ICEHOTEL – Swedish Lapland

Who lives in a house like this? More than 50,000 people a year. That’s how many visitors pass through the doors of the Icehotel at Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. And this year guests will be able to stay in the new permanent Icehotel 365, too, an amazing feat of technology that marks the natural evolution of the world’s most extraordinary lodgings.

The Icehotel is the brainchild of Yngve Bergqvist, who was inspired by the Japanese tradition of ice-sculpting to create the first hotel made of ice and snow at Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden. This frozen odyssey began with the construction of a gallery, a 60-square-metre igloo called the ARTic Hall, which opened in 1989. But as interest in the project and the structure itself grew, it was only a matter of time before the first guests were hosted overnight and the Icehotel was born.

ICEHOTEL #27. Photo: Simply Sweden / Chris Graham
ICEHOTEL #27. Photo: Simply Sweden / Chris Graham
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Now the award-winning Icehotel – which today covers an area of 5,500 square metres and features 65 bedrooms, an Icebar and an Ice Church – is an annual happening. Plans and designs are finalised early in the year and, in spring, 2,500 blocks of ice, each weighing two tons, are harvested from the nearby Torne, Sweden’s biggest river, which flows from the mountains into the Bay of Bothnia. By late autumn, when the first snows fall, the ice is removed from its summer store and a team of more than 50 people start building work. Moulds sprayed with snice – a mix of snow and ice that protects the hotel from melting – hold the structure in place until it is set solid, with rooms shaped as catenary arches to be strong and self-supporting.

Next, artists from around the world converge on the new Icehotel to turn their sketches into reality using snow, ice and light. This dynamic gallery changes each year, with winter 2016/17 featuring such mind-bending concepts as a room shaped like a house of cards, another in which the bed appears to float on waves of ice, and one designed as an emotion – a whirl of passionate thoughts.

Doors open to the public by December, welcoming both day visitors keen to have a peep at the unique interiors, and overnight guests, who usually stay just one night in a “cold” room (there are “warm” ones, too). After all, it’s a chilly proposition, even dressed in special warm outer clothing and swaddled in Arctic sleeping bags, with the rooms maintained at a constant temperature of -5C. A reviving cup of hot lingonberry juice brought to the bedside the following morning is a welcome touch.

The new Icehotel 365 is based on the same concept, and has 22 rooms and suites with bathrooms and saunas, an ice bar, sculpture gallery, and event space. But unlike its sister lodgings, it won’t melt back into the waters of the Torne come spring. Run on solar power, harnessed from the Midnight Sun, Icehotel 365 combines sustainable energy with state-of-the-art architecture. The whole structure is covered by a green turf roof, planted with Arctic flowers and varieties of grass, which rests on metal sheets to protect the building’s insulation and keep in the cold air. The arched inner ceiling has built-in chilling tubes, maintaining a temperature of -5C, and the inner walls are covered in snow. Just like the classic winter-only structure, Icehotel 365 is decorated with sculptures made from ice, and offers guests the option of cold and warm rooms.

As easy as 123: How to dress for the Arctic winter
It’s really important to dress correctly for the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic. Here are the three steps to keeping cosy.

First layer
Ditch the cotton undies. You need to take moisture away from the body, with a little help from synthetic materials or wool – woollen socks provide great protection for the feet.

Middle Layer
Opt for fleeces, wool and other insulating materials. Go for one or several thin layers that can fit over each other without restricting your movement.

Outer layer
Wrap up warm in a jacket with hood, snow trousers, hat, gloves and scarf and make sure all materials are wind and waterproof. From mid-February, pack your sunglasses.

And, finally, forget the beauty regime
If you’re venturing out to explore the beauty of the Arctic, don’t wash your face or shave on the morning of your trip. And definitely avoid water-based creams or moisturisers – they will freeze. Your skin’s natural oils are the best moisturiser in these extreme conditions.

 

 

Husky Sledding – Finnmark Mountain Plateau

I set off on an adventure, a husky expedition in northern Norway.

I had spent a few days in Tromso working, and took an early flight out of Tromso heading north-east, to Alta.

ICEHOTEL #27. Photo: Simply Sweden / Chris Graham
ICEHOTEL #27. Photo: Simply Sweden / Chris Graham
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The first night in Alta I stayed at the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, a short drive out of town into the wilderness. The hotel sits on the banks of the Gammelbollo River. The hotel is constructed each year from ice taken upstream, and is 2500sqm. It was minus 21 outside, but -4 in the hotel!

