Nice ice baby

If you love winter breaks but fancy a change from skiing then the Kirkenes Snowhotel might just be the coolest place you will ever stay.  Nestled inside Norway’s Arctic Circle, it is created entirely out of snow and ice, packed up to two metres deep to ensure a steady indoor temperature of -4⁰.

Snowhotel looks like an elongated igloo, its 24 rooms crafted either side of an icy tunnel. If a unique hotel stay ticks your box, then this is the spot to be; it is the most memorable night’s sleep of my life.

Fortunately help is on hand to prepare you for the unusual evening ahead.  Guests enjoy three exquisite courses of locally sourced, regional delicacies in the comfortingly warm, onsite restaurant. I started with beautifully tender reindeer tartar followed by poached arctic char while husband Tim chose king crab soup and reindeer osso buco.  For dessert we shared local cheeses and cloudberry panna cotta with liquorice snow (what else?).

Afterwards our guide Chanet delivered a hotel first – a demonstration of what we should wear to bed.  Chanet stripped down to full-length thermals then, as guests giggled nervously, she donned a bobble hat and woolly socks.  Next she grabbed a hot water bottle and snuggled down inside a gloriously thick sleeping bag before embarking on a series of sit-ups, allegedly to warm the air inside.

Her excitement at our impending fate was palpable.  So were our nerves. Thankfully there’s a bar at the entrance of Snowhotel; it’s an ice bar of course, and ultra cool at that.  You’ll sit amid imposing ice sculptures on reindeer hide-topped ice stools and drink from ice glasses.

We enjoyed a vodka nightcap before heading off to bed.  Snowhotel itself is attached to a ‘proper’ building where you can store belongings, shower, use facilities and change.  Guest rooms are around five metres across and bear unique illuminated wall carvings.  

Not surprisingly there is no furniture apart from a bed frame made from ice blocks and an insulated mattress.  Once you have changed down to your thermals as per Chanet’s instructions, the dash there is a bit chilly.  But her comical advice about the sit-ups-in-the-sleeping-bag – and perhaps the vodka - does work.

Within minutes I was cosy and heading off to dreamland.  When I awoke the next morning I felt refreshed and relaxed.  Before breakfast we took a sauna but stopped short of the local tradition of then leaping naked into the snow outside.

Later you can select an activity such as snowmobiling or husky sledding.  We opted for king crab fishing, our guide Louis helping us heave up nets through ice holes to reveal a catch of a dozen huge king crabs up to half a metre wide.  Shortly afterwards, at an open air hillside kitchen nestled in a snowy forest, Louis showed us how to cook them to perfection.  

For your information, put the legs in a steamer for an optimum 17 minutes, then serve with bread and mayonnaise.  It was the freshest, most succulent shellfish I have ever had.  Quite simple. And simply delicious.  

Every year it takes a team of specialist builders a month to create a new Snowhotel and this season’s opened on 20 December.  Exactly four months later, as Northern Norway’s temperatures head towards zero, it will close again to melt away into a nearby fjord.  For an experience that will not fade, it is a bucket-list essential.

Adam Coghlan
Adam Coghlan is a writer and cook who came to London in 2009 from Manchester, via Paris, to eat.

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