Northern Lights and Alien Sights at the Icehotel
Startling lights emanating from an eerie night sky and aliens watching over you as you sleep. Scene from a Hollywood movie or a night at the Icehotel in Northern Sweden. The frosty Icehotel, dogsledding and snowmobiling adventure was enjoyed at the end of winter season in 2010.
The fear of earth being attacked from outer space has been showcased in Hollywood blockbusters for decades and even at the moment something is brewing in the atmosphere. As the ionised atoms of the sun bombard us, instead of defending our homes, we will be able to sit back and enjoy the most spectacular light show on earth.
The lottery of our sleeping sky could be about to strike lucky as the Sun is slowly beginning to wake from a deep decade-long dream. It is common knowledge that the best area to spot the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) is above the Arctic Circle and this experience will only be enhanced as the solar tsunami that helps create the phenomenon, reaches a peak in the next couple of years.
The tiny airport of Kiruna in Northern Sweden only has one runway but thousands of people touch down on the frost-covered tracks every winter, many with the same goal of witnessing the magical lights. As I awaited my pick-up I had time to cast my eyes upon a wig-wam style igloo planted outside the terminal building, whilst howling dogs sledded into the distance bound for the impressive Icehotel.
After spotting my name on a sign in arrivals, I headed to the Musher’s Lodge in the neighbouring community of Kaupinnen. Before settling down for the night in the company of the professional guides, the owner, Taisto Thorneus, offered me what was to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The sweet sound of the snowmobile was to follow the next day but this didn’t dampen the experience as I gazed in awe at a miniature Icehotel.
We had driven into the forests and lakes nearby with the ever-present surrounding candles lighting up the creation of many hands. A work of art that was intended originally for a rich Russian tycoon, these ice caves were glimmering with layers of alcoves to chill out in. As we clambered back out through the archway it seemed like the doorway to heaven had been opened as now the igloos were gleaming from a light hanging over us. The clouds had dispersed and countless never-ending thick green belts were slowly hovering in the sky. It felt like I had stood up too quickly but this time the lights before my eyes were not the cause of a rush of blood to the head.
After star gazing for a while we returned to our night of comfort indoors, to be woken at the crack of dawn by hundreds of huskies chomping at the bit to dig some trails. The echoes resonating around the kennels reminded me of the baggage-laden dogs heading for the longer-standing Icehotel and as I donned a heavy helmet I could feel a weight of expectation.
The artificial headlights of the snowmobile aided us in our adventure through white sugar coated trees and across shining blocks of ice that contributed to the construction of my bed for the night. Harvesting is not a worldwide appeal at the Icehotel with the passing Torne River feeding the constructors with thousands of tons of ice and snow, necessary to upkeep the success of this global brand.
Born firstly out of an exhibition by a group of Japanese artists in 1989 and secondly, just a year later, by the French artist Jannot Derid, who exhibited his designs in an igloo. Without a hotel in the village, visitors opted for a night in the snow structure in order to make their stay worthwhile.
Twenty years later and not only can you spend the night on a block of ice with a slab of reindeer skin for a mattress, but you can also tie the knot in the chilly church. The annual ice collection, beginning in March, contributes to ice bar designs across the world, with the remaining 1,500 tons creating the Icehotel.
Consistently over these years has been the need for artists to pit their sculpting wits against each other, to stake a claim to their cube of ice. Every year the hotel is rebuilt and redesigned and the ideas of sculptors, painters, designers, architects and set designers from around the world are showcased in the inspiring art suites.
As I left the strokes of the snowmobile behind I hopped aboard a tour of this magnificent structure. A diverse array of art from disturbing dragons to claws clutching at a nest of eggs and the mythical Gotham City captured my imagination as I strolled around the thick light blue corridors. Chilling out in the cool Icebar provided the perfect place for me to contemplate advice from staff about staying alive in a freezer that maintains temperatures between -3 °C and -8 °C.
Still feeling the hairs on my chest from the vodka shot I tucked into my body warming sleeping bag dreaming of a heart warming cup of lingonberry juice. My night was short-lived however, as I awoke disorientated and struggling to distinguish the doorway from the wall I went in search of the soothing fruit drink. Recovery came in the form of a steaming sauna as I contemplated that the night was merely the icing on the cake of an experience that all of Swedish Lapland can offer.
It is no surprise that this hotspot for the Northern Lights lies in the depths of the Auroral zone, where an almost permanent cloud-free sky is a huge contributor to this festival of lights.
Your options for flying to this beautiful winter wonderland deep in Swedish Lapland are fairly limited, with SAS flying via Stockholm Arlanda to Kiruna Airport and the only other carrier operating from Stockholm to Kiruna is currently Hoga Kusten Flyg. Obviously this would mean booking separate international and domestic flights for the latter option. Alternatively, the only airline to offer a direct flight from Heathrow to Kiruna is the tour operator Discover The World who charter a plane for passengers booking their holidays.
Well surprisingly your time to visit the Icehotel is restricted from mid-December to mid-April. Our tip is to go either before early January when you will be able to witness some of the sculptors finishing off their work or if it is the northern lights you are after then generally the best season is considerd to be early autumn or spring. Known as the land of the midnight sun for its long summer days, if you're tempting by the prospect of seeing the area without snow-caked trees, then there are some incredible hiking routes.
Jukkaskjarvi is the village where the Icehotel is based, and offers very little else other than a small Sami museum and the oldest church of Lapland dating back to 1608. Nearby to the church is the charming and historical log building, the Old Homestead Restaurant, offering a great buffet in a cosy setting. And in the winter months the Icehotel offers a number of activities from snowmobiling at sunset to dogsledding across the plains and cross country skiing over the frozen Torne River.