IF you’re looking for a quiet place to chill, look at the end of the Earth.

swedish icehotel walkway in snowSwedish Lapland’s Ice hotel, Is it cold? This is always the first question they will ask you about the Icehotel. Everyone wants to stay here, but everyone wonders how cold it might be. Everyone is missing the point. The Icehotel is not about the temperature. It is about escaping into a pristine wilderness, separated from the northern lights only by a roof of frozen water, surrounded completely by a work of art crafted by sculptors from around the world, and by Mother Nature herself.

And so you venture far, far to the north, flying to Kiruna Airportin Sweden’s Lapland region, 125 miles inside the Arctic Circle. Awaiting car takes you straight to the hotel — or takes your luggage, if you’d rather take a snowmobile up the frozen river. The peace and silence and snow-covered emptiness of the landscape become more apparent the farther away from civilization you travel, as does the startling blue light of the arctic day. You breathe deeply and notice that the air here has a different feeling, different even from in the mountains, some kind of purity that must only be found at the top of the world. You sense an excitement you thought you’d left in your childhood, a thrill you can’t get from tackling steep-and-deep terrain at any ski area. There is little between you and the North Pole here, and standing in this vast expanse of beautiful nothingness, you can almost believe that Santa might live just beyond the horizon.

icehotel dog sled transportationThen you see the hotel itself. From some angles it looks like a big mound of snow. But the grand entrance leads you through a wall of translucent ice blocks to a chamber filled with frozen furniture and sculptures that offer, oddly, a warm welcome. Corridors branch o to the bedrooms, where you find beds carved from ice and laid with reindeer skins. If you are lucky, you stay in one of the dazzling Art Suites, show pieces of ice, light, and imagination that are as unique as snowflakes.

At night, you make your way to the Icebar, beautifully crafted entirely of ice (you had anticipated this). Even the glasses are made of it, a fact you come to appreciate more with each flavored and colored vodka served “in the rocks.” After three refills, your melting glass has had enough and your vodka hits the floor, and the barman makes ablasé toss over his shoulder into a mountain of used glasses that will melt back into the river in the spring, along with the hotel.

A sudden cry of “The northern lights!” interrupts your reverie, and you and the rest of the drinkers hurry outside to gape at the cosmic fireworks display, so bright and wild and other worldly it looks like something from a different universe entirely. Which maybe it is.

icehotel bedroom And so to bed. If you are like most guests, you will spend only one night in the “cold accommodations” — there is a full-service complex with warm condos for the other nights of your stay. But wrapped up in thermal pajamas, in a down sleeping bag, on a bed of ice and reindeer hides … yes, you still notice the cold. But you find that you don’t mind it. After all, that’s not really the point.