We were picked up in the morning by Roger, who was going to be one of our guides on the husky expedition.

We arrived at the Trasti & Trine kennels and met Trine, who is the owner of Trasti & Trine and would also be with us. Being early January it was cold, and we were left under no illusion that we could expect anything up to -35 over the coming days. We all geared up, and then geared up some more, with more layers than you can imagine.

We were each given a card with five names, and these were the names of our dog teams. After some instruction we headed out to the dog yard to find our dogs, harness them, and put them on the line.

My team were Ailegas, Wilma, Soivuu, Champ and Nallo. I would come to know them well.

We had some more instruction from Trine and Roger, but the sense of anticipation was at boiling point. I have done husky mushing before, bet let us just say it has not always gone to plan. Roger would set of first, and then we would follow. The dogs want to go, and the closer they get to going, the more they want to go. They are barking and howling, at ever increasing decibels, jumping around, pulling on the sled, and I have already seen that the exit from the yard is quite small, leading onto a very narrow and winding path down to the river.

Then Roger is off, next Laura, then me! This first bit is tricky, as you have your foot on the brake, but you have to lean down to the side to pick up your anchor brake, and you know that the moment you do, you are off, a sudden jerk, keep on the sled and in control, through the gates of the yard, onto a winding forest track with trees, corners, bumps and lots of things that look like they can do damage, at what seems a speed far too fast for the course.

Then you hit the river, and a sense of calm comes over me. I liked the river at that moment, no sharp turns or sinister looking low branches, and you can hear the dogs feet tapping on the snow, and they are getting their rhythm. We stop after a short while and Roger checks that everyone is okay. The first thing I do is reposition my hat, gloves, anything exposed, as we are going to be out for quite a few hours, and it is around minus 25.

We are heading up onto the Finnmark mountain plateau, so after following the river in the valley for a while we start to climb. As you climb you can feel the dogs working harder, and you start to kick off the sled to help them up, and on steeper sections you actually get off and walk. One thing you should never do is let go of the sled, never ever let go, no matter what. As you climb, if the dogs don’t think you are working hard enough, they will give you a glance back, a kind of “come on”.

After about two and a half hours we stopped for lunch.

About twenty minutes after lunch we hit the mountain plateau. The next few hours we would be travelling over a series of lakes heading for one of the mountain cabins. The light fell, but we had clear skies, and it was now below minus 30. We hit some heavy fog banks, and you kept losing sight of the sled in front and behind. You would keep looking for the head-lamp in the distance, and every once in a while we would bunch up together and go again.

Standing on the sled over the lakes it got really cold, and you had to jump on the sled, move your arms, anything you could to keep the circulation going.

We arrived at the cabin and the first priority is getting the dogs off the line, fed, and comfortable for the night. They really are tough, and have no problem sleeping outside in cold temperatures. We had to bring everything we needed with us in the sleds. The cabin took a few hours with the stoves on to get above freezing, and for the food to thaw some.

We sat down for a hard earned dinner and Trine and Roger told us stories of their husky exploits. Turns out they are both pretty tough, competing at the highest level. They have run in the Iditarod and Finnmarkslopet, Roger winning the Finnmarkslopet three times and finishing 19 in the Iditarod. To give you some context, the Iditarod is in Alaska and covers approximately 1700km. Turns out in a past life Roger was a police officer, and competed in the Finnmarkslopet once with alsatians!

Read more about our husky sledding holidays here ….

http://simplysweden.co.uk/huskysledding_holidays 

What do the new border controls mean for tourists.

The simple answer is not very much. Life as a tourist, with a holiday from Simply Sweden at least, will continue as normal.

Photo: Janus Langhorn visitsweden.com

Photo: Janus Langhorn visitsweden.com

The main impact on our holidays is that direct trains between the centre of Copenhagen and Malmö, across the Öresund Bridge no longer exist. The connection between these 2 cosmopolitan cities now requires a change of train at Copenhagen Airport and adds approx. 30mins to what was a 40min journey. At Copenhagen Airport you will now have to show your passport to cross into Sweden.

Malmö and Copenhagen have become one region since the opening of the Öresund Bridge in 2000, with thousands of Swedes and Danes commuting across the bridge on a daily basis. The daily lives of these commuters will be disrupted by the new border controls as Sweden and Denmark struggle to take control with the refugee crisis affected many European countries.

The holidays affected by this are:

http://simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/3cities

http://simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/scandinavian-capitals

 

Scandinavian Bucket List

Introducing you to the holiday bucket list in Scandinavia.

