I first wrote this article in 2019 after my visit to Ilulissat and hiking the Arctic Circle Trail.
I knew that after hiking the 160km Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland with my Mum we’d want a bit of luxury. First up would be a few days of rest and recuperation in Sisimiut, after which we’d catch the ferry up to Ilulissat, which I’d visited back in 2016, to enjoy the awe-inspiring icy land and seascapes.
When checking places to stay, I came across Iliminaq Lodge. Looking at pictures and seeing the location half an hour’s boat ride from Ilulissat, it fit the bill perfectly.
I wince at the price, try not to look at it for too long, and book for one night. I look forward to it instantly.
Just one month later, I sit on one of the twin beds overlooking a stunning blue hue, the Arctic fjord filling the whole of our A-frame’s panoramic glass front. We have been looking out for whales, but no luck yet.
We’ll see three whales the next day on our small boat zipping past the icebergs back to Ilulissat. When we see the first one, just a fraction of a second of water blowing up from the water and exposing a hint of a fin, we are just beyond the harbour in front of our cabin.
So perhaps they were there all along, hiding in the depths and listening to the vibrations… staying undercover apart from the occasional tease that only a keen binoculared spectator would notice.
Upstairs in our cabin, the only furniture consists simply of the twin beds and the ocean – what else could you need? Downstairs, there’s a comfy living area with a long sofa to stretch out on and two chairs to lean back in (one adorned with the mandatory shaggy musk ox coat). Tucked away is a small minimalist bathroom. And there’s that same stunning ocean vista.
To get here, we hopped in a small boat and found a spot on the deck to hold tight and enjoy the view without losing our sunglasses or getting blown overboard.
After about half an hour, we get to Ilimanaq. Colourful huts scatter the shoreline next to the distinctive old church which is now the Restaurant Egede. It is marked with a cross and still looks the part.
We check in and wander down the boardwalk to our cabin (number 15 out of 15) with our hiking packs on once more, making lighter work of the short walk than the nearby lesser-trained German couple lugging suitcases.
The cabin is solar-powered and showers are short. But on a day like this, I’m sure I could spend longer under the hot water; the sun is beaming down and has been all day. The Arctic has been too hot. It’s been literally on fire. During our Arctic Circle Trail trek, we walked past some of the burnt patches of tundra that had hit the news stories this month.
The sun is shining through our cabin’s glass front and is almost too bright; you need to read with your book in front of it, or your notebook held up to shield your eyes. The building doesn’t seem to have been designed with such warm sun in mind and it’s a bit like a greenhouse. Albeit a very beautiful one.
As evening ticks on, the rays transition into the warm shades of the Arctic midnight sun: rich oranges, yellows, blues, and purples.
It’s a sunset that got lost on its way, showing up four hours late and shouting, “I’m here! I’m ready and show-stoppingly beautiful. Cherish me!”
The lodge offers sleep eye masks and it’s easy to see why. You can’t travel to the Arctic in summer without one unless you’re somehow gifted in falling asleep in what feels like broad daylight.
At six o’clock, we make our way from our cabin to Restaurant Egede next to the reception building, both of which are two of the oldest buildings in Greenland.
While staying here, the restaurant is your only food option. I’d wandered up an hour before to see how close to vegetarian I could push my dinner. Fish with fish was the answer.
“It’s difficult to make vegetarian food in Greenland”, I heard. I had worked that out sometime before. It’s not a place for strict diets and fussy eaters, but if you’re open to Greenlandic cuisine, the food they serve is delicious.
My mother – who usually opts for a vegetarian option when available – was served musk ox tartar before the fish soup main. Judging by how she spent the night ahead in the minimalist bathroom, the musk ox didn’t want to be eaten. The delicious pannacotta dessert with a wild berry compote was thankfully enjoyed by my body for longer.
We returned back along the boardwalk to our cabin for the night and set about relaxing (the musk ox wouldn’t cause any problems for a few hours). I boiled the kettle for a cup of tea and picked up my Kindle to carry on reading my book, In Search of Silence by Poorna Bell.
For hours, I enjoy the gentle sound of the waves breaking the otherwise silent Arctic landscape. I watch the birds pitter-patter up to our sliding glass door, poke their heads in curiously, and calmly pitter-patter away again.
When it gets to bedtime, I head upstairs, get into bed, and take in the midnight sun above a rich blue sea scattered with icebergs; the very last thing I see that day.
The next morning, I head down to breakfast alone, my mother still lamenting her stomach issues. The food is good. With my book in hand, I enjoy strong black coffee, a bowl of yoghurt with oats, juice, and delicious cheese and jam with rye bread. Then it’s back for a final bit of relaxation on our decking.
On the boat to head back to Ilulissat, I hear a young Mexican boy say how his brother had been swimming in the icy fjord that morning. “Don’t make me jealous like this”, I think.
It’s nearly a week since I burnt my leg with boiling water from our camping stove and I am trying to avoid getting the skin unnecessarily wet. The fjord’s salty water could either be healing or an exercise in masochism. I stay on dry land this time. But if you can, push yourself. Feel the freezing water hit every shocked pore of your body and feel overwhelmingly and breathlessly alive.
I love the Arctic, especially when some distance from the towns – no matter how small their populations – and closer to the wild. I’ve found that my preference is being in my tent, miles from civilisation and with the noise of common loons calling and skating along the water as they struggle to take off for company. But if you have money to spare for a night in a beautifully-constructed cabin with your own decking to watch the sun cross the sky, you know where to look.