Visit Hôtel de Glace, North America’s only ice hotel

Get frosty this winter with a visit to the Hôtel de Glace in Québec. North America’s first ice hotel opened their 2011 season January 7 with a new theme, larger living space, and new location just ten minutes from downtown Québec City.

The 32,000 square foot hotel is made of 15,000 tons of snow, 500 tons of ice and features 19 foot ceilings. The hotel has 32 rooms. Amenities include a spa and sauna, ice cafe, an exhibition room, an ice chapel for weddings, fireplaces (we’re not sure how they function, but they do), an ice slide, and a restaurant.

The Hôtel de Glace is the creation of CEO and founder Jacques Desbois, who began building igloo-like structures for curious guests in 2001 as part of a lifelong fascination with cold weather and the outdoors. The structures drew a crowd, and each year the project grew.

Eventually, Desbois traveled to Sweden to see the original ICEHOTEL, and, until 2005, the Hôtel de Glace partnered with the ICEHOTEL to gain insight into building structures and best practices. The two parted way, Desbois said, because the needs of a North American and Swedish audience, both from a physical (weather) standpoint and a cultrural/aesthetic one, were inherently different. The Hôtel de Glace does not aim to copy the Swedish original, Desbois says, and even if they wanted to … they couldn’t – the climates are simply too different.

What To Expect
As with Sweden’s ICEHOTEL, the Hôtel de Glace is built around a yearly theme, this year honoring biodiversity.

“Guided by the echo of the new site, this artistic performance will offer the visitors various universe[s] and habitats inspired by the cohabitation of all forms of life, stimulating at the same time a new vision of the notion of biodiversity” said Serge Péloquin, the hotel’s artistic director.

Desbios says that this year’s iteration is one of his favorites, particularly the big bar, a statement room that can hold up to 300 at a time. Decorated with magical sculptures of sea life, including whales and fish, he says that being in the bar is like “stepping into another world.”

To help celebrate the theme, the hotel will offer various artistic performances about the beauty of nature.

Built on the site of the city’s former zoo, this year’s iteration is closer to the city than ever before and is also accessible via public transportation. Whether you’re coming for an afternoon tour or an overnight stay, visitors will enjoy upgraded amenities from years past including a ticket booth and an expanded boutique as well a cafe and light snack area.

*Clarification, January 16: Commenters have correctly pointed out that there is another Ice structure in Alaska, Chena Hot Springs. While the attraction does have many similar features, it is technically an Ice Museum, not an Ice Hotel.

An Overnight Stay

Guests are greeted in a private area for overnight visitors and are invited to use facilities like a spa, sauna and bathroom just for hotel guests. Private room access doesn’t begin until 9 PM, as the rooms are open for public tours during the day.

Many overnight packages (which begin around $230, Canadian) also offer a room at the nearby Sheraton for those who simply find sleeping on ice to be too cold. But you won’t really freeze – arctic-style sleeping bags are available for all guests and temperatures never dip below 5 degrees Celsius.

Beth Blair, a travel writer who stayed at the hotel in 2008, says that her visit was one of her more memorable travel experiences. She had a few tips for first-time travelers: “Wear 100% silk long underwear” and “put hand warmers in your boots so you don’t freeze in the morning.” The silk prevents one from getting cold if they sweat during the night, and your shoes, which rest on ice overnight, will be freezing if you don’t add a warming device.

Her favorite part of the trip? “Waking up in complete silence … it’s like nothing I’d ever experienced before.”

The hotel offers overnight accommodations for up to 88 guests per evening. For a true luxury experience, book one of the four specialty suites, each offering a fire place and access to private saunas and hot tubs. Each room is decorated differently and offers unique and custom artwork and carvings made from ice.

Click here to check out other ice hotels from our friends at ShelterPop

Want to brave the cold overnight? The ambient bedroom temperature will remain between -3°C and -5°C, no matter the outside temperature. While the beds have a solid ice base, each is topped with a wooden boxspring and mattress that prevents one from getting wet. Need to use the facilities? There’s a (heated) bathroom nearby. Many guests also opt to simply tour the hotel and visit the bar … or book special overnight packages, many of which come with additonal lodging at the nearby Sheraton Four Points.

Overnight stays begin at $235 (Canadian Dollars) per person and include a welcome cocktail, tour of the hotel, equipment for the night, access to the hot tubs and sauna, a hot morning beverage and breakfast.

Want to check it out for yourself? We’d suggest visiting on January 20, when the hotel will host a grand opening celebration featuring fireworks, music and more.

If you’re in search of a truly innovative experience, book your reservations between the 7th and 20th, as select guests will get to experience the creation process, the moulds, the sculptors, the manufacturing of the hotel’s famous ice glasses and more of our secrets.

The hotel will only be open until March 27, so secure your reservations soon.

Top 10 country brands in the world, Canada hits #1

Remember when you could make all those “two thirds” jokes about Canada? Based on the currency, there were so many ways we could tweak our northern neighbors. Then, the U.S. dollar plunged. I remember being in Quebec and seeing parity between the two dollars for the first time in October 2007. Well, the momentum has continued, and it’s not just about money. It seems as though Canada’s brand is stronger than ours now.

According to FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index, the United States isn’t looking so good these days. From 2009, we fell down to the #4 spot, from the #1 position. Meanwhile, Canada worked its way from #2 last year to the top of the heap in 2010.

USA Today reports that the United States reached #1 last year because of the “Obama effect,” with the prospect of “hope” and “change” making us look promising. A year later, the prospect doesn’t burn as bright, and it’s reflected in the FutureBrand rankings.

It could have been worse: we could’ve wound up joining Zimbabwe, Iran and Pakistan at the bottom of the heap.

