Stephen Bailey
Should you book an ice suite for your Arctic holidays?
Should you book an ice suite for your Arctic holidays?
Stephen Bailey

Winter is coming.

Arctic Finland is now a landscape of snow — twinkling, glistening, small droplets melting in the morning sun. The sun doesn’t rise high — it skirts along the horizon for four or five hours — but that only makes things more beautiful. It’s a perpetual sunrise or sunset, depending on which you like best.

This is a great wilderness. What you hear is mostly silence, except for your footsteps echoing as you travel through the forest, and the tinkle of bells which reminds you that reindeers are close.

How cold is it, really?

You see your own breath in the air and snuggle into your clothes, grateful to be warm in such a cold landscape. It may be minus 20°C, minus 30°C, minus 40°C.

Eleven years ago I was in Arctic Finland and it was minus 40°C. Yet my experience there was that I was not cold. One of the reasons I wasn’t cold was that the hotel provided an exceptional snowsuit — way better than anything I could have bought at home — and they gave it to every guest, so everyone was fully suited up as a Finnish Arctic person would be to face minus 40°C degree conditions.

It also didn’t feel that cold because it was so dry. And that was a wonderful feeling, a wonderful part of the landscape. There’s snow everywhere, but because it’s so dry, you can jump in the snow and roll around, and it doesn’t stick to you. It just brushes off like sand when you’re on the beach. Or better than sand on the beach, beause sometimes you really can’t get sand off.

And up there in Arctic Finland there is a wonderful ice hotel — similar to the original ice hotel in Sweden, and just as great — as well as a snow village.

When I stayed there I wanted to spend one night in an ice suite, and I assumed it would be freezing. And of course it was anything but.

Not your typical hotel bedroom

An ice suite is not like any other hotel suite. Firstly, it’s a piece of art. The place where you sleep will melt soon, so next year it will be a different ice suite. And that’s very unique. If you stay in a regular hotel room, how many other people are going to stay in the same hotel room as you? Imagine how many will, over the course of 20 years.

Now imagine a snow suite. They build it, it’s used for three months and then it melts. Not many people experience sleeping in that same place as you do, especially a place with all this artistic ice sculpture. And that’s what really makes these places special. These ice hotels are works of art. During the day, the hotel is open for people to walk around and check out the different ice sculptures. It’s a moving, changing, never-to-be-repeated-again art exhibition.

The second reason it’s different is because if you keep your things at minus 5°C, your bag and all that’s in it is going to freeze. So you can’t do that. You’re sleeping on a bed of ice, you are inside the ice, and it’s just not comfortable to have your bag with you.

Instead, they have warm rooms. Big, comfortable rooms, as you would expect for the sauna — in fact it’s the same area where you go to the sauna.

Going to bed in an ice room

So you go in, you shower, you bath, etc. Then you change into your pyjamas. Next, you are given your big thick sleeping bag. You get inside it and hop out down the snowy corridor to your room and get in the ice bed.

And it is amazing how warm it is. It’s minus 40°C outside, but it’s minus 5°C inside. Think about that. It’s 35°C warmer inside! The way they keep the air and channel it is just incredible. Think about a big cathedral or a mosque and how it’s able to stay cool in the heights of summer. Well, it’s the same in these ice hotels with the snow suites — the design of the ephemeral building traps the warmth inside and enables a consistent temperature of minus 5°C.

So when you’re in the sleeping bag, on the ice bed, it’s perfectly cozy. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cozier night’s sleep in my life.

In the morning they come doing rounds with a warming cup of berry juice, which is lovely. Then you go for breakfast and — that’s it, the ice hotel experience.

Because to spend four nights in an ice bed — it’s not really for me, and I don’t think it’s for most people. What most people do is go up to Arctic Finland, and their itinerary designed by the travel designer includes one night in a snow suite, so they get that bucketlist experience of sleeping on an ice bed. And then for the rest of the nights, they stay somewhere else.

If you are going to Arctic Finland, the places I would really recommend after you’ve had your ice suite experience are the glass igloos.

The glass igloos are great because you have a complete view of the nighttime sky. Which means if the northern lights are out, you will see them without having to leave the warmth and comfort of your suite.

And that’s an Arctic experience you definitely want to have.

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