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In the next few months, the ice-cravers, craftsmen, architects and designers will be getting ready for the next winter season and creating their (temporary) architectural masterpieces in the form of ice hotels. More like living sculptures than buildings, these massive engineering feats rise majestically during the midst of the northern hemisphere winter and then gracefully melt away in the spring.

It may seem like a bizarre concept to travel to some of the world's coldest regions and then choose to sleep in a room carved from ice, where the nightly temperature would be the equivalent of a frozen daiquiri (between 25 and 16 degrees Fahrenheit), but so many people have stayed at ice-hotels, that demand is always high and each season sees a growing number of visitors to the various ice-hotels now located along or near the arctic circle. Some guests say it is the best night's sleep they have ever had, while others appreciate the ambience, romance and altogether uniqueness of an ice hotel experience

The first and original ice-hotel is located in the village of Jukkasjarvi, 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in the heart of Swedish Lapland. The region is inhabited by the indigenous Sami or Lapp people, some still following a semi-nomadic lifestyle of fishing and herding reindeer. Simply named the Ice Hotel (tel. + 46/980-66800; www.icehotel.com), it was first conceived in 1990 and began operating as a hotel in 1991. From humble beginnings with a single room, the hotel is now almost 54,000 square feet and made from 30,000 tons of snow and 4,000 tons of ice. Over 14000 guests stay here each season and more than double that number visit. Each year in November the intricate construction period begins, with the hotel opening in mid-December and remaining open usually until late April or mid-May depending of the season's climatic conditions.

Warm outer clothing is included in the accommodation price including snowmobile overalls, shoes, hats and gloves. Thermal sleeping bags are provided and guests sleep on reindeer skins atop of special beds built of snow and ice, A cup of hot lingonberry juice at your bedside, a buffet breakfast and morning sauna are also included. Prices vary from $370 to $382 per night (for one or two persons in a double room). If you don't want to stay in the Ice Hotel but would still like to visit, tours can be arranged for $17 per person. No trip to the Ice Hotel is complete without a visit to their famous Absolut Icebar for a twist on vodka on the rocks.

Jukkasjarvi is only eight miles from the nearest airport in the town of Kiruna. A direct flight from Stockholm Arlanda to Kiruna airport takes approximately one hour and 30 minutes and SAS (www.scandinavian.net) has flights daily. You can also get there by train (16 hours) from Stockholm, taking in some stunning views and landscapes on your way. You can purchase tickets online but at this stage the website is only available in Swedish so you will need to e-mail taginfo@tag.connex.se. For $15 you can book a transfer by snowmobile to the hotel from either the train station or the airport.

A sister-hotel to the original in Sweden, Canada's very own ice-hotel, the Ice Hotel Quebec (tel. 877-505-0423; www.icehotel-canada.com) is located just outside Quebec City, in the town of Sainte Catherine De La Jacques Cartier and is open annually from mid-winter to mid-spring. In 2006, it will be open from January to April. Each year the architecture of the Ice Hotel changes so that it can incorporate unique designs. The hotel features individually designed bedrooms - 19 standard rooms and 13 suites, as well as a nightclub -- the N'Ice Club, another Absolut Icebar and the Ice Chapel, a fairytale-like setting for weddings.

A one-night package at the hotel is priced from $500 midweek and $580 on weekends. It includes accommodation at the Ice Hotel in, Absolut Vodka cocktails, a four-course evening meal served at the Auberge Duchesnay's Bistro Le Quatre Temps (including tips), full buffet breakfast, a private room at the Station touristique Duchesnay, with full bathroom and luggage storage facilities (on the same night as the night at the Ice Hotel), hot beverage served in the morning, Mummy-style insulated sleeping bags with polartech sheets and pillows. Suites that accommodate four adults or two adults with three children start at $994 per night midweek or $1161 on weekends. Packages that include extra nights and activities like dogsledding, hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or skating are also available at additional cost.

The first ice hotel on Canada's West Coast, the Ice Palace Hotel (tel. 877/980-0600; www.icepalacehotel.com) will open in December 2005 at Sun Peaks Resort, British Columbia. The hotel will feature large function areas, themed hotel rooms for overnight guests and a wedding chapel and will operate between December and April each year. The architectural theme of the hotel for its inaugural year is a snowflake and each year will promise new designs. Rates will start at $418 per night for midweek and $502 on weekends for one or two people in an igloo room. Luxury themed suites will start from $564 midweek and $677 on weekends. Igloos and suites will include Ice Palace Hotel admission, chocolate fondue and continental breakfast.

Aurora Ice Hotel at Chena Hot Springs Resort (tel. 800/478-4681; www.chenahotsprings.com) has been operational since 2003. Located about a 90-minute drive from Fairbanks, Alaska, as of publishing date, details of the 2005-2006 season are not yet available. This ice hotel is a smaller scale, with only six rooms but it does have the added bonus of hot springs on site and pristine wilderness surrounds. Visit the resort's website in the fall for further information and pricing as the website currently only lists information about the Aurora Ice Museum and the Stoli Ice bar.

The Alta Igloo Hotel (tel. +47/784-33378; www.alta-friluftspark.no) in the Finnmark region is Norway's largest and the world's northern-most ice hotel. Apart from its 50 beds, the Alta Igloo Hotel houses suites, an ice gallery, an ice bar, an ice chapel and several lounges. A night at the Alta Igloo will see you bedding down on natural reindeer-hide mattresses and sleeping bags that keep you warm no matter how cold it gets. The Igloo Hotel's 2006 winter season begins on January 13, 2006. Unfortunately the hotel's main website is almost exclusively in Norwegian except for a very condensed information section. You can get a few more details by clicking here; you can get prices and further information via e-mail at safari@alta-friluftspark.no.

Lumilinna Ice Castle (tel. + 358/16 259 502; www.snowcastle.net) is literally a castle carved out of ice in Kemi, on the Northern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia in Finnish Lapland. Part of the castle is the Mammut Snow Hotel, which will start its next season on December 31 2005 and stay open until April 2, 2006. The hotel features 29 double rooms, two group rooms and a suite. For pricing information e-mail info@snowcastle.net. Kemi, Lapland can be reached by flights from Helsinki (www.finnair.com) in approximately one hour. You can also reach Kemi by train in around eight hours. For more train information visit VR-Finnish Railway's website (www.vr.fi) or the Lapland tourism information site at www.laplandfinland.com.

For a complete list of ice-themed hotels including some smaller igloo-style properties plus links to individual hotels' websites visit www.travel-lists.co.uk/lk2ig.htm or for bookings visit www.unusualhotelsoftheworld.com.

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