From the very first time I heard about the Hotel of Ice in Romania, I wanted to go. I figured the hardest part would be to convince my nine-year-old son, but as soon as he saw their website, he was as keen as I was to venture up the snowy mountain-side, and spend a night we would remember forever.
You can’t pick the weather, so on our particular day just after the New Year, it proved to be a snowy one.
We had a good start that morning though. We had stayed the previous night at Palace Brukenthal and felt revived and refreshed, and ready to go. Their staff even helped me push the car when we became stuck, and the wheels spun in the soft snow of their car park. My new snow tires just wouldn’t grip, and being Australian, my snow driving days are few.
Our contact Alex had even printed out a map for me (when the GPS wouldn’t pick up the little town of Balea Lac) where we had to head to ride the Cable Car / Gondola up.
I drove slowly, and even though the weather was snowing heavily, I was able to drive along the famous Transfăgărăsan Road with a few prayers at the slippery corners and arrived safely at the base Cable Car station.
As far as I know, the classic 1970’s retro Coca-cola Cable Car / Gondola is independently owned, and doesn’t belong to the Balea Lac Chalet, or the Hotel of Ice – they are three individual companies. The Gondola staff speak Romanian; they don’t speak English, so I was pleased when a helpful tour guide was waiting with her group of travellers and was able to assist me, as there were two waiting lines – one for visitors, and one for guests, but we never saw any of the queues, and had waited by the fire.
We reach the mountaintop, and it is snowing quite heavily, but more so, the wind was really blowing, and the snow stung our faces as we made our way straight to the chalet for lunch.
It is a lovely stone and wooden chalet, and it was decorated with animal skins, antlers, and of course, Christmas decorations. It was warm, and the Romanian music was playing in the background as we found where to place our backpack and jackets, and head to the main restaurant area for a delicious hot lunch.
Explorason, in true form, ordered us a hot chocolate with whipped cream. It warmed our hands and our bellies.
I am wriggling in my seat like a child. I’m super keen to see inside the Hotel of Ice! Explorason is eating way too slowly for my liking and I wish he would speed up. Finally, he is finished and it is about 3:00 p.m. by the time I get my first peek inside this incredible winter wonderland. By now it is really blowing a snowy gale outside (which I am told is unusual), and sadly we make our way past the unused winter activities that are tied down securely.
These winter activities are owned and operated by the Gondola / Cable Car and include:
- Snowmobile – 27 euro/15 minutes
- Sledding – 4 euro/hour
- Tubbing – 8 euro/hour
- Skiing – 7 euro/hour
- Snow-boat rubber Rafting – 3,5 euro/round
- Snow Giant Ball – Zorbing – 12 euro/round
- Ice Sculpting – 12 euro/ice block
We are pleased that the lovely Andreea walks us over, and even takes Explorason’s hand to lead us safely over to the Hotel of Ice. She is their head person on the mountaintop and proves to be just a delightful co-ordinator who informs us of all we should be doing at Balea Lac.
The Hotel of Ice is open to the public in the daytime, and so it is pretty full with tourists taking their photos – tickets are available at the door (for Adults Ten Ron, and Children Five Ron). This visiting ticket entitles the holder to also visit the Church of Ice which they were building for this season when we were there, and also the three igloos, which can be booked for a romantic evening’s accommodation.
We reach the ice sculptures that adorn the external entrance at the front wooden doors, which are lined with sheepskin, and we enter into a magical world of ice.
We feel like we are inside a life-size snow globe/dome.
We sit on ice armchairs by the faux fireplace. The calf skins are just gorgeous that we warm our butts on.
The front hotel foyer also has ice sculptures, and I love the buttons on their jackets – CIUC Beer Caps. I think it wins the most unique hotel foyer in the world!
This hotel is for the level-headed adventurer; the ones who love to try something out of the ordinary, but who have some common sense. It might not be the right place for partying teenagers who want to sit using their phones all day. It is the place to turn off the phone (devices don’t like the extreme cold anyway), and to live in the moment.
There is also no en-suite – how can you get hot water and a flushing toilet when you are in a building of ice? I read people expected this, and I just laughed. Some things you can live without. My butt doesn’t want to hit any cold toilet seat out in these elements, thanks.
So much detail has gone into this Hotel of Ice. Even some of the door arches are individually designed. We sit and enjoy hot chocolate. We meet a lovely Romanian family that has come for a day visit.
What is unique about this Hotel of Ice, is that it is built each year. That is correct – and each year it is a new style, and new theme; so you could visit every year and get a pleasant surprise.
This year it has a zodiac theme and here are the 12 zodiac signs you will see the rooms themed in:
As we walk into the dining and bar area, we decide to head behind the curtains and explore the twelve bedrooms made of ice.
The first room is Sagittarius, where Explorason pretends to be an ice sculpture.
Different rooms have a table and 2 stools, or an armchair – made of ice of course. All are individual.
Some rooms are large, but we were glad of a smaller room – my theory is it won’t be so cold – maybe that thought alone shows brain freeze?
There are too many to show, but here is the Taurus room.
Below is the Aquarius room, if I remember rightly. The ice beds are actually topped with wood, and then the bedding, and topped off with a cover, sheepskins and a lined blanket. Then you get a sub-zero sleeping bag. There are also two sets of pillows. They tidy the rooms after the visitors come through for the day in preparation for their guests night stay.
