THE time is 3pm, it is pitch black and I’m hurtling through Norway’s frozen landscape on a husky-drawn sled – the coldest I have been in my life.
This despite being swaddled in two T-shirts, a fleece, a “Polar-strength” parka and a quilted boilersuit.
This is what -30C feels like. Yet strangely, despite the deep-freeze discomfort, this is also the most fun I have had in ages.
It is exhilarating, unpredictable and occasionally smells of dog farts.
We are in Kirkenes, a small town in Norway’s extreme north.
We are spending the weekend at the Kirkenes Snowhotel doing what folk in the Arctic Circle are forced to do for several cold, dark months each year — staying warm, somehow, while outside.
That is the thing about Norwegians from this part of the country. You might think they would stay by the fire until the sun peeks back over the horizon. In fact, many do quite the opposite.
Snowhotel’s remarkably friendly staff have mastered the art of keeping you just busy enough.
Going for a stroll in deep snow, for example. We spent a very pleasant afternoon doing just that.
With a pair of snow shoes strapped to our feet and company in the form of Ena — a beautiful, lively husky — we set off for a two-hour hike into the hills above the town. It was a magical experience, blessed with a pure silence you rarely experience at home.
We went fishing for king crab, which was not quite what I expected. There was no sitting around on the ice with a rod waiting for a bite.
Perhaps conscious of how guests were slowly turning to ice sculptures, our guide hauled up a cage already containing a few of these huge, spidery creatures.
The crab was cooked in a restaurant overlooking the frozen fjord, simply served with bread and butter, washed down with a sweet, warm fruit concoction. It was beyond delicious.
We spent the afternoon (or was it evening? You lose track when it gets dark soon after 1pm) visiting a “real-life Norwegian family”.
Best Served Scandinavia offers a four-day break at the Kirkenes Snowhotel in northern Norway from £1,620pp including return flights and transfers.
Price also includes one night in a snow room with a three-course dinner, tour of Snowhotel and morning sauna, Northern Lights by Snowmobile tour, two nights in a romantic Gamme cabin, with breakfast and dinner daily, and use of outer thermal protective clothing.
To book, call 020 7664 2241 or visit best-served.co.uk.
Husband-and-wife team Kirste and Terje were thoroughly charming and gave us great insights into how to cope with life in the deep freeze.
For them, it meant charging around the country hiking and sleeping with the heating turned off and the windows open. They reckon it gives you the perfect night’s sleep.
Later that night — it was definitely night by now — after a meal of smoked-reindeer soup, Arctic char (a meatier salmon) and more of the local delicacy brunost (a brown cheese) for pud, we set out on snowmobiles in search of the Northern Lights.
And what a hunt that was. Belting along at 60mph on a frozen fjord, you can barely see five yards in front of you.
GLIMPSE OF A GREEN BLOB
It was wild but, boy, was it cold. You need a driving licence to operate one of these 600cc beasts and it is well worth the £230-a-head cost to get off the beaten track. (Yes, Norway is seriously expensive.)
Our view of the fabled Lights was not what you would see in a guidebook but we caught a glimpse of a green blob.
And that, as I slowly lost the feeling in my hands and feet, was good enough for me.
Back at the Snowhotel, it was time to bed down for the night . . . on a block of ice. As the name suggests, this hotel is expertly carved from snow and ice.
It starts afresh every year with professional stonemasons drafted in to carve the structure. Each of its 21 rooms is individually designed with ice sculptures on the walls — including scenes from, appropriately enough, the Disney movie Frozen.
You sleep on an animal pelt on top of your ice bed, wrapped in an Arctic sleeping bag.
That is more than adequate as the temperature inside the hotel hovers around a toasty -3C.
There is also a cool (literally) bar where you can have a shot of something warming and then smash your glass against the wall (the glasses are made of ice, too).
And if you get too cold, you can go for a kip on a couch upstairs in the heated sitting room.
It probably won’t be your most comfortable night’s sleep but it is something you will never forget.
“No one really does this twice in their life,” our guide deadpanned, before telling us we had to listen to exactly how we should prepare for sleep so we don’t freeze to death.
You are woken at 7.30am for a sauna to put some warmth back into your soul. Then comes breakfast, a hearty affair featuring a tray of baked brie.
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Of course, you don’t have to stay in the Snowhotel’s icy rooms.
The hotel also has its year-round Gamme cabins, which are cosy and seriously romantic. With comfortable beds and hot power-showers they are perfect for unwinding.
And defrosting, if need be.
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