You can tick many of the items off your bucket list with a holiday in Scandinavia.

  • See the northern lights
  • Visit the Norwegian Fjords
  • Drive your own husky team
  • Whale watching
  • Stay in an ice hotel
  • Visit the Svalbard Archipelago
  • Experience the midnight sun
  • Stay on a private island in a traditional red timber cabin
  • See a polar bear

So how many can you tick off under the northern lights?

And how many can you do standing under the midnight sun?

  • Whether covered in a blanket of snow, or bathed in sun at midnight the Norwegian fjords understandably on any bucket list. Visit the Malangen Fjord in the summer from £895 per person. http://simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/malangen_selfcatering
  • A potential 5 in 1 holiday. Visit the Arctic tundra and the Svalbard archipelago, plus drive your own team of huskies on wheels from £930 per person. With a little luck you may also see beluga whales and a polar bear. http://simplysweden.co.uk/svalbard
  • If you have ever dreamt of staying on a private island in a traditional red timber cabin this is for you. It’s not quite under the midnight sun but during the long summer days it doesn’t go dark. Escape – Swedish Style! from £1250 per person. http://simplysweden.co.uk/holiday/escape

 

 

 

The Collection

We have launched our ‘collection’ of holidays – http://simplysweden.co.uk/collection

These holidays stand out above the rest as they offer something magical, something unique and offer a genuine luxury-in-experience holiday.

It could be a traditional red timber cabin on a private island, a hands-on back-to-basics husky expedition on the Finnmark Mountain Plateau or a luxury Göta Kanal cruise between Gothenburg and Stockholm.

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands is an archipelago located between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.  They sit approximately halfway between Norway and Iceland, 320 kilometres from Great Britain.  It does not take long to figure out that the weather plays a huge part of life on The Faroe Islands.

The islands are an autonomous country within the Danish Kingdom, but between 1035 and 1814 were part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Faroe Islands have been self-governed since 1948 and have control over most domestic matters, apart from the military, police, justice, currency and foreign affairs, which are still the responsibility of Denmark.

Faroe Islands with Simply Sweden / Darren Hamlinlin
Faroe Islands with Simply Sweden / Darren Hamlinlin
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I was waiting at Copenhagen airport for my flight into Vagar and was doing some research. In the summer months a heavy fog can descend on the islands and make landing impossible. Flights can be diverted into Bergen in Norway or Keflavik in Iceland. This only heightened my sense of adventure.

Now, if you have thought about heading to The Faroe Islands on holiday you may have stumbled across the new tourism videos by the Faroe Islands Tourist board. The videos are amazing and introduced me to Marius Ziska, a Faroese artist.

Visit Faroe Islands winter film from Visit Faroe Islands on Vimeo.

I was a guest of the Faroe Islands and Atlantic Airways, who are promoting their new direct flight from Edinburgh to Vagar. Upon arrival I was told that we were heading off to the Euro 2016 qualifier against Northern Ireland as that is where everybody who is anybody in the Faroes will be! They lost 3 -1, but for a population of just 50 000 they are now punching above their weight. They were also the friendliest football fans I have ever seen.

Our guide was a great and very knowledgeable chap called Jogvan. What he does not know about the Faroe Islands is probably not worth knowing!

The connections to Denmark and somewhat Norway are obvious, but there is also a strong connection with Great Britain. This stems back from WWII. When Germany invaded Denmark and Norway in 1940, Operation Valentine swung into action to pre-empt any German invasion. This was technically an occupation, but a somewhat friendly one. The airport at Vagar was built by the Royal Engineers in 1942-43.

The Faroese supplied Britain with most of its fish during the second world war and many Faroese men lost their lives at sea. Many ships were either bombed, sunk by U-boats or hit by drifting sea mines. A memorial stands for the fallen in Torshavn’s municipal park.

In 1990 the Faroese government organised British Week to celebrate 50 years of the friendly occupation. HMS Brilliant attended along with a Royal Marines band.

English tea is widely sold along with English chocolate. When I saw 99 flakes for sale there was no doubt in my mind that they had taken some of the best of British traits.

A very un-Scandinavian trait the Faroese have is a very relaxed attitude to time, more in common with the Mediterranean than their Scandinavian brothers and sisters. You have to kick back, and get on Faroese time!

The Faroe Islands biggest export by far is fish, and the fish is some of the best in the world. We went to a sushi restaurant called Etika and it’s safe to say it is one of the best meals I have ever had.

The salmon farms located around the Faroe Islands are in some of the cleanest waters anywhere in the world.

