IS anything more Swedish than jumping into a frozen river after a sauna, while the Northern Lights dance overhead?
I would say not — except possibly driving to Ikea in a Volvo estate with Benny and Bjorn from Abba in the back. I am with my family in Jukkasjarvi, a tiny wilderness settlement in Swedish Lapland, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is -25C and we have all gone a bit native with the sauna thing. We are here to fulfil two big holiday ambitions — to see the Aurora Borealis and chill at the famous Icehotel.
The latter is the most eccentric place I have ever stayed in.
The Sun writer and family arrived with two goals – stay at the Icehotel and see the Northern Lights
It started life in 1989 as an igloo for exhibiting ice sculptures.
Then a visitor asked if he could spend the night, as every B&B in the nearby town of Kiruna was full.
That gave creator Yngve Bergqvist a brainwave — building an arty hotel made of ice every winter.
The idea, ahem, snowballed and 28 years on, it is one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations.
So I took my wife and kids to stay in Icehotel 28 for a combined Christmas and birthday treat.
The Icehotel is one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations
It is an odd concept, for sure — part art gallery, part glamping site and part outdoor activity centre.
The fantastical ice sculptures in the rooms are created by a new group of artists every year, including two sets of Brits this time. They are utterly stunning.
But the mechanics of the building impress the most.
Every November, a snow cannon sprays 30,000 cubic metres of “snice” — a mix of snow and ice — over a hoop-shaped metal frame which is then removed after everything has set.
Meanwhile, some 500 tons of ice are cut from the frozen River Torne nearby to create the sculptures and the fixtures and fittings. And come spring it is all gone.
The building, the artworks and the furniture have melted.
I say all gone. Thanks to Swedish knowhow and solar technology, there is a separate Icehotel 365 that runs all year round, even in the hottish three-month summer.
Ironically, the Icehotel is NOT the coldest place I have stayed in. That honour goes to a B&B in Blackpool in the middle of August.
At the Icehotel you sleep on a bed of ice in thermal sleeping bags on mattresses covered in reindeer skins
Still, you need to be hardy. You literally sleep in a room made of ice on a bed of ice, albeit in heavy-duty thermal sleeping bags on mattresses covered in reindeer skins.
The temperature is maintained at about -5C.
Not everyone lasts the night. While we were there, one couple admitted giving up for the warmth of the changing rooms annex.
And you can feel claustrophobic in the bags, as well as a bit breathless in the chilly air.
The temperature in the rooms is maintained at about -5C
As I lay in my freezing Art Suite, looking at the carved ice hare high above my bed — part of a surreal creation called Follow The Rabbit — I found myself asking: “Why are we doing this?”
Most people spend their first night in an ice room, then go to a warm, cosy wooden chalet.
From that point, the Icehotel is a more traditional outdoor pursuits centre.
It offers cross-country skiing, husky sledding, snowmobile tours to see the Northern Lights and moose safaris on horseback.
You can even have a bash at ice sculpture.
You have to be hardy for a stay at the Icehotel, and not everybody makes it through the night
A lot of activities take place in the dark. In winter the sun never really rises, though you get a window of daylight between 10.30am and 3pm.
We took a two-hour husky sledding trip with a break for hot lingonberry juice (it’s like Ribena) around a campfire.
We also went on a three-hour guided hike up a mountain, with campfire coffee at the summit.
Best of all were the two nights we saw the Northern Lights, the astonishing array of colours in the sky when solar flares hit Earth’s magnetic field.
You can try your hand at crafting an ice sculpture
It is hard to describe just how amazing this is.
Seeing them is not guaranteed and many head back from Jukkasjarvi disappointed. We were relaxing in the sauna’s outdoor hot tub and suddenly, there they were.
The Icehotel’s three-hour sauna experience was another highlight.
There is something utterly exhilarating about the experience, particularly that finale of running out into the bitter cold in only a swimsuit and jumping in the river.
The Icehotel’s three-hour sauna experience is another highlight not to be missed
It isn’t for everyone but I was egged on by a party of passing hotel guests, who were delighted to find their itinerary interrupted by an unscheduled spot of whale watching.
The next night, we headed off on snowmobiles on a 25km trek to see the Northern Lights again and have a wilderness dinner around a fire in a wooden hut.
The journey takes you over the frozen Torne, across a glass-like lake and along twisting tracks through birch and pine forests.
Use the brief window of daylight to take a two-hour husky sledding trip
The hotel’s beautiful sculptures pale into insignificance compared with the magical shapes created when the snow on the trees is lit up by your headlamps.
Then the Northern Lights appear and it’s engines off to watch in silent wonder.
A word of warning. Don’t even think of driving a snowmobile after a drink in the Icebar.
Grab a drink in the Icebar
The Swedes have a zero-tolerance policy. We found that again during dinner in the rustic Homestead restaurant.
My son Nat, wearing an oversized “18 today” badge, had to show his passport to get his first (legal) drink.
Booze in Sweden is horrendously expensive too — three or four times what you pay in the UK.