Chillin' In Quebec
Who ever thought that solace for the chilly winter soul could come from spending a night sleeping on a bed of ice? Well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't experienced the bone-chilling wonder of a night at Quebec's Ice Hotel.
About a two hour drive Montreal, and about 20 minutes outside of Quebec City, the Ice Hotel is located on the ecotourism resort "Duchesnay", a fir-tree bedecked and slightly hilly area along the edge of Lac-Saint-Joseph, nearest to a town called Sainte-Catherine -de-la-Jacques-Cartier. The Ice Hotel is built anew each year by a staff of 60 and takes about a half month to build. Kept firmly frozen by the deep Canadian freeze all winter, the hotel stays open from January until April.
The Ice Hotel has two very distinct faces, one during the day and one at night. During the day, the edifice looks like an Icelander's dream igloo, a frozen modern castle, sprawling with tunnels and adorned with inviting great wooden doors. During the evening, the hotel is impressively draped in violet and green lights like a modern cathedral - which is thankfully easy to spot from the road for guests arriving late at night, which is when my son and I arrived. The interior at night is positively disco, with lights all around, fires blazing, and dance music blaring for the kids.
The hotel really and truly is made of ice, from the ice-benches in the lobby to the ice-bar, to impressive hanging chandeliers and an amazing Ice Chapel, which is used for weddings and other special ceremonies. A giant indoor ice-slide is a centerpiece to the hotel's main lobby - perfect for the kids, but a note of caution here: once the kids get going on the slide, it will be difficult to get them off! The ice-bar offers an assortment of drinks and alcohol in glasses made of ice. Once you are done with your drink you just toss the ice-glass into an ice-bin for recycling.
Unbelievably, the hotel has 85 rooms that vary in size and relative ornateness, from small relatively small bunks catering to one guest or possibly a couple willing to snuggle really close for the night. Each bed is truly made of ice, however between you and the bed there is one piece of plywood and a thin but critical animal skin cover. The Ice Hotel provides incredibly warm sleeping bags and requires all guests to take an orientation course on how to stay warm at night in a room that is maintained at 22 degrees above zero. My son and I were warm and cozy, though I would highly recommend that kids bring extremely warm clothes for sleeping at night.
Serious artists are in charge of the Ice Hotel building process, and I would highly recommend a trip through the Ice Hotel's website for views on the more ornate "themed" rooms that are available for weddings or other special events: http://www.icehotel-canada.com/
The best part of the hotel by far is one we had not prepared for: the Ice Hotel features outdoor hot-tubs just outside of the ice-rooms. When the weather is 10 below zero, it might not seem the best time to strip down and jump into an outdoor tub, but how satisfying it is to be out under the fir trees, with the steam literally freezing your hair or beard while you are warm as toast in the water! For future travellers, definitely bring a bathing suit and a towel to take advantage of this experience.
Not everything on the resort is made of ice of course, and check-in occurs up a long stairway from the Ice Hotel complex in an indoor, very warm bunker replete with a large burning fireplace for warmng toes and roasting marshmallows. The Ice Hotel restaurant is incredible, with an award-winning Nordic/Canadian menu and offering elegant Quebeqois and globally influenced meals at relatively affordable prices. Try the ice-wine, you will not be sorry.
There are many activities available to do during the day as well, including ice-fishing, tubing, dog-sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating, skiing, and snow-shoeing.
Rooms are not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, starting at $350 per night for the smaller rooms, but worth the experience. Save up and go - and bring the kids!