The jolt of a bracing ice bath is just one of the charms of northern Sweden’s aptly named Arctic Bath Hotel, which is about to have its first full summer season. The experience means heading outside into the frosty wilds of Swedish Lapland and facing a small hole that’s cut into the frozen Luleå river, upon which the entire hotel sits. The water that swirls underneath is most certainly not warm. (Winter daytime temperatures hover in the single digits, while evening temperatures dip as low as -28 degrees Fahrenheit.) No matter, you step onto the ice in a bathing suit and dive right in. It’s an exhilarating feeling.
Centered by an experimental design featuring upcycled wood, minimalist interiors and vast windows, the Arctic Bath Hotel is located in Harads, about 50 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. It’s made up of a main building—which houses the dining room, spa and saunas—and just 12 cabins, making it a very small, luxurious property.
Water cabins float on the river and are ideal for one or two people, while duplex-style land cabins are meant for groups. Bertil Harström and Johan Kauppi designed the main house, with its woodsy crown, and the tilting water cabins. Ann-Cathrin Lundqvist designed the land cabins.
The designs bring the Luleå’s past into the present. “They used to transport timber down the river,” hotel manager Klara Ranggård explains. “Right in the spot where the main building is, that’s where the river used to create logjams, where all the logs get stuck together.” She adds that the original river cabins leaned, as their foundations began to slip. Harström and Kauppi incorporated that leaning detail into the hotel’s water cabins.
Dipping into brisk river water in frigid temperatures is not the only hotel amenity, but it does tend to take center stage. It is, after all, the name of the property. “Usually when guests come to the hole, they say, I’m not going to try that,” Ranggård says. “Then they build up to it. When they try it, they usually go in three or four times.” She finds that most guests get so excited post-bath that they “want to tell all the staff that they did it.”
The heart-racing kick of an ice bath often provides a natural energy and mood boost, and is reputed to help with sleep and the immune system. “We really encourage all the guests to listen to their bodies,” Ranggård says. “The best experience is to stay for two or three days, because then you can really have that time in the spa to just relax, and feel the serene environment.” She adds that the most common regret she hears from guests is that they didn’t set aside enough time to just sit in the spa and the ice baths.
That said, the Arctic Hotel offers a range of outdoors activities, from snowshoe hikes and dog-sledding to river paddling during the midnight sun season. Weather permitting, there are even hikes to catch the famed aurora borealis.
Dinners are meticulous affairs, thanks to David Staf, who trained in Michelin-starred restaurants before joining the property. Ingredients are sourced from local Arctic Circle producers, including wild fish, meats and herbs and local honey, dairy and beer. Meals incorporate Swedish traditions with an updated wellness approach, in line with the hotel’s aim to be a place where people take a break from the rest of the world.
Hero image courtesy of Arctic Bath Hotel / Viggo Lundberg