My impression before travelling to the Faroes was of big landscapes, and it did not disappoint. Jogvan took us around the islands and we took every opportunity to take in the views.

It was a great trip and I have to thank Atlantic Airways, Visit Faroe Islands, Jogvan and the taxi driver, he was great. Also Alison for putting everything together. If you feel like a holiday to the Faroe Islands, and you should, keep your eye on our website.

The Arctic Circle Night Train in Sweden

There really is something quite attractive about the night train that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps I like the gentle rocking of the train through the night or the soft ping ping ping of the countless level crossings we pass, or perhaps it’s just because there is time for quiet reflection as forests and lakes pass me by. There is a friendly chatty atmosphere, something you just don’t get when flying.

For this journey I am travelling to Björkliden, in Scandinavian Mountains on the Norwegian border around 300km inside the Arctic Circle. The cabins on the train are basic but surprisingly comfortable. Bedding and towels are provided plus there is a plug to charge my essentials. Bathroom facilities and a shower are at the end of each carriage.

As I am travelling alone I booked a shared cabin. My roommate is a hunter from Jokkmokk. He has just spent a few days in Stockholm and is on his way home. He tells me the moose hunting season starts tomorrow and when I bring up the topic of bears I can almost see him salivating as he tells me how delicious bear meat is – something I have yet to try.

Travelling by night train in Sweden is an experience. I am coming towards the end of my journey and I have an entire coupé to myself. I have stretched out and I am enjoying the ride. Between Kiruna and Björkliden, as the train climbs into the mountains, the scenery just gets better and better – even on a grey September morning!

Here are my tips for travelling by night train in Sweden:

  • Stock up with snacks and water before you get on board. Simple meals are available for purchase in the restaurant car.
  • If you buy coffee don’t forget about the free refill – just keep hold of your mug!
  • Depending on the amount of people in your group and the cabin booked, space may be limited so I recommend packing a night bag with what you need for the journey. Pack everything else in your main bag and store it in the racks in the corridor.
  • Be aware the train splits in a few locations during the night and heads off in different directions so don’t make yourself comfortable in another carriage.
  • When booking a night train we recommend a private cabin for a little more space and privacy.

Northern Lights season has started!

The northern lights season has started! A spectacular array of green ribbons danced across the night sky across Scandinavia last night. With 6 months of the northern lights season ahead of us we can expect many more images like this.

darren nlThis photo was taken by our in house photographer Darren Hamlin in Åre, in the Swedish mountains, close to the Norwegian border. Let the fun begin!

 

ICEHOTEL #26

ICEHOTEL #26 revealed!

As many of you are returning from your summer holidays ICEHOTEL is putting the finishing touches to the design for this season.  This season ICEHOTEL is offering aurora alarms, so as you sleep soundly someone is watching and waiting. Should there be magic …. you can be sure you won’t miss out on the northern lights.

ICEHOTEL
ICEHOTEL
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This year will feature 19 ARTsuites including a 4m tall life size elephant, a Russian imperial-inspired theatre set and a 1970’s love capsule are just some of the glistening creations guests will be able to spend the night in. ICEHOTEL old-timers Viktor Tsarski and Wouter Biegelaar are set to create a room appearing to be draped in fabric; and father-son duo Rob and Timsam Harding from Spain will make a Mediterranean interpretation of Arctic life.

London-based Annie Hanauer is originally from Minnesota, so should have no problem adjusting to the Arctic climate. She’s teamed up with Matt Chan from the UK and crafted the idea for their suite from cairns. Used in open space areas to mark a hiking trail, Hanauer and Chan have adopted their symbolic meaning as signs of a destination, good-will and community between strangers. Their suite design takes the shape of a cairn forest, with ice slabs stacked together, floor to ceiling, forming towers and arches in an icy landscape.

Here are some facts and figures …

  • The amount of snow used to create its 55 rooms, church and a bar would suffice to make 700 million snowballs
  • The chandeliers are made from 1 000 hand cut ice crystals.
  • From December to April, the bar serves 26 550 drinks IN the rocks from ice cocktail glasses
  • 11 000 hot cups of sweet lingonberry juice are given as a complimentary morning drink to newly awakened guests before they leave their warm sleeping bags and head for sauna and breakfast.
  • 5 000 tons of natural ice were harvested from the Torne River in March. Apparently, ice farming is no different from wine grapes or olives as each year is a different vintage. Thanks to fortunate weather, the blocks were almost 4 inches thicker than normal and exceptionally solid this year – a particularly good vintage.