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Winter 2006-2007 is fast approaching and the ice hotels of the Northern Hemisphere are gearing up for another freezing season. Sleeping in arctic conditions may not be everyone's cup of (iced) tea, but the novelty factor, ambience and exclusivity of the locations generate a great deal of interest. The popularity of the frozen pleasure domes, complete with beds formed out of blocks of ice sheathed in animal skins and crystal clear ice-sculpted d├ęcor, has led to high occupancy rates and the opening of a few more properties, but there have also been a few "melt downs" since I last reported on ice hotels with a few hotels no longer operating.

The Ice Hotel at Balea Lake, the largest glacier lake in Romania is one such addition and definitely the cheapest of all ice hotels open to the public. It launched in February, 2006 and is a boutique hotel to the extreme with only eight rooms. The hotel is accessible by a cable car that runs from a highway linking the cities of Brasov and Sibiu to the Balea Lake resort. According to Hotel Chatter (www.hotelchatter.com), a single room runs at about $25 a night and a double room is around $49. The hotel will remain open four months a year and the temperature in the rooms hovers at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Rooms feature double beds covered with animal fur but no details are given about bathroom facilities (let's hope they are heated as they are at other ice hotel locations). Despite some media attention and web reviews, it appear that the owners of the Ice Hotel at Balea Lake thought of everything except a dedicated website and listed phone number to promote their establishment. You can however book online through Romanian based Meridian Travel (www.balea.lac.en.meridian-travel.ro) and I would recommend contacting the Romanian Tourism Board (tel. 212/545-8484 #4; www.romaniatourism.com) for further information.

Igloo Dorf (tel. + 41/41-612-2728; www.iglu-dorf.com) is another variation on the ice hotel theme with smaller scale igloo villages built each winter in five different locations in the Swiss and German Alps: Zermatt, Engelberg, Gstaad, Scuol and Zugspitze. Each igloo features beds that are layered with sheepskins and very warm expedition sleeping bags. Each Igloo Village offers saunas or whirlpools and an Igloo Bar serving meals, including genuine Gruyere cheese-fondue. They are all located within ski resorts, giving guests off-piste access to the slopes. The winter season this year is from December 24, 2006 until mid-April 2007. Rates per person per night in a Standard Igloo start at $119 for midweek stays, or $135 on weekends. There are reduced rates for children and youth up to 20 years of age. Stays on December 24, 25 or 31, 2006 are priced at $175 per person. The rates for the Romantic Igloo start from $191 weekdays, $207 weekends and $249 during the holiday period. A larger Romantic Igloo Suite is priced at $376 per person weekdays, $408 weekends and $504 during the holiday period. The Zermatt village boasts four multi-bed igloos for six persons, four romantic suites, one whirlpool, an igloo bar and a breathtaking view of the Matterhorn Mountain. In Gstaad, igloos feature art works carved by Inuit artists and are surrounded by more scenic views of the Swiss Alps. At Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, enjoy views of four European countries and choose from 50 igloo beds, four romantic igloos, two whirlpools and an igloo bar. An added benefit of these locations is that you are only a short snowmobile ride away from the heated luxury of the bars and nightclubs of ski resorts in case you want to come in from the cold.

Now in its 17th year of operation, the original ice hotel, appropriately named the Ice Hotel (tel. + 46/980-66800; www.icehotel.com) is celebrating another approaching cold season. The village of Jukkasjarvi in Swedish Lapland has enjoyed a mini economic boom due to the influx of visitors to the Ice Hotel. The region is still inhabited by indigenous Sami or Lapp people, some of whom still follow a semi-nomadic lifestyle of fishing and herding reindeer. This year the hotel will open on December 8, 2006 and remain open until April 30, 2007 (unless of course the spring arrives early and it starts to melt).

