship between man and the earth.
And so did disappointment come to visit? Absolutely not. The Icehotel was so much more than I imagined. So simple and earthy yet grand in its interaction with nature. I will never forget my journey to the Icehotel.
For more information check out the Icehotel’s website and Social Media Channels.
We were hosted by the Icehotel for this trip who neither reviewed nor approved this story. Our reviews and opinions are our own.
We would like to give thanks and credit to all the 365 Suite artists, some of whom we may have featured in our photography and video.
Early Spring | Nando Alvarez and Liliya Raindrop prelude | Eryk Marks and Tomasz Czajkowski
The Drift | Friederike Schroth and Fabien Champeval Out of the box | Wilfred Stijger & Edith Van De Wetering
Lost & found | Jens Thoms Ivarsson and Petri ”Bette” Tuominen Téckara | Javier Opazo
The Invisible Invincible | Nina Hedman& Lena Kriström Oh Deer | Ulrika Tallving & Carl Wellander
Mermaid Fitness | Nina Hedman and Magnus Hedman Wishful Thinking | Marjolein Vonk & Maurizio Perron
Kiss | Kestutis and Vytautas Musteikis Living with Angels | Benny Ekman
Melting Pot | Rob Harding and Timsam Harding Hydro Smack | Julia Gamborg Nielsen & Lotta Lampa
The Victorian Apartment | Luca Roncoroni You Are My Type | John Bark & Charli Kasselbäck
Dancers in the Dark | Tjåsa Gusfors & Patrick Dallard Once upon a Time | Luc Voisin & Mathieu Brison
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