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Cold Comfort

Intrepid travelers pay cold hard cash to chill out in the world's coolest hotel

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To prepare for his first night at Sweden's Icehotel, our writer Rudy Chelminski bundled up in a massive snowsuit and huge double boots. Unlikely as it seems, the hotel's name suggests exactly what it is: a hotel made of ice. Unheated. One hundred and twenty-five miles north of the Arctic Circle. It's got more than 60 rooms and suites, a bar, reception area and chapel made entirely out of ice.

Mark Armstrong, a 28-year-old Englishman with a degree in architecture from Oxford, showed Chelminski around. Armstrong is one of only a handful of experts in the understandably limited field of meltable architecture. Earlier ice palaces, built of rectangular ice blocks and soaring impressively high, were designed to be contemplated from outside. In contrast, the Icehotel is all insides: low-slung, snug and fully enclosed. Everywhere are load-bearing arches with no straight walls in sight. Buried in the walls are cleverly concealed 10-watt halogen lamps, which make the hotel glow with a cool indirect luminescence. More than 20 international artists have decorated rooms with fanciful ice sculptures.

Icehotel is the brainchild of a Swede named Yngve Bergqvist, who built a big igloo as an offbeat venue for an art exhibition. The Icehotel took off from there and now measures some 6,456 square feet and entertains more than 8,000 visitors annually. International recognition came when a vodka maker realized the value of the imagery of a bottle of iced vodka on a bar of ice. Every year, the Icehotel hosts several major fashion shoots. And, every spring, the hotel melts and must be built again.

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