When I was a child, one of my favorite fairy tales was “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. I loved the story for many reasons, but the part of the tale I found most compelling was the palace in which the wintry enchantress lived. It was a spectacular castle made of snow and ice and lit by the aurora borealis. I couldn’t imagine anything more magical…until I learned about the Ice Hotel, or Hôtel de Glace, as it is known in Quebec.
Inspired by an ice hotel in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, the Hôtel de Glace is located just 45 minutes outside of Québec City, on the banks of Lac St. Joseph. Every winter for the past 10 years, as much as 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice have been transformed into an architectural wonder that rivals the ice palace of Anderson’s mythical snow queen. The Hôtel de Glace has 36 private rooms and theme suites in which guests sleep in protective polar sleeping bags on top of fur-covered foam mattresses supported by beds chiseled from ice. Every room is a work of art, decorated with relief sculptures carved into the walls, and sculpted ice furniture. In addition to the rooms and suites, there is an Ice Café, a breathtakingly beautiful ice chapel (where over 200 couples will have been married by the end of this season), and a spectacular lobby with a sculpted ice candelabra lit by fiber optics of changing colors. The hotel also has an ice slide, art gallery, and a renowned reception room known as the Ice Bar, which serves guests cocktails in glasses made of ice. In between drinks, guests dance on the snow-covered floor while an auroral play of light illuminates the crystalline interior and sculpted ice furniture.
In addition to all its icy amenities, the hotel has heated bathrooms, showers, and lockers, as well as hot tubs and saunas in a private courtyard. The hotel is located next to the Duchesnay Resort, which offers dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice-skating, and a full-service spa, Tyst Trädgård. The resort also features a lodge, cabins and a regular hotel (Auberge Duchesnay), as well as a highly rated gourmet restaurant. This year the Hôtel de Glace is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and they are offering a special “Polar Getaway Package.” This two-night getaway includes welcome cocktails, as well as dinners and breakfasts at the Auberge Duchesnay for both days. The package includes one night’s accommodation in an Hôtel de Glace theme suite (complete with arctic sleeping gear), and access to hot tubs and sauna. A private room at the Auberge Duchesnay is included for the same night as the Hôtel de Glace (in the event that guests want to warm up a bit), and for a second night of the package. The Polar Getaway also includes a choice of two activities offered at the resort, such as tandem massage at the Tyst Trädgård Spa, and dog sledding at Adventure Inukshuk.
During its construction as well as its operation, the Hôtel de Glace is committed to preserving the environment and reducing its carbon footprint. They recycle at the hotel and sell recycled items in their gift shop. And, during the last two years, they have reduced their consumption of energy by roughly 13 percent. But perhaps the greenest thing about the hotel is its building material: ice. They use nothing but pure water from the Saint Joseph River to make an especially stable kind of snow called “snice.” And at the end of the season, when the hotel melts, the purified water is returned to the river. In this way, the Hôtel de Glace is not just easy on the environment; it is also an exquisite exercise in the Buddhist practice of non-attachment. For five weeks, engineers, builders, and sculptors work nearly round the clock to construct a breathtaking work of art. Everyone involved knows the hotel won’t last for very long, but they build it anyway. Upon completion, for three months in the winter, the hotel sits on the frozen riverbank, like a mirage from a fairy tale. But then, as often happens in fairy tales, when its time comes, the enchanted place disappears, in this case, turning back into the river from which it came. So visit the amazing Hôtel de Glace it while it sparkles like the Snow Queen’s castle in the icy winter light.
Open January 4, 2010 to April 4, 2010.