We almost never review the same hotel twice on Hotel Scoop and our contributor Susan slept in this one back in 2017. But when it’s the Hotel de Glace in Quebec—“hotel of ice,” it’s actually a new hotel each year. Plus when I visited recently they were celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Yes, each year this particular ice hotel gets demolished when the spring temperatures come because it’s by a big outdoor activity park and they need their grassy lawn back. Then when winter rolls around, they rebuild a new Hôtel de Glace from the ground up. They pull out the molds and pile on the snow: 50 people working six weeks with some 50,000 tons of snow. Eventually, after everything hardens, the molds get pulled out by strong trucks and the whole structure is standing on its own, thanks to some strong Gothic columns and many blocks of solid ice.
The structures are interesting enough on their own, but what really surprised and delighted me during my stay were all the snow and ice sculptures the artists worked on in the public areas and rooms. Some of these elicit a “How did they do that?!” response, while others just make you smile.
First of all there are the public areas, which are open during the day to tour and open at night for a drink in the ice bar. Bring the ski parka and hat because it’s freezing–literally–and bring the gloves because otherwise you won’t be able to hold your drink: the “glass” is a block of ice with a hole for the liquid. The ice is outside your drink instead of in it. You can sit on a giant throne made of ice for your photo opp.
There’s also a chapel that, this year, has a Greek theme and it’s not really a religious worship place. It’s a dramatic room for a quick tour group meeting or yes, an actual wedding.
There’s another room with an ice slide you can go down after climbing the ice stairs, plus a few other rooms and hallways that have ice sculptures of scuba divers in helmets, baby seals, white owls, a wrecked ship, and much more. One room has an impressive chandelier fashioned out of ice in the shape of a giant jellyfish.
It doesn’t stop there with the creativity though. Each room is a bit different and most are elaborately decorated around a theme. Mine was meant to commemorate the location of the very first Hotel de Glace near the Montmorency waterfall and across from agricultural Orleans Island. Mine had a giant ice waterfall behind the headboard and on the other wall was an apple tree carved out of the snow–complete with real apples encased in balls of clear ice.
You can see some other examples in photos here, but the artists clearly had fun designing and sculpting these themed rooms. There’s a castle room, an Aztec theme, and a First Nations ice teepee room in addition to the ones here, for example. In all cases you’re sleeping on a giant block of ice, which sounds terrible, but there’s a platform separating that from the mattress you’re actually sleeping on. All the furniture is also made of ice though, so you probably won’t be lounging around in your room.
There are a few comparatively utilitarian ones and some for small groups, but most rooms are meant for couples sharing the experience together. Some of the 42 rooms are huge suites with a fireplace, but mostly that’s for show: the temperature stays below freezing all the time and if you set something on the ice end table by the bed that’s a little warm, it’s going to be stuck there the next morning. The suite with its own hot tub would be worth the splurge though, provided you’ve got towels around to dry off with before getting into your Mount Everest-level sleeping bag.
There are also four public hot tubs that everyone can use, then a small sauna where you can mostly dry off and warm up before heading to the room. The idea is to raise your body temperature before you turn in for the night.
“Humidity is your enemy” is just one bit of info guests receive in a mandatory training session that lasts more than a half hour. There are not many lodging places where you need a training session to get schooled on how to stay there, but at Hotel de Glace you soon see why. There’s advice on what to wear, how to get into your sleep sack and sleeping bag, what to do with your clothes, what to do with your phone (it’ll freeze up and shut off if you leave it out), what happens when you need to go to the bathroom.
Yes, that last one is the worst. The bathrooms are heated port-a-potties that are outside the building. So you have to get out of the sleeping bag, get dressed (including coat and hat), put on your snow boots, then go into the even colder air outdoors to the toilet. When I was there it got down to 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so it actually felt better to get back to my room and crawl back into the sleeping bag.
All this makes me sound like an intrepid explorer braving the elements, but in reality there’s a safety valve to all this: Hotel de Glace sits a short walk from Hotel Valcartier and you get a suite there when you book a room at the ice hotel. So you leave most of your belongings in that room and you can return to it in the morning for a steaming hot shower. Or if you wimp out on the whole sub-freezing bedroom thing, you can go to sleep in a regular heated hotel room instead.
There is another bar and a few warm restaurants inside as well. Part of the orientation instructions were to eat a hearty dinner to help keep the body warm, so I had an excellent Venison Bourguignonne with stewed potatoes and carrots along with a red ale at O’Grill. The next morning I loaded up on comfort food at the Safari Restaurant breakfast buffet.
The Hotel de Glace ice palace is about 20 minutes outside Quebec City and an easy drive from the international airport. There’s a whole range of things to do here at Valcartier like ice skating, snow tubing, a game arcade, and even an indoor water park. The main hotel also has a full spa with a range of treatments. It would be worth sticking around longer to play, though probably one night in the icy room is enough.
Rates start at $529 Canadian for the themed suites, which includes a large suite in the main hotel, access to the ice skating trail, a cocktail in the ice bar, and all gratuities. If you stay a second night that’s discounted 20%. See more at the official hotel website or book online at Expedia.