Four offbeat hotels in Scandinavia

From a retreat made of ice in Sweden to a treehouse in Norway. Chris Carter reports

High up in the frozen wilds of northern Sweden, the doors to the 31st Icehotel have just creaked open. Every year since 1989, the Icehotel has been created afresh in the little village of Jukkasjärvi. Outside the mercury falls to as low as –20˚C. But inside the thermometer remains a steady, and relatively balmy, 5˚C thanks to the 563 tons of ice from the river Torne used to build the hotel. 

The Icehotel is also an art gallery. In normal years, chainsaw-wielding artists arrive from around the world every October to work the blocks of ice into fantastic shapes. Last year, there was a ferris wheel and miniature rollercoaster to celebrate three decades of the hotel in ice. This year, because of travel restrictions (see below), the artists are all from Sweden. But the range of designs are as quixotic – not to mention exotic – as ever. A giant lizard skulks in its icy den in one suite, along with other fantastical creatures.

Luca Roncoroni, the Icehotel’s creative director, referred to this year’s creations as “a homage to Sweden”. While lizards are not normally considered native to Scandinavia, visitors virtual and real will find a frozen forest in the Ceremony Hall “Skogen”, and what must be the world’s coldest sauna for anyone brave enough to drop their fleece-lined trousers. This year, all of the “suites” have also been fitted with QR codes, which, when scanned on a smartphone, will tell a little story about each of the art projects. 

Travel is, of course, all but off the agenda for what looks to be a while yet. And Icehotel 31 will only be around until April, at which point it will melt back into the river whence it came. Armchair travellers should visit discover-the-world.com/blog/the-31st-icehotel and the Icehotel’s website at icehotel.com to explore the ice-encrusted caverns and stunning ice sculptures from the comfort of the fireside.  

Happily (to use a word with Nordic origins), there is also a year-round installation called Icehotel 365. Here, the structure is kept under solar-powered refrigeration during the warmer months, so there’s no great rush to enjoy many of the sculptures, the giant lizard and ice sauna included. If this winter so far feels as though it is missing its magic, we may, fingers crossed, have another chance to enjoy it later on thanks to the Icehotel.

The government advises against all but essential travel to Sweden. On the off-chance that the situation improves, Discover the World is offering a flexible three-night break, including return flights from £688 per person, this winter. See discover-the-world.com for details.

An exclusive lodge in Finland

Octola

Octola Private Wilderness is a luxurious lodge set within 750 acres outside Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in northern Finland, says Lisa Grainger in The Times. Its ten bedrooms can only be rented by one group at a time – generally, by “royals, prominent Silicon Valley tech figures, sports heroes and film stars” – but the estate’s “750 acres of snowy wilderness” now also includes a two-bedroom villa, glass-roofed wooden snug for two, outdoor dining cabin, and two wood-burning saunas amid the trees. There are snowmobiles for adults, and even a couple designed for kids. 

From £1,430 per person a night, full board – cooksonadventures.com

A quirky hotel in Sweden

Treehotel

The Treehotel in Harads, northern Sweden, “is up there with the Icehotel as Sweden’s quirkiest accommodation”, says Mark Stratton in Wanderlust. Most eye-catching of the rooms scattered about the forest is the UFO, a five-bed flying saucer suspended by wires. “It has a ladder stretching down to the forest floor and I half expected to see a little green man appear, suggesting ‘he came in peace’.” Another comfortable nook, the Bird’s Nest, “took more finding, camouflaged by sticks, [and] roomy enough for both a family of four and a pterodactyl”.

From around £550 a night – treehotel.se/en

A tranquil nest in Norway

Woodnest

Woodnest is a “stunning” new retreat near the town of Odda in Norway, says James Gabriel Martin for Lonely Planet. Guests get to sleep in a “cosy and tranquil treehouse built in a forest that overlooks the magnificent Hardanger Fjord”. The two treehouses come with a small kitchenette, a stove top, a mini fridge, high-speed Wi-Fi and showers. There is even underfloor heating for cold winter nights. To get to the site, however, requires a 30-minute hike. So, not only is it the perfect hideaway, it has also been kept as environmentally friendly as possible. 

From NOK2,800 (£240) a night – woodnest.no

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