Quebec City, Canada is known for many things. Visitors from all over the world flock to the predominantly French-speaking city for its unique architecture and the numerous festivals it holds throughout the year. I decided that this year instead of heading south for the winter I’d head north to explore how Canadians and world travelers celebrate the winter season here in all its snowy glory. My destination was Hôtel de Glace about 20 minutes away from downtown.
Hôtel de Glace is no ordinary hotel. For nearly two months, more than 50 artists, engineers, and others collaborated with each other to construct 500 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snow into an extraordinary icy getaway.
The first version of this ice hotel was built in 2001 at Quebec’s famed Montmorency Falls. After numerous reinstatements, Glace’s creators found a home at Valcartier Vacations Village where it became the resort’s main feature. Although I felt the giddiness of anticipation, I couldn’t help but take a glacial walk around the hotel scanning all the artwork and sculptures in their frozen beauty before setting up my room.
When I first entered the lobby, the ice sculptures were among the first items in the room that seized my attention. The thorough designs and shapes intricately chiseled into ice blocks twisted and turned into detailed sculptures rivaling art often displayed in opulent mansion vestibules. Further into the foyer, the shrill of children playing on a giant ice slide reverberated in a capacious room complete with bright lights and Christmas decorations. I couldn’t help but take a jump down the frozen chute myself.
After my brief recreation and marveling at the plethora of ice sculptures, I walked into the next room to visit a bar built entirely of ice. This was the best chilly reception I ever received. There was a full bar. And drinks were served not on ice but in ice. What would typically be glassware to hold a cocktail was instead a sizeable cored-out ice cube. I’m glad I brought my gloves to sip the complimentary signature cinnamon spice “welcome drink” made for me by a friendly bartender. Staff members also lead games and activities such as ice carving and scavenger hunts for visitors to participate in.
Each room inside the hotel had its own theme and visitors were allowed to walk around and view decorations until check-in time at 8 pm. The artwork was not only ornate but picturesque. A local guide explained to me that the hotel is a favorite venue for wedding ceremonies that take place in an adjacent ice chapel. Throughout the individual rooms, there are scenes from popular children’s books as well as cultural themes. The rooms have more than adequate space to put luggage down and spread out. My room had a general theme (one of the cheaper options) with an ambient blue light that dimly glowed inside of the “mattress” platform. But I wasn’t ready for bed just yet.
As part of the “Village” accommodations, hotel visitors are allowed to lock-up their valuables, take warm showers, hydrate, and brew hot beverages inside. For an additional cost, the resort has other bars, video game rooms, a multi-activity adventure river, a double surf wave pool, a conventional-style hotel, and restaurants where I personally enjoyed a decent French Onion soup.
After dinner, I walked by a cluster of jacuzzis that beckoned me to relax from a full day of driving through blizzard-like conditions to reach the hotel. Visitors here are encouraged to melt away their stresses through a therapeutic soak and steam in a nearby sauna. After about two and a half hours of this and a full tummy, I was sufficiently relaxed and ready for bed.
Sleeping on a bed of ice sculpted inside of a room created out of snow and ice takes a little getting used to. The right technique to achieving the best night’s sleep requires a bit of a learning curve that’s not easily neglected. As part of the stay, an instructor teaches visitors how to sleep in a single-person well-cushioned “arctic sleeping bag” provided by the hotel. The warm and cozy sleeping bag hugs the body like a cocoon. It’s quite sufficient at making the room’s general temperature ranging between 27 to 41 degrees fahrenheit (-3°C and 5°C) feel a lot warmer. In fact, visitors are encouraged to sleep in the nude while zipped in for the night. Despite the sleeping bag’s snugness, I never felt claustrophobic. With all the ambient lights turned off and thick icy walls to block out any disruptive noise, I slept like a baby for nearly eight straight hours.
The next morning started early. Check-out time was at 9 am and late check-outs were not allowed. However, after relaxing all night, I never felt rushed. It was just the right amount of rest that I needed to conclude my unique Nordic experience.
Hôtel de Glace happens to be the only ice hotel in North America. So, accommodations get booked quickly. Eight different room packages feature customizable premium options from fireplaces to hot tubs (yes, inside the room). Despite myriad areas to stay toasty inside the Village or luxuriate in the outdoor hot bubbling spas, this is a hotel where Batman’s arch nemesis Mr. Freeze would feel right at home.