Bâlea Lake, Romania

Photo: Hotel of Ice
Photo: Hotel of Ice

Yearning for snow? Not the little flurries that tease you. Not even the dusting that should be on the ground by Christmas Eve. You want real snow. Piles of the fluffy white stuff in which you can build forts, make snow angels, and go for sleigh rides. But wintertime just isn’t the same as when you were a kid. Now you’re lucky if you receive one or two big storms a year. You might have to look elsewhere to find your winter wonderland.

Would snowcapped peaks, frozen glacial lakes, and a hotel made of ice be wintry enough for you? The Hotel of Ice is located deep within the Făgăraș Mountains in central Romania. Every winter, for the past eight years, huge blocks of ice have been cut from glacial Bâlea Lake to create walls. Snow is used to fill in the ice bricks and finish the walls. And then the decorating begins, as more blocks of ice are carved into beds, tables, chairs, and sculptures. The hotel opens for the season on December 25th, and by the middle of January, an Ice Church will be built for moments of peaceful silence or even an unconventional wedding.

To reach Bâlea Lake, head to Sibiu, a historical Transylvania city, then take a train to Scoreiu, and finally a cable car from Bâlea Waterfall; there’s no access road to the Hotel of Ice. You’ll arrive to find Chalet Bâlea Lac–a guesthouse where you can store your luggage, use the bathrooms, and warm up when you get a little chilly–the Hotel of Ice, and Winter Park, for all of your outdoor activities. Frozen Bâlea Lake is in front of you; the jagged peaks of the Făgăraș Mountains surround the lake.

Photo: Hotel of Ice
Photo: Hotel of Ice

Spend your day skiing on unmarked slopes; this is not terrain for beginners. Go for a sleigh ride for the first time in way too many years. You may see a brown bear moving through the trees. Skate, play hockey, or learn what curling is on the lake. Go far enough away on a snowmobile ride that the chalet looks like a tiny dot in the distance. See who can build the biggest snowman, and when you lose, start a snowball fight. Then warm up with a hot wine punch in the Ice Bar.

When it gets dark, have dinner at the Ice Restaurant. Smoked salmon egg cream, carrot soup, and beef medallions are all served on ice plates. Even your cocktail comes in an ice glass. Go back outside to look at the unbelievably starry sky and the huge moon. The howling wolf seems to agree it’s a beautiful evening. And bundle up in furs and a sleeping bag when you’re ready to go to sleep on your ice bed. It’s about 37 degrees inside your room, but with lots of layers, you won’t get cold in the middle of the night.

Bâlea Lake more than fulfills your winter wonderland wish. It’s a breathtaking, magical place that makes you feel like a kid again. And by late April, the hotel will melt, the lake will thaw, and it really will feel just like a dream.

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