Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden by Ake Larsson

Photographs courtesy Matthew Sabo.

Two hundred kilometers (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden sits the Icehotel. More accurately, for about half the year the Icehotel sits there, near the River Torne and the village of Jukkasjärvi. For the Icehotel is literally made of ice created from the meter thick layer that covers the river. Each spring the hotel melts and returns from whence it came. The hotel operators like to say "the entire Icehotel is on loan from the mighty Torne River."

What started as a one room hotel to serve visitors making the trek to the inaugural Art-ic exhibition in 1989 - an exhibition planned to lure tourists to the area in the months when they usually stayed away - the Icehotel now has nearly 50 rooms, as well as a bar, cinema, and chapel (click for plan). If sleeping in a hotel whose walls, columns, roof, and even furniture are entirely made of ice weren't enough, over forty artists and designers contribute designs to the suites and outdoor spaces.

Like snowflakes and the hotel itself (whose design is attributed to Ake Larsson), the chapel is never the same twice. This year's design round dome with apses. Five "ice pillars" carry the dome's load and allow light to enter into the large igloo-like space. According to the designers, the theme is one of "creation through vegetation in the Weave of Life, the Tree of Life and Omfalos; the the center of the world and its navel." The chapel has been used for weddings in the past, making for a truly unique ceremony...and honeymoon.

Construction on the hotel starts as soon as the thermometer hits zero. After that time snow is piled on vaulted steel and metal forms to create the igloo-shaped roofs. Snow cannons spray tons of snow on top, and, once hardened, the forms are removed and the ice columns are inserted to reinforce the structure. Lastly, ice is taken from atop the river for the artists' contributions, the details that make the experience even more memorable.