Alexa

Get ready for the coolest place in Alps

Each year, Switzerland's Igloo Village is rebuilt from new snow and on Christmas day welcomes its first guests

Julie Behr and Bruno Schmid paraglide in Zermatt, Switzerland as the Matterhorn can be seen in the background. (Alan Behr/MCT)
The outside bar at the Igloo Village in Zermatt.
The inside bar at the Igloo Village hotel.
Reto Gilli, manager of the Igloo Village hotel, gives a tour in Zermatt.

Julie Behr and Bruno Schmid paraglide in Zermatt, Switzerland as the Matterhorn can be seen in the background. (Alan Behr/MCT)

The outside bar at the Igloo Village in Zermatt.

The inside bar at the Igloo Village hotel.

Reto Gilli, manager of the Igloo Village hotel, gives a tour in Zermatt.

A festive group was enjoying fondue in the basement Walliser Keller restaurant at the Riffelalp, a five-star hotel on a mountain above Zermatt, and nearby, other happy hotel guests were having fondue as well, only they weren't in the basement because their hotel doesn't have one. That is because their hotel is an igloo - not a theme park wannabe igloo, but a real snow and ice house of the kind an Inuit would call home.
Each year, starting in November, the Igloo Village hotel is rebuilt from new snow. Because you can't just walk up to an igloo, knock and ask if there are rooms available, everyone shows up in the early evening with a backpack full of whatever will be needed to get through the night. If you arrive early enough, there will be a snow bar outside, where you can enjoy a truly alfresco aperitif.
When you have ice for walls, what you can cook without bringing the roof down on your head is somewhat limited, but fortunately, the one dish that can be made on the stove of the igloo without endangering anyone is cheese fondue, so that's what the chef makes - every night in season. After that, guests can loosen their parkas and take advantage of the cozy indoor bar, and there is a bar outside as well.
The specialty drink is red or white Gluehwein (hot mulled wine), which is a treat to anyone who is chilled in the Alps. And considering that this is an igloo, a chill or two might happen during a typical stay.
Included in the standard package is a snowshoe hike, which guests take together using snowshoes and poles provided by the hotel (you mean, you forgot to pack your own?) from a wooden supply room/gift shop that is also home to a big, lovable dog named Nanuk.
It's a fairly safe bet that the whirlpools at the hotel will find themselves full before the last guests tuck themselves into their sleeping bags, which is what serve in lieu of beds in an igloo. (Don't worry; the hotel provides them too.)
There are toilet facilities, and there is even one suite, which is nearly always booked way in advance by true igloo connoisseurs. Mornings bring sunshine and not much else.
Guests check out and ski or sled down to breakfast, which is part of the package but served at a mountain hotel, and then they can push on for something else you can't get in an igloo - a hot shower.
Most guests stay for just one night, playing hooky from other hotels in Zermatt. Every now and then, a couple comes to get married there, making a special someone an official igloo bride.
(Bridal fashion tip: Dress in snow white.)
The Igloo Village is the ultimate seasonal vacation resort. It doesn't just close for the summer.
Soon, like the Wicked Witch of the West, it will be melting, melting. But wait until November, and a truly unique hotel experience will return again for those who want to say they did something really different in Switzerland.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: You may want some real comfort after your igloo night. Swiss International will give you what you need from its hub in Geneva to JFK, with connections to major North American cities. Tel: 1-877-FLY SWISS (1-877-359-7947); www.swiss.com.
STAYING THERE: The Iglu-Dorf (Igloo Village) in Zermatt opened on Christmas day and closes April 18, 2009. There are standard igloos, but you'll have to share yours with five others. Go for the upgrade to the "Romantic Igloo": you get a double-occupancy igloo, Proseco and a snack, and your igloo is decorated with sheepskin rugs. Weeknights: about US$225 per person; slightly higher on weekends.
For Zermatt and five other igloo locations: Tel. +41 (0)41 612 27 28; fax +41 (0)41 612 24 18; info@iglu-dorf.com.