The tone is set from the moment you step inside. “A huge bunch of corks greets visitors”, explains Pierre L’Heureux, the venue’s artistic director. “Once beyond the mesmerising Nicolas Feuillatte entrance, visitors are met with a towering sculpture depicting the brand’s ad campaign.” While the bar and backdrop have traded their signature oak and zinc for walls of ice intricately carved with the distinctive Nicolas Feuillatte branding.
Whether a fleeting day guest or fortunate enough to sample one of the twenty-five well-appointed suites, the wine list is equally impressive, offering Champagne Réserve Exclusive Brut or an array of stylish cocktails, including Verglas with Grand Marnier, Brise-Glace and lychee liqueur, or Nordique with curacao; all delicately sipped from one of 45,000 ice glasses expertly sculpted each season. There is tradition too, such as the now ritual celebrations to mark the hotel’s grand opening in mid-January. “There are fireworks and we invite local performers, as is customary in this part of Canada. We have entertained more than 1,000 guests at one time at the hotel, mainly locals.”
And the season has certainly got off to a fine start, as the harsh winter has broken all existing records. “With the early onset of cold weather, we were able to open the first section on December 23rd, which is a first,” enthused Pierre L’Heureux. “We hope to be able to do the same again next year.”
But before that, by mid-March, once the ephemeral structure has disappeared, the hotel will melt away, its pure waters flowing into the Jacques-Cartier river.
Situated at the heart of Tewkesbury Valley, Valcartier Ice Hotel was the slightly madcap brainchild of its current director, Jacques Desbois. Known in the 90s for building igloo homes, he ventured to Sweden, fell under the charm of Hotel Jukkasjärvi – the first of its kind constructed from ice – and decided to export the idea to Quebec. A feature since the year 2000, it is a race against time from the end of November to early December. The figures are simply staggering. In just 32 days, the mission is to construct a 44-room hotel complete with chapel, a vast 105-metre deep hall, three bars, exterior spa and sweeping ice slides, while reconciling aesthetics with the safety of its clientele. To complete this mammoth task, no less than 60 workers and machine operators and 25 sculptors work flat out braving extreme weather conditions to ensure the daily stream of as many as a thousand guests, “up to ten-thousand during peak periods”, confides Pierre L’Heureux.