I learned a LOT about the cold on a recent trip to Québec City.
Not just because the temperatures plummeted to -27C while I was there (that’s -17 Fahrenheit, for those of us who remember!), but also because I had a chance to talk to experts who deal with the cold all the time – and are huge advocates of it, in fact! Those experts were actually able to convince me that cold can be good for me, if approached the right way. And they would know, since one of them is a guide at Québec’s Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) and the other manages Québec’s Siberia Station Nordic Spa.
In both cases, however, the experts’ advice is to get into your birthday suit – or as close to it as possible, at least. (More on that later.)
Here then, is Part One of two posts describing how embracing the cold can be a good thing, starting with a visit to Québec’s Hôtel de Glace…
Hôtel de Glace: the best sleep of your life? Perhaps!
A night at the Hôtel de Glace in Québec is one of those adventures that many people (55,000 and counting) have on their bucket list. Probably because most of them only plan to do it once as a kind of survival thrill. But, if I believe my guide, Majolaine, who took us on a recent tour of the Hôtel de Glace, a night spent in a giant igloo might just result in the best sleep of my life. Why?
For starters, the silence. Located just 15 minutes outside of the vibrant atmosphere of Québec City’s bars, restaurants and nightlife, the Hôtel de Glace feels worlds away from the energetic city, especially once you enter its packed-snow rooms and passageways. Those 6-foot-thick snow walls insulate you from more than just noise, and once the lights go out, the darkness – like the silence – is complete. Majolaine tells us that even people who have woken up at 5am for decades find themselves sleeping in until their 8am wakeup ‘knock’, so deep is their slumber.
The problem is the humidity, not the cold
The reason for this deep, refreshing sleep appears to be the cold air; that is, provided you are able to avoid any humidity creeping into either your room or your sleeping bag/cocoon. At the Ice Hotel, humidity is your enemy when it comes to staying warm in the cold. Because once that moisture is trapped with you, it cools you off.
To prevent this, the staff at the Hôtel de Glace take specific measures to ensure guests are in a cold, DRY room: at 8pm, an hour before guests check into their room, heavy curtains at the entrance to the rooms and suites are closed, and a candle or two is lit in each room.The candles serve to remove any humidity left by visitors who, just by breathing, exhale moisture into the room during the day. After about an hour, however, the candles have done their work and the room is now dry and ready for its overnight guests.
But you can’t just hop into bed here at the Ice Hotel – specific procedures need to be observed. It’s extremely important that guests crawl into their insulated sleeping bags when they are completely dry themselves, making sure not to step on the snowy floor, in case they bring in snow that can melt inside their cocoon-like bag. Sleeping in too many layers is NOT encouraged, either, since being too hot means sweat, and again, humidity is the enemy here. So, if you like to sleep in your birthday suit, feel free, but if not, a light synthetic layer of clothing is recommended (not cotton, which holds dampness).
Sufficiently moisture-free, go ahead and zip up your toasty sleeping bag, pull the drawstring hood closed around your face, and shut off the light in your now 100% pitch black room (but don’t get any romantic ideas about zipping your sleeping bag together with your partner, because you’ll soon find that cold creeps in at the seams and your ‘couple cocoon’ is not feeling so cozy.) Instead, play by all the Ice Hotel’s rules and recommendations, and with any luck you’ll wake up more refreshed than you’ve felt in ages.
Not ready for a sleepover at Hôtel de Glace?
If you’re like Henk and I, and only flirting with the idea of ‘going all the way’ for an overnight stay at the Hôtel de Glace, there’s still plenty to enjoy as a day visitor. There’s a behind-the-scenes tour that shows you how the hotel is constructed, and regular guided tours that allow visitors to wander through the decorated corridors and elaborately themed suites that are on display throughout the day.
The Hotel’s regular double rooms are simple and spare but the themed suites run the gamut from whimsical to downright sexy with everything from underwater scenes to abstract designs, elaborate carved-ice headboards and even fireplaces (the Bachelor has nothing on these “Fantasy Suites”!)
Admire the dry-to-the-touch ice art
Some of the most spectacular details in the Hôtel de Glace are the art installations within the packed snow walls of the Great Hall and Ice Bar; including crystal-clear ice sculptures, lounges, tables, and even a stalactite/stalagmite chandelier – all made with distilled water that is gently shaken while freezing to prevent bubbles from forming in the blocks.
Even more remarkable than their transparency is the fact that these ice carvings are dry to the touch and don’t melt when you place your hand on them! (although I wouldn’t want to stick my tongue there for too long to test this fact!)
There’s even a giant ice-slide made from these transparent ice blocks that is a must-do for kids of all ages.
Of course, for grownups there’s a bar, too, or rather, 3 bars which serve frigid specialties like ‘Accident de Ski-Doo’ (self-explanatory) and ‘Lave-Glace’ (French for windshield washer fluid), no doubt named for its electric blue colour. Drinks are served in drilled-out giant ice-cube glasses – which surprisingly don’t stick to your lips, either, although cubic glasses can be tricky to drink from without dribbling – and remember, you don’t want to be splashing anything on you in these temperatures!
Ready to commit?
Even though Henk and I were only day-visitors at the Hôtel de Glace, other couples are clearly ready to commit to the cold in a big way, as witnessed by the fact that the hotel has an Ice Chapel and regularly hosts winter weddings here. Weekends book up fast, and especially Valentine’s Day, during which there were 3 weddings scheduled. (Although, given the no-zipping-sleeping-bags-together reco for staying overnight, I’m not sure that’s how I’d want to spend my wedding night – just sayin’.) The idea, however, is a romantic one, and the atmosphere is about as fairy-tale as it gets.
Personally, I was intrigued by everything about the Hôtel de Glace, from its construction, to its ice decor, to the ‘science of cold’ that allows people to sleep comfortably in below zero temperatures. But regardless of whether you’re planning an overnight visit, or just day-tripping to see this icy marvel, the Hôtel de Glace embraces winter like no other hotel possibly can.
TIP: Rooms at the Hôtel de Glace start at $199 per person for regular rooms and go up from there for suites. Guided tours cost $18.25 for adults with special prices for students, seniors and families. For complete details, visit their website.