Day Two: Spend a night in the Ice Hotel.

A bedroom at the Ice Hotel
On paper it sounds crazy doesn't it? Actually paying good money to sleep in a room that is the same temperature as your freezer. Which is perhaps why lots of visitors to the Hotel de Glace or Ice Hotel near Quebec city are from hotter climes. You would think Quebeckers would be trying to keep warm at this time of year. But now in its 11th year, the Ice Hotel is proving just as popular with the locals as with  international visitors. North America's only ice hotel, which is open between January and March, gets its snow and ice not from the surrounding countryside but from a nearby lake. Special machinery turns it into clear ice and  snow which is sprayed onto molds to form the buildings. The frames are removed once the snow is frozen solid.

The hotel entrance
The reason they don't use natural snow? They build it before the snow comes and also real snow is too fluffy. The hotel is built differently ever year and  is all the idea of CEO Jacques Desbois, who used to build igloos for his kids in their back yard. He moved into offering igloo villages as holiday homes and eventually, after visiting Sweden's Ice Hotel, decided Quebec was ready for its very own Hotel de Glace. He took me on a tour of his hotel when I interviewed him for BBC Radio and as he enthusiastically slapped the walls of ice told me,"I am a winter lover and to sleep in a snow shelter is a great experience - you breathe deeply and you really feel energised in the morning. For me minus five is only a feeling of freshness."
Chandelier of ice
It's hard to imagine how a hotel made of snow will operate. I found it more like a museum or art gallery in the day time. All the bedrooms are open for visitors to view. There are no restaurants or heaters (even the fireplaces are just for show and are insulated so they do not melt the ice) and rooms are very basically furnished with an ice bed, and perhaps a snow chair or table. But the artistry involved in carving the building is worth making the trip for. Magnificent chandeliers, sculptures, wall carvings and icy objects fill the hotel. You can "warm up" with a cocktail made from a glass of ice but you would not want to sit around for too long.

An ice lamp and book on an ice bar.
In the evening the visitors leave and the hotel is open to guests only. Last winter the Hotel de Glace was built in the grounds of the Auberge Duchesnay, a normal hotel with a top-flight restaurant. (see below for new location for 2011) I was so enjoying my dinner in the warm surroundings that I suddenly could not remember why on earth I had wanted to sleep in a room that was -5C. But off I went, down the hill,  with my hotel issue sleeping bag (you have to attend a talk on how to stay warm before they give you this). It was a North Face and good for -30C. Nevertheless the hotel strongly recommends you spend time in the outdoor hot-tubs before going to bed.
The hotel is based on the igloo design

I opted for a cocktail in the bar, below, and gazed at the fireplace. This is a tiny bit depressing as of course it is not producing any heat. The couple in the picture, sitting on the ice benches and animal skins, were from Mexico and looked a little bit as if they were going to cry. I felt better in the communal outdoor hot-tubs near the only warm area of the hotel - the changing rooms (would anyone notice if I spent the night there?) Other guests are also nervous and I chatted to an American chap and a family from France (it was a big hot-tub) as the snow began to fall.
Another chilly bedroom
It was about 1am when I realised I could not put the inevitable off any longer and went to bed. I was in the Greek Temple room - cleverly carved to look like a ruin complete with Greek gods. To be honest I was scared it would be so uncomfortable I would not sleep . Below me was a thin mattress on an ice bed - covered only with some fake fur. The air feels very humid and chilly. I'm not a big fan of sleeping bags but I thought of Jacques Desbois saying I would feel refreshed and closed my eyes. ...
My room. Makes me cold just looking at it.
 The Hotel de Glace is a very popular wedding destination because of its stunning Ice Chapel and  some couples opt to spend their wedding night in a -5C room. They come from all over the world including many countries which never see snow.
The ice chapel
Hotel wedding planner, Elizabeth Boudreau, told me many come under-dressed and have to make last minute visits to the hotel's wedding clothes designer, Corinne Markey. She makes beautiful Russian style cloaks, faux fur hats and Dr Zhivago coats for the men. She is often shocked at the strapless dresses the brides have opted to wear. The previous winter it had been -25C during wedding season. The honeymoon suite has its own private hot-tub and sauna but, believe it or not, once in bed the couples are told to stay in their individual sleeping bags to keep warm.
The honeymoon suite
 In April when things start to warm up in Quebec the hotel is demolished. It's too dangerous to let it just melt.  The snow and ice is returned to the lake. "Giving back to nature what it has given us",  says Jacques. For me a combination of a very busy day, a thermal sleeping bag and yes, a cocktail, meant I actually slept well.  Next morning I did feel refreshed, though struggled a bit to unstick my boots from the snow floor . I dashed up the hill for a hot shower and warm breakfast at the auberge, feeling pretty proud that I had notched up another Canadian experience - and lived to tell the tale. 
Another adventure - spend the night in a rustic cabin.
Read yesterday's winter adventure
See more pictures on the Dear England, Love Canada Facebook page
Stained glass window of ice and snow
Sounds fun but what does it cost? Prices for a one night stay at the Ice Hotel start at $235 (if booked before Nov 30) and include a room at the Four Points by Sheraton Quebec the same night (to leave your luggage, have a shower, breakfast etc) Sleeping bag is provided. Wedding packages start at $2299.

Where is it? This year the Ice Hotel will be in a new location in a park a 10 minute drive from Quebec City. The address is 9300 Rue de la Faune and the date Jan 7 until March 27 2011.

So who do I speak to? 

Where can I hear more? To listen to my BBC radio feature  about couples who get married at the Ice Hotel go here Ice Weddings

Where can I see more?

Cabin, Gatineau Park
Next :  spending the night in a winter cabin without power or plumbing. 

Want some not-too-serious tips on staying warm? Read more

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  1. I'm so glad that you've written about your stay at the Ice Hotel. I've been wondering about the place and appreciate your honest and interesting review. Still not sure if it's the thing for me, though I'd like to be able to say that I've done it. Good for you!

  2. You are making me feel very unCanadian because I haven't done anything on your list! I don't cross country ski, and the ice house is on the other side of Canada. Does building igloos as kids count?

  3. Cathy has just said it - great article. The Ice Hotel in Sweden has always been on my to-do list, but now it seems I have a choice.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about this 'crazy Canadian thing'-great review. I like your rosy cheeks in the bedroom photo- I can't imagine the relief of the hot shower in the morning -it must have felt amazing!

  5. Sparkless
    Building igloos is how the Ice Hotel guy started so that is tres Canadian. Lots of my Canadian friends have never stayed there. Maybe it takes a daft Brit to want to do it.

    Cathy - let me put it this way - it looks beautiful but the pictures cannot convey how it really feels especially alone in a sleeping bag. Maybe some company might have helped. Lots of families stay with kids and I'm sure they have more of a laugh than I did! I must admit I'm pleased to be able to say I did it.

  6. Emma
    Hot shower helped. Full English breakfast (can I say that in Quebec?) also made a difference.

    Funnily enough I met a couple who got married there who got the idea when they visited the Swedish Ice Hotel.

    Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

  7. What an insightful article! Thank you for the grand tour of the hotel. It reminded me of the Minus 5 Bar in Sydney but I was in there for 15 minutes and drank 2 cocktails. Sleeping the night on ice is way beyond my thermostat :)

  8. Corinne
    Now I come to think of it more cocktails would have been a good plan. Didn't know you did cold in Sydney!


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