Hotel of the Week: Alta Igloo Hotel, Norway
It's cold inside, so snuggle up. That's the only way to get a good night's sleep at Norway's Alta Igloo Hotel. But think of the stories you can tell at your next dinner party...
Sunday 19 November 2006
The front door of Norway's Alta Igloo Hotel would be indistinguishable from the rest of its snowy surroundings were it not covered in reindeer fur. Step through the door and the big freeze continues.
A long corridor leads to a bar, chapel, gallery and 28 bedrooms; all are carved from ice. An other-worldly silence shrouds this Narnia-like land, where ghostly ice sculptures of wild animals are encased in or bursting through more ice and watery chandeliers throw diamond shapes against the milky white walls and blue-tinged ceiling. All will melt away when the temperatures begin to rise around April.
A two-hour flight north of Oslo, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The snowy mountains are densely wooded in this part of the world - only experienced sleigh drivers are able to negotiate their huskies around its twists and turns. Further north, the forest gives way to tundra, effectively a snow desert, where winds can cut the temperature to -60C. On clear nights, watch the Northern Lights cut a bright swathe through the sky.
The comfort factor
An abstract concept when you are talking about ice and snow. Is anyone comfortable trussed up in a sleeping bag wearing layers, a hat, and thermal underwear? The mattress, however, is not made from ice. The hotel rooms can sleep up to three people and there are two larger suites. Our room was decorated with an ice harp that played a scale if you twanged the frozen strings (you're not supposed to, by the way), and a table made of ice cut straight from a frozen mountain lake, topped by flickering candles.
Icy toilet seats? Thankfully the architects were clever, not cruel. A large wooden building next to the hotel houses the bathrooms (and restaurant). They're clean and warm and link through to the sauna. A stint there, heat cranked up, is the best precursor to the race outside across icy decking and into the bubbling hot tub. Looking at clouds swirling over snowy mountains beats a marble en-suite any day.
The food and drink
The Lakesestua restaurant, constructed from wood in the shape of a tepee, stands next to the igloo and serves generous breakfasts of porridge, eggs, cheese and ham and dinners of reindeer stew and fish dishes. The real pleasure is the hotel bar. It serves one drink only, bright blue vodka served in ice glasses - like a Jackson Pollock paint splash in the all-white surroundings.
Fellow guests included honeymooners, a family, elderly American women and a couple of sporty Germans. The unifying factor was that we were all wearing a lot of warm clothes and were visiting for the surreal experience.
Guests are advised to spend just one night at the Igloo Hotel. Stay a night either side at the friendly Vica Hotel (00 47 784 34711) to take advantage of the area. Ride husky sleighs through the forest, or drive a Skidoo across the tundra.
Rooms start at 1,775 Norwegian krone (£146) per person, including transfers from Alta town centre, an overnight stay, a two-course dinner, sauna and breakfast.
The Alta Igloo Hotel opens from January to April 2007 (00 47 784 33378).
THE COMPACT GUIDE
HOW TO GET THERE:
Clare Dwyer Hogg travelled as a guest of Scantours (020-7554 3530; scantours .co.uk) and SAS (0870 60 727 727; flysas.com), which offers three-night trips that includes one night at the Alta Igloo Hotel from £860 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers
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