On our last full day in Romania we ascended into the Carpathian Mountains to Balea Lake. In the summer this can be reached along the scenic Transfagarasan road which has been voted one of the most beautiful drives in the world. During winter this is completely cut off by snow so the only way up is by gondola. This takes around 10 minutes (ish) and allows for wonderful views of the valley when the windows aren’t steamed up.
Once up at Balea Lake we dumped our bags in the chalet and set out on a tunnel trek. This involved us doing a little walking through deep snow then entering on of the Transfagarasan’s tunnels through the mountain. In the 1km tunnel there are some ceiling lights but it is still quite murky therefore we were provided with head torches to keep an eye on where we were stepping as there were stalagmites and stalactites to avoid along the way. On the far side of the passageway is a supposedly stunning panorama across the Carpathian Mountains. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and we could only see an outline of the peaks but not much more.
Back on the Balea Lake side of the mountain we had an afternoon filled with snow based activities. Some chose to do one or two as they all cost extra but we wanted to have a go at all of them. Though the weather remained poor throughout the day we managed to go tubing, snow rafting (like a banana boat but pulled by a snowmobile), snowmobiling and ice skating. It is all small scale but was enjoyable way to spend the afternoon despite being freezing (it got down to -20C and my hair froze)!
After a quick warm up session in the chalet we got ready for dinner which we had in the ice hotel. It is a set menu and is relatively expensive for a meal in Romania. The food was average but the setting was amazing. The whole meal had to be over and 1 and a half hours so no one got too cold but it was such an experience.
We then had to learn how to make our beds, there is a specific order the layers have to be placed in to ensure heat retention through the night, and went back to the chalet until we were ready to go to sleep. When we did we had to make our way through the frigid conditions to our room (the temperature inside the hotel is constant at around -1C). Once under the various blankets I kept toasty until morning and had a sound night sleep. The one thing to note is that if you need the toilet at any point during the night you have to get fully dressed and walk outside to the gondola station… not a pleasant thought!
The ice hotel itself is amazing. The designers drill out the frozen lake to make the huge ice blocks, there are then lights added through the design. It is decorated with sculptures based on a theme which changes each year- this year was European countries (we were Romania) and the year before it was zodiac signs. I know there are many ice hotels in the colder parts of the world however some of them can be quite pricey, this one seems to be cheaper. E.g. Romania’s is about 100 Euro for a double room per night, the cheapest room in the Swedish ice hotel works out at around 250 Euro.
The next morning we packed up and caught the gondola down to our airport transfer. The weather was much clearer today so we got some great views. As a lover of all things mountain and snow based I had an awesome time and loved it.
Have you ever stayed in an ice hotel, if so which one? Did you enjoy it? Would you go to the Carpathian Mountains?