Morning! I thought I’d better check you hadn’t frozen to death.’ I peep over my sleeping bag, toasty on the inside but speckled with frost on the outside, and smile blearily at the fellow standing at the end of my bed.
My breath pearls in the air as he tots me out a cup of hot lingonberry juice from a Ghostbusters style pack on his back.
We’ve woken up in the new Ice Hotel 365 in Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lapland. The original Ice Hotel, which has been built purely using ice from the frozen Torne river every winter since 1990 before melting away each spring, has long been on many a bucket list.
But the Ice Hotel 365, located just next door, is now the only place you can sleep ‘on ice’ all year round, even at the height of the Scandinavian summer.
Then, it will be roofed with grass and flowers but kept cool inside with solar power harnessed from the endless midnight sun. The entire 20-room building is like a living gallery.
We are in Pillow Bar, one of 11 unique, hand-carved Art Suites. Featuring a cube-headed man collapsed at a bar, another cowering in the corner and one more sprawled on the floor, it’s impressive, if trippy. While the rooms are -5C, we’re given such good sleeping bags we only need to wear a base layer inside for the one night we spend in there. After tonight, we’re in a cabin.
I don’t sleep much, but that’s down to childlike excitement rather than the cold, and the whole thing feels like a brilliant adventure – like very posh, extreme but comfortable camping. I cross my legs and put off making a nip to the (mercifully) heated shared bathroom, but if you bag one of the Deluxe Suites, they come with a private washroom and sauna. The rooms are open to all during the day (we leave our
stuff in a locker during our ‘cold night’ then check it in to our next room) so I pop to marvel at the other suites, decorated with everything from fearsome mermen to cool typography.
While the 365’s ‘year-round’ USP will really kick into gear during summertime, for us it’s time for some wintry activities. I fall in love with cross-country skiing, gliding across the Torne with a tangerine sunrise on my left and the Moon hanging in a soft, navy sky on my right. Eerie howls roll over the ice and I’m relieved to hear it’s huskies and definitely not wolves.
Next up is a private Swedish sauna ritual in a fairy-tale-cute cabin (with just my boyfriend and our very relaxed guide, Staffan.)
We swelter in a sauna before dashing out for a stinging roll in the snow, then it’s back in the heat. I force myself to wait until I’m tonguepantingly scorching before donning borrowed Crocs and a Dickensian flannel hat to climb a snow-encrusted ladder into a hole in the Torne, supposedly a fresh 5C though I swear it was colder. And yes, I put my head under, too.
After my initial, sweary shock, it feels incredible – just not quite as incredible as the wood-fired bath on the cabin porch and fireside snacks that come afterwards.
Feeling proud, we reward ourselves with cocktails in ice-hewn goblets at the 365’s Fuzzy Chisel ice bar (£10 each) before bedding down in one of the warm chalets on the sprawling snow-covered grounds.
The next morning it’s time for some fuzzy chiselling of my own at an ice-sculpting class. It’s great fun and a good chance to chat to our fellow guests, who tend to be slightly older couples and families here to mark special occasions.
With all the fresh air and hearty exercise, my stomach is periodically growling like a polar bear. The cosy and traditional hotel restaurant is luckily something special. I rave about my sweet, tender topside of reindeer (mains £30) for days – despite some Rudoph-related guilt.
Ultimately, there’s one key reason otherwise sane humans take themselves 200km north of the Arctic Circle during the depths of winter – the chance of spotting the Northern Lights.
On the very first night, we head down to the river and look due north, and there they are. Faint but opalescent, dancing pearly white and electric green in the sky. It may be cold up here, but Mother Nature has our backs.
ABISKO SKY STATION
With a perfect location and more nights of clear skies than anywhere else in Europe, the Abisko national park is one of the best and most reliable places to catch the Northern Lights in the world and the package includes one night here. It’s about 90 minutes’ drive from the Ice Hotel 365, near the Norwegian border. Sadly, when we arrive it’s (very unusually) raining but after a four-course dinner we wrap up extremely warm (Arctic snowsuits over ski jackets over thermals) for a dark, half-hour chair lift up to the Abisko Sky Station, where there are fires, hot food and drink, and guides explaining the science and the legend behind the lights. We only get a faint, obscured glimpse of a green glow because the night is just too overcast – but it’s been an experience to remember.