Story & photos by Ron Bernthal
It was close to 10:00 pm when I arrived at the Hotel Arctic, a small, modern property situated on a hill overlooking the village of Ilulissat and Disko Bay, on Greenland’s west coast. My dinner appointment was waiting for me in the hotel’s Ilo Restaurant, and outside the floor to ceiling windows was one of the most surreal views I have ever seen.
Having just flown in from Nuuk, Greenland’s largest town (pop. 16,000), where rain and low clouds stuck around for days, the sight of a shimmering blood-orange sun hovering over a bay filled with towering icebergs was totally unexpected, despite having read all about the area before my visit. The restaurant’s outdoor deck, where a barbeque buffet of whale, seal, reindeer steaks, fresh shrimp and halibut, Danish potatoes and salads had been set up for guests, was a spectacular setting, and as diners walked out to the buffet table it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sky, which turned from blue to purple to dark maroon as the summer evening wore on, or the icebergs, which were sparkling white one minute, turquoise and pink the next.
The hotel, built in 1984, is considered 4-star by the Scandinavian rating system, which makes it one of the best in Greenland. Because Greenland is part of Denmark, many of the hotel’s furnishings, are by noted Danish designers, meaning sleek, blonde-wood furniture and earth-toned fabrics. Greenlandic art fills the public areas and sleeping rooms, including original polar bear paintings by noted Greenlandic artist Buuti Petersen. When tourism to Ilulissat began to grow in the mid-1990s (the Ilulissat Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the big attraction), the hotel decided to expand, and five adorable, aluminum-sided, 1-2 person “igloos” were constructed on land overlooking the bay, accessed from the main hotel building by a cleverly raised boardwalk trail. Unfortunately, they were all occupied during my visit. A new wing, increasing the number of guest rooms from 66 to 87, will open this fall, as well as additional meeting rooms and conference space. Recently, with Greenland’s ice sheet getting so much attention due to global warming, the hotel has had a flood of international visitors. Germany’s president, Angela Merkel, left the property the day I arrived. Nancy Pelosi and John McCain were here in early summer, and American and European movie stars arrive during summer for a few days of glacier helicopter touring. During my recent visit I said a few words to Greenland’s Prime Minister Hans Enoksen, who I met at the restaurant’s buffet table.
The Hotel Arctic, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is like a moderate, upscale hotel in Europe, with room rates of $250-350, including breakfast overlooking the iceberg-filled bay. The “igloos,” which are open from May to September only, are similarly priced. The staff speaks English, Danish, and Greenlandic, and the hotel is within walking distance of the village of Ilulissat and its picturesque harbor.
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