By Janna Graber
The idea sounds crazy -- an entire hotel made from snow and ice that is built from the ground up each winter. Yet as strange as it seems to offer guestrooms with below freezing temperatures, the Hôtel de Glace is one of the most popular attractions in Quebec City.
Now in its 14th year, the Hôtel de Glace, known as the Quebec City Ice Hotel in English, has drawn more than 1 million visitors from around the world.
Open from the beginning of January to the end of March, the Hôtel de Glace is the only one of its kind in North America. The hotel is built with a new theme and design each winter. In December, when the temperatures have been below zero for a week, more than 50 crew from Canada and Europe start working around the clock to make the ice hotel a reality.
More than 30 tons of snow are used to build the hotel, which has 44 guest rooms and suites. The finished walls are more than 1.2 to 2.4 meters thick. Once the snow structure is in place, the artists take over, creating whimsical characters, beautiful designs and artistic ice carvings.
"Even as we use them to demystify the arts of winter, snow and ice provide many creative and original ways to tell these fascinating tales,” says Serge Peloquin, artistic director of the Hôtel de Glace. “This is truly an ever-changing, ephemeral work of art."
The Ice Hotel is the result of one man’s dream. Jacques Desbois, now CEO of Hôtel de Glace, had always been passionate about the ice and snow. Back in 1996, he started an ecotourism company that used interactive igloo villages.
Then he came across an article on the ice hotel in Sweden, and he knew that Quebec City was the perfect location for such a hotel. He went to Sweden to meet the creators, and then spent years in development. Finally, his dream came true when the hotel opened in 2001.
More than 500 tons of ice blocks are added to create the crystal-like walls, furniture and decorative fixtures. Lighting is an important design element, and colors rotate, giving the rooms a magical appearance.
Though the hotel looks beautiful in photos, it is even more impressive in person. My sweetheart and I arrived late at night, and the stark white exterior of the snow hotel was almost shocking in the moonlight.
The first room we entered was the Ice Chapel, where dozens of weddings are held each year. Soft lighting reflected off of the ice walls and fixtures. Rows of seats, lined with furs, lined the chapel.
Though there were others just outside the doorway, Ben and I were the only ones in the chapel. I was struck by how quiet and still everything seemed. The thick walls muffled all sound.
From there, we wandered the halls and rooms, exclaiming over secluded sitting rooms centered around electric fireplaces (for looks only) and romantic corners with lounges covered in furs. There were beautifully carved tables and chairs, sculptures and chandeliers -- all made of ice.
The Ice Bar is a mass of connecting rooms with ice walls, carved walls and snow arches that can hold up to 400 people. We relaxed on our snowy seats, sipping colorful drinks in glasses carved from ice blocks.
Finally, it was time to head to bed. It was an intimidating thought, considering the guest rooms stay at a consistent 28◦ F.
But we needn't have worried. The hotel supplied us with everything we needed to stay warm, including a sleep sack, a warm sleeping bag and instructions on how to properly use it so that no body heat escaped during the night.
We followed their instructions and they were absolutely right. I was so warm in my sleeping bag that I fell right to sleep. Before we knew it, it was 8 a.m. and time to get up. Guest rooms have to be cleared out so day tours of the hotel can begin at 10 a.m.
After packing up, we headed to the hotel restaurant for a buffet breakfast. The room was abuzz with excitement as guests told stories of their Ice Hotel adventures. The hotel, it seemed, was quite a hit. Even with us.
Quebec Winter Carnival
The Hôtel de Glace is especially popular during the Quebec Winter Carnival, a two-week event held each January and February (January 30 to February 15, 2015). Winter Carnival is a celebration of winter fun, a fact that is enjoyed with gusto at outdoor concerts, parties, night parades, snow slides, skating, tubing and more. Winter Carnival is also known for its International Snow Sculpture Competition, which draws sculptors from across Canada and around the world.
Hôtel de Glace
Daily tours are available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for $18 (adults)
Overnight stays from $199 per person
Quebec Winter Carnival
Getting there: Air Canada flies to Quebec City from major cities in North America.
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