Once you have made the choice to travel all the way to Northern Norway, you may as well go the whole distance: put on your woollen underwear and hat, creep into your sleeping bag and sleep like an angel in a room made entirely of snow. Sorrisniva is the location for the unique Igloo Hotel. Away from the Northern Lights town of Alta, it offers you a front row seat to view the fabulous Northern Lights.

Ice architecture

Just after Christmas is when work starts on cutting the 250 tons of ice, using chainsaws and special equipment, from the frozen Sieravannet lake, about a mile from Sorrisniva. The ice is transported in big blocks to Sorrisniva, and is used to carve furniture and sculptures. The hotel itself is constructed from hard-packed snow, and the surface sprayed with water. When the water freezes to ice, the whole structure becomes hard and stable.

Local effort

Kaja Antonsen at Sorrisniva explains that the Igloo Hotel began life as a simple construction with six small guest rooms. It has since developed into a large complex with 30 guest rooms, a bar, chapel, gallery and large lounge areas. It covers a total area of 2,500 m2. The “ice carpenters” are the owners and staff; everyone is involved in building the snow hotel. For example, the head chef is also the head ice sculptor. Guests eager to know how the whole thing is built can thus get an expert answer.

A new theme every year

Every year the Igloo Hotel is decorated to a special theme. To date, these have been Sami culture, the Vikings, the Alta river or, like last year, life in the Arctic. The bar, the gallery and the lounges thus have a uniform decorative appearance in accordance with the chosen theme. The Igloo Hotel is open from 15 January to 1 April, during the period when the temperature up in Alta is always below freezing.

Real Ice Bar

Ice bars may be hip in the big cities, but the ice bar in Sorrisniva needs no artificial freezing plant, and is thus both environmentally friendly and, above all, real. The bar counter is made of solid ice blocks, usually shaped to reflect the year’s chosen theme, and drinks are served in glasses made of ice. Very practical – no washing up... Of course, they have to be pretty stiff drinks, or else they would freeze. Nevertheless, few people get inebriated; most are content to enjoy a single drink in these temperatures…

Chapel

The chapel is a proper chapel, which every year is consecrated by the Bishop, and is decorated with ice crucifixes and ice angels. Some 20 couples each year are married here by local clergy from Alta.

Ice Gallery

Every year, an artist is invited to exhibit in the Ice Gallery. The pictures are copied onto transparency film, and then fixed to a 3cm-thick ice panel. The panel functions as a frame, and the pictures are hung and exhibited.

Overnight stay in an igloo

Spending the night in an igloo is not as cold as you might think. Kaja Antonsen recommends wool underwear, a pair of long thermal leggings and a long-armed thermal top. A snug woollen hat is also wise, to protect the head sticking out of the sleeping bag. Otherwise, you should not have too many clothes on. The sleeping bags will keep you warm right down to -30°C, although the indoor temperature in the mega-igloo maintains a steady -4 to -7°C, even if the outdoor temperature should fall to -35°C.

Sleep well

Everyone who comes to the Igloo Hotel sleeps well. A 75-year-old lady from a big city had to be woken at 9am one morning, and she herself was extremely surprised, as she was only used to sleeping until 5am at home. No-one to date has been bothered by claustrophobia, and the thick snow walls are virtually soundproof, so it is very quiet. Newly-weds naturally sleep in the bridal suite, where they get a double sleeping bag. No-one stays as warm as they do, surely?

Northern Lights igloo

The Northern Lights town of Alta enjoys a dry, stable winter climate, and a high frequency of Northern Lights sightings. Sorrisniva is situated far outside town, so there are few light sources to disturb the view when the Lights appear. Northern Lights hunters can join an early-evening dog-sledding trip on the frozen Alta river or take a snowmobile trip in the hill-and-mountain landscape around Sorrisniva. It is not considered impolite to leave your restaurant table if the Northern Lights should suddenly appear in the middle of dessert, and you can round off the evening relaxing outside in a bubbling hot tub. This means you spend most of the evening out in the open, where you can see everything happening in the sky.

Restaurant

Sorrisniva is also one of the best places to eat in western Finnmark, and the head chef serves up wonderful local delicacies according to what Nature’s pantry has to offer. Fish is best in the winter time, so freshly landed cod from the Altafjorden is always a firm favourite. Reindeer meat is available all year round, while lamb is in season mostly in the autumn. The chef agrees the menu with guests when they arrive.

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Check www.sorrisniva.no for all the details on accommodations and excursions. www.visitalta.no  has tourist information on Alta.