Built every January out of 30,000 tons of snow only to melt when the higher temps return, the Hôtel de Glace is the only ice hotel in North America and a solid rival to its counterparts in Finland, France, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland. With 44 rooms, the hotel welcomes an international crowd, who cuddle up in thermal sleeping bags in –5 C rooms. You have to be game for the fun of it all, but the unique beauty of the surroundings—thanks to the creations of 15 different ice sculptors—makes it all worthwhile.
Street cred: It’s all about location
Once a stand-alone structure in two different rural Quebec locations since it “opened” in 2001, the Ice Hotel is now part of the Valcartier Vacations Village, an all-season family resort park about a half-hour’s drive north of Quebec City.
Who hangs here: Is this hotel for you?
Expect both local and international traffic here, mostly the curious, the courageous and the canoodling. This is a great honeymoon spot, thanks to the super-romantic fairytale atmosphere. While the Valcartier resort is family-oriented, the Ice Hotel is more for the grown-ups. The hotel is open all day for tourists, who can wander throughout the entire hotel, including the rooms, with overnight guests not really “checking in” until after 9 p.m., when the staff has administered turn-down: i.e. rolled out the sleeping bags.
The straight goods: What’s in the room?
Standard rooms contain a wooden-framed ice bed with a mattress and covering, plus an ice side table—that you can’t really use, because whatever you put on it will just melt into it. The sole light is incorporated into the bed frame. Dark velvet curtains cover all doorways, and not that well, so it’s best to bring earplugs, even though it’s far too cold to, you know, do IT. Fancier rooms are larger, with ice sculptures carved into the walls and gas fireplaces that are lit for about 45 minutes pre-bedtime.
Guests just bring themselves to their rooms, leaving everything else in lockers in the Valcartier Hotel. Outer clothing gets stored in the nylon sacks the sleeping bags come in, then you wriggle first into a nylon sheath and then into your mummy-style sleeping bag. Most guests opt for ski underwear—and a toque is a must. Cellphones get tucked alongside your body so as not to freeze, all the better to take those all-important selfies. There are a few portable toilets, but all facilities, including showers, are inside the Valcartier so be prepared for a little late-night scuttling if you can’t hold it in the cold.
Bragging rights: What else has it got?
There are three ice bars furnished with ice tables and adorned with many marvelous ice sculptures and “cozy” seating areas, plus a couple of gas fireplaces to gather round. A gorgeous ice chapel in the outer courtyard is undoubtedly one of the most romantic wedding-ceremony settings in the world. An outdoor spa area offers a hot-tub experience under the stars. Guests can also have the run of all the Valcartier facilities, including a day spa, an outdoor tubing park and a gigantic indoor water park.
Good eats: Cocktails and cuisine
There are nine different eating establishments within the resort area. The food is nothing special, most of it fast-food counters and ski-lodge cafés, with the exception being O’Grill, serving classic Quebec favorites, and Le Chalet Sportif, dishing out elevated pub fare.
A few of our favorite things: What stood out?
The ice bar serves martinis in glasses made of ice that you enjoy at an ice table. Five hundred tons of ice is used to make all the furniture and fixings. Ice-sculpting sessions in the bar let you create your own masterpiece—or at least learn to appreciate how difficult this craft actually is.
Parting shot: If we could change one thing
The concession area is a bit of a cave: An indoor mall with shops and restaurants that needs an overhaul, with dining options that would better suit the varied clientele.
Standard room packages from CA$349 (US$260). Breakfast not included.
Doug stayed as a guest of the hotel. The hotel did not have editorial approval.
(Photos: Hôtel de Glace)