Nothing like a little nip when there’s a nip in the air. Minus five Celsius to be precise. Socializing in a parka and toque is nothing new to Canadians, but sipping Champagne from an ice glass in an ice palace is a whole different hockey game. Such is the case at Hôtel de Glace, built entirely of ice at the Hôtel Valcartier winter playground 20 minutes north of Quebec City and this year on January 1st, the hotel turned 21.
About 50 artists and sculptors work through December to custom-create a different 40-room Hôtel de Glace each year, open from early January to late March when it melts. During last year’s incarnation, we check in at the usual 4pm and wander through the rooms. It’s like a rich friend has invited us over to their igloo mansion, all artfully carved ice furniture, dramatically lit ice bars, glistening ice sculptures, glowing fireplaces and hide-covered seating.
We fully embrace the Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne (cocktail recipe below) lounging in a cozy nook in the corner. I expect the cast from Frozen to wander in any second and pull up a stump. And while James Bond has his Vesper, a martini mix of vodka and gin, our Champagne and gin cocktail is so much more glamorous. The gin supplies the welcome kick, its botanicals wholeheartedly embracing the bold lemon, with the Champagne both softening and opening up the flavours. The bubbles go right to my head.
After hitting the tubing slopes and skating rink, we grab dinner inside Hôtel Valcartier, then sink into the outdoor hot tubs. By 9:30, we’ve stashed our stuff in lockers and we’re back in the ice lounges socializing with the other overnighters, the novelty of the experience breaking the ice, as it were. The staff has kitted out the rooms with polar-proof sleeping bags, but everyone is putting off going to bed until they’re good and tired. We keep busy by chiselling our own glasses at a DIY ice-sculpting workshop session. Indeed, the best Champagne martini is the one you enjoy in a glass you make yourself. And we need all the courage we can get.
When bedtime comes, the drill is simple. The ice bed is a faux fur-covered mattress set inside a wooden frame. There is an ice night table, too, but we’ve been warned that things have a tendency to melt into it. Some of the fancier rooms have more elaborate wall carvings and fireplaces.
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With all the fresh air and bar fun, and still hot from the hot tub, we doff most of our clothes and slip into nylon cocoons, phones tucked under our arms so they won’t freeze. Yes, sleeping in full ski underwear is pretty Canadian, all right.
Visitors to the complex can tour the hotel and have a drink even if they aren’t staying overnight. Guests enjoy their rooms from 9pm. to 9am. You can book a regular Hôtel Valcartier room in tandem, if you’re afraid you may not last the whole night. valcartier.com/en/activities/ice-hotel/
Signature Hôtel de Glace Cocktail
½ oz gin
1 oz limoncello
1 ½ oz Champagne
1. Add gin and limoncello to a martini glass or ice glass.
2. Top with Champagne.
3. Garnish with a frozen strawberry.