Prices for the season are as follows: N'Ice Price Period (December 8 to 17, 2006, January 8 to 21 and April 9 to 30, 2007)

  • Weekdays $153 per person based on double occupancy
  • Weekends $191 per person based on double occupancy

Normal Price Period (December 18, 2006 to January 7, 2007 and January 22 to April 8, 2007)

  • Weekdays $198 per person based on double occupancy
  • Weekends $218 per person based on double occupancy

Suites start from $208 per person (N'Ice Price) or $266 midweek during regular season

Warm outer clothing (overalls, shoes, hats and gloves) is included in the accommodation price, as are thermal sleeping bags, hot lingonberry juice at your bedside, a buffet breakfast and morning sauna. For something stronger than hot lingonberry and the most authentic vodka rocks you'll ever have, stop in for something icy cold at the hotel's famous Absolut Icebar. As is the case in most ice hotels, even the glassware you drink from is made from ice. Getting to the hotel is not as complicated as you might expect considering it is 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Jukkasjarvi is eight miles from the airport in Kiruna and a direct flight from Stockholm to Kiruna airport takes approximately 90 minutes. SAS (www.scandinavian.net) has flights daily. You can also get there by train (16 hours) from Stockholm and the hotel charges $15 for a transfer by snowmobile from either the train station or the airport.

A little closer to home, but nevertheless just as frosty, is Canada's Hotel La Glace or Ice Hotel Quebec (tel. 877-505-0423; www.icehotel-canada.com). Located just outside Quebec City in the town of Sainte Catherine De La Jacques Cartier, this season the hotel will open from January 5 to April 1, 2007. The hotel features 19 standard rooms and 13 suites (each one individually designed), two art galleries, a movie theatre, the N'Ice Club nightclub, the Ice Lounge, a romantic Ice Chapel and outdoor hot tubs. Beds here are made of ice but lined with deer furs and covered with mattresses and arctic sleeping bags. Only the bathrooms are heated, in a separate insulated structure.

A one-night package at the hotel is priced from $536 per room Sunday to Thursday, or $625 for a Friday stay and $670 on a Saturday. The package includes one-night's accommodation in a queen room, a welcome cocktail, a $10 gift certificate per person (for the Auberge Duchesnay restaurant), access to the Nordic-style relaxation space with hot tubs and sauna, a private room at the Station touristique Duchesnay on the same night as your stay at the Ice Hotel, a hot beverage in the morning, a full buffet breakfast served at the Auberge Duchesnay restaurant and complete equipment for the night (an arctic sleeping bag, blanket and pillow). A theme suite decorated with intricate ice carvings is priced from $626 mid-week, $715 on a Friday and $760 on a Saturday; the fireplace suite starts from $715 per room per night. There are also larger family suites available that can house two adults and up to three children.

The Hotel Igloo Village (tel. + 299/841-180; www.greenland-guide.gl) in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland is about as remote as it gets and is the most northern of all ice hotels. The village has five two-person igloos with an indoor temperature of a frosty 14 degrees -- but they do provide very warm sleeping bags. The village is open from December to April each year and rates range from $65 to $105 per person per night including breakfast. You cannot book online so if you are interested, you either have to call Greenland or email kangbook@glv.gl to make a reservation.

Norway's Alta Igloo Hotel (tel. + 47/784-33378; www.alta-friluftspark.no) opens its eighth season on January 12, 2007. Located in the Finnmark region of Norway, the Igloo is approximately 22,000 square feet of snow and ice, with all rooms, furniture and beds made totally of ice. The hotel features 30 rooms, two bars and lounge area and is decorated with ice sculptures. The temperature inside ranges between 19 and 25 degrees Fahrenheit and guests sleep in thermal sleeping bags atop reindeer hides. Next to the ice hotel, there is a service center with a restaurant, bathrooms, facilities to store your luggage, showers/sauna and outdoor hot tubs. An overnight package that includes one-night's stay, round-trip transfers to the city of Alta, a two-course dinner, breakfast and a morning sauna is priced at $303 per person based on double occupancy (or $152 for children under 12). The hotel also offers day trips, day or evening snowmobile safaris, astronomy tours and wildlife viewing. For further information email safari@alta-friluftspark.no

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