See the full top 10 list below:
1. Canada
2. Australia
3. New Zealand
4. United States
5. Switzerland
6. Japan
7. France
8. Finland
9. United Kingdom
10. Sweden

The brand rankings are based on a survey of 3,400 business and leisure travelers from five continents, not to mention “expert focus groups, on their image associations of various countries in five categories, including tourism appeal, quality of life and value systems,” USA Today reports.

[photo by ankakay via Flickr]

Tour the world’s vandalism

Eyesore or art, graffiti is part of any culture’s public dialogue. Vandalism is visual profanity, and we all swear in our own f—ing ways. I’ve been drawn to these wall scrawls for a while, probably since I read Holden Caulfield‘s concerns about the subject in Catcher in the Rye. My fascination gained momentum while I was stationed in South Korea.

A soldiers’ bar in Tong Du Chon (the Peace Club, which is no longer there) was littered with attempted wit. “I used to believe in the common decency of main,” one drunken soldier-scholar printed at eye level. Another replied, “I still do.” Eight hours into a soju-induced haze, this stuff is profound.

Along the way, I’ve become a connoisseur of this crime, though only as an observer. I have seen social commentary and even debate. And, there’s even been a bit of meaningless paint spilled in the vain hope of making a point. I’ve soaked it all in and hit a few readers up for their tips, as well.

So, let’s take a tour of some of my favorite acts of defacement. Some reflect careful planning and show artistic talent. Others offer nothing more than layers upon layers of cries for attention and assertions of self-importance.In Iceland, I read in the local English language newspaper, the Reykjavik Grapevine, that an outbreak of graffiti was the result of building vacancies triggered by the weakened economy (and this was back in June). This was supported by the observations of the walking tour’s prophetic viking. Hell, the wall says it all.

The Parisians waxed political on the walls of metro stations. I was in town for the hotly contested presidential election of May 2007, and the ultimate winner, Nicolas Sarkozy, took a beating in the vandals’ press. This is nothing compared to the scratched-out eyes on campaign posters, though.

Translation: Sarko = Bush = Berlusconi = Shit. The tagger lumps the president of France with the now former president of the United States and the hotheaded former president of Italy … not to mention a steaming pile. Politics took center stage in Tallinn, Estonia, as well. Thankfully, the vandals worked in English, making it easy for me to take a stab at recreating the crime.

From what I could see, this is something of a public discussion. First, it seems, a disgruntled “activist” wrote “Fuck Fascism!” And, I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree with that. Next, a second person probably popped “anti” in front of fascism, before a third joined the spray-painted conversation by crossing out “fuck.” A fourth crossed out “anti,” and we’re left with fascism. But, the entire discourse supports the original position.

At least, that’s how I’d imagine the entire process unfolding.

The most compelling, however, was in Quebec. I found it fascinating that the retort to an assertion of independence was proffered in English.

Of course, my neighbors are far from innocent. Here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we seem to be waging a war on body image. Custo Barcelona, an upscale fashion retailer, has ads on the corner of W. 71st St. and Columbus Ave. The models, wearing about as much body fat as they are clothing, glare at me every time I walk to Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog, as if holding me in contempt for my substandard diet. Someone (not me, I promise) decided to comment.

Hey, New Yorkers can be brutal, even in my quiet, peace-loving corner of the city. This is but one example of how the poor Custo models, have suffered, though. Check out the photo gallery below to get a sense of how Upper West Siders feel about this bit of eye candy.


And, this is just a taste of what I have collected. Take a look at the next photo gallery to see what our readers have submitted. Fortunately, their collections are a bit more high-minded than mine. The stories with each photos are in the readers’ own words (with some slight editing).



Quebec has some insane deals

I know I just pitched cold-weather destination Montreal to you last week. So, why would I send you even farther north? Well, for skiers, this is a no-brainer. If you could get your third night (hotel) and third day (slopes) free, you’d probably battle the cold happily. This is exactly what’s going on in Quebec right now.

From January 5 to 29 and also February 1 to 12, you can get two-for-one hotel and lift access at Stoneham or Mont-Sainte-Anne. To sweeten the deal, they’ll throw in a guided tour of each mountain, access to the Mont-Sainte-Anne snowshoe trail and a free ski free rental, free skiing lesson or a half-day of cross-country skiing (with equipment). Prices start at $226!

While you’re in this part of the world, dash into the city for the 2009 Carnaval de Quebec. Explore the ice palace, shout during the canoe race and admire the snow sculptures while buried under 17 layers of clothing. Quebec may be cold this time of year, but that’s no reason not to go.

Laurentian resorts try to stay under the radar

Quebec‘s Laurentian ski resorts, north of Montreal, are trying to stay low-key. The 14 ski areas dotted along Highway 15 tend to be family owned and operated – translation: reasonably priced.

Mont Saint-Saveur is part of this region’s offering, taking skiers and snowboarders to 38 runs via eight lifts. Ample lighting makes night skiing much easier (Saveur has the most night runs among the Laurentians). A heated floor on the outdoor terrace, and a giant fireplace to go with it, make Saveur a great après-ski spot, as well.

Mont Avila is reputed to have the best terrain park in the region, which includes an Olympic-sized halfpipe. “Snoprk” reflects the handiwork of park designer Patrick Bernier, which I’m sure matters to somebody. If you really prefer to ski alone, consider Le Mont Gabriel (popular with ski racers), Mont Olympia or Belle Neige. Ski Morin Heights is family-oriented with one run cut specifically for kids.

You need choices? Well, now you got ’em. Montreal is 45 minutes from New York by plain, Quebec is about an hour – a little more from Washington, D.C., a little less from Boston. Grab your skis, and trek up to the Laurentians. Put the commercial stuff behind you.

[Via Toronto Sun]