We head out, and Explorason is still busy zipping in and out of the ice bedrooms, as I enjoy a drink at the bar. I can’t wait for later tonight when we get to socialize here at this very bar. The ceiling lights are pretty rows of colors, and brighter main lights can be turned on if needed too.
We meet a happy bunch of guests. Their tour group has just arrived with their suitcases, so we introduce ourselves, and learn we are all here together for the night. It looks like we are in for a great time.
We head back to the chalet, where we end up playing Dominoes with the table of guests we met in the photograph above. They are staying at the chalet for dinner, and Explorason and I have booked the Iced Dinner, where dinner will be Served on a Bed of Ice.
This is just the coolest experience ever, and for me, the dinner was definitely the highlight. As it is an optional dinner, it needs to be booked in advance. They do not have a kitchen here at the hotel of Ice, so I think they do an amazing job of preparing and presenting the four-course dinner. I order the Vegetarian Banquet, and Explorason chooses the Banquet with Meat dishes.
So now it is “CHEERS” everyone, or as they say in Romanian, “Noroc”.
Explorason is mercerized by the ice platters. He cannot stop trying to hold it as a plate and to play with it. This is the most unique plate he has ever had. He really is having fun and I like that. I’m so pleased, as I was concerned the cold would have a negative effect on him, but he has handled it really well. He has mixed with the other guests and is so excited for his unique bedtime experience later that night.
We can stay in the Hotel of Ice after dinner, but I think it might be best for Explorason to stay warm in the chalet. In fact on this particular night they have a staff party with a band, so we have been invited to participate. I realize it is what I also love about the Romanians, and that is their hospitality.
We end up back at the table with one of the tour groups. I happen to have a mini pack of cards, so we invite another guest who is also staying at the Hotel of Ice to join us.
There is internet here, but I never brought my laptop, and am so pleased I didn’t. This is how travel should be. Ditch the technology for a few hours, and enjoy the moment.
By the end of the night socializing, part of our group is up dancing. I was sitting there and was so very hot with my 3 layers of trousers, I feel like I am going to melt, but to take off my boots was crazy, so I give the dancing a miss. I am not used to this dressing in layers. But I know I must keep all those clothes on for walking over to the Hotel of Ice. We decide we will head over there around 11:00 p.m. that way if we are cold, it is not too long a night.
I have brought hot water bottles, so we fill and stash them under Explorason’s jacket. Little do we realize the snow is storming outside.
The entrance was lit well, and we learn it is easier to find our way in the night with the lights than in the daylight. I protect the camera and capture a great shot of the front of the Hotel of Ice at night.
When we get to the Hotel of Ice we are all pretty revved up. We could party. The bar is closed as the staff is at the staff party in the Chalet.
I join the others at the bar. I have a small bottle of wine. Others have a packet of cookies, and also peanuts, and we have crisps. So we make our own little bar fun.
I decided around midnight we better head to our ‘Bed of Ice’, but by now our hot water bottles were cold! We have the Capricorn room, and it is just the right size for us.
We go in and peel off our outer layer of clothing. I wrap the camera in layers, and make sure the phone is deep in my backpack, and that it is sitting on a lambswool and is nice and dry.
We have a ‘ bag of sleeping bags ‘ and it turns out that instead of two we have three. This works out perfectly for us, as I used the third one open across the top of us. If I slept there again I would zip two together, and snuggle up with my son for body warmth.
Explorason decides we turn off the main light (yes there is electricity and optional lights) and we settle down for a night’s sleep in our ‘ice cave’ as he calls it with a dim row of red lights which laminate our room softly.
In the morning we are one of the last two bedrooms left sleeping. We are pretty pleased we slept here all night – there was an option that night for those who don’t make it go and sleep in the chalet, but we didn’t need to take them up on this.
We head back to the chalet for breakfast.
Turns out there is ice on the cable for the gondola, and we must wait quite a while, as they safely clear this. They are experts and it has been a stormy night, so people realize they need to allow extra time to get back down if they are heading onward with a deadline.
As we leave, we decide that staying at the Hotel of Ice is one of the most amazing experiences we have had on our world travels.
If you are planning to come to Romania, this is ‘a must ‘ to add to your itinerary. It is a once in a lifetime experience.
You only live once and this experience is just incredible! What are you waiting for?
For those of you who want a short break holiday – there are also two fabulous discounted packages available below
with 35% t0 55% discount depending on if there are two or four persons.
1/ For a 3-night via SIBIU at 45% off – for 2 person package
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and quote Coupon code 45s3rj
2/ For a 3-night via SIBIU at 55% off – for a 4 person package
– click on the banner below
and quote Coupon Code 55s3rj
3/ For a 5-night via BUCHAREST at 35% off – for a 2 person package
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and quote Coupon Code 34b5rj
4/ For a 5-night via BUCHAREST at 50% off – for a 4 person package
– click on the banner below
and quote Coupon Code 50b5rj
Accommodation Name: Hotel of Ice
Location: Balec Lac, Romania
Package bookings: huge discounts of up to 60% off if you email email@example.com and I can organize with the owners!!!!!
Date stayed: January 2015
Meals: I recommend booking the Ice Dinner – but this must be booked in advance. Other meals and snacks can be purchased at the Chalet Balea Lac
Wi-fi: In the adjacent Chalet main dining area
Child-friendly: Yes, but check suitability for young children