OSS, Netherlands (AFP) - Dutch sand sculptors have taken a childhood fantasy to a new level by creating the world's first real-life "sandcastle hotel", complete with a drawbridge and turrets.
Curious tourists and the young at heart flocked this summer to the small southern Dutch city of Oss to spend a night in a specially-built room deep inside the massive sculpture made entirely of sand.
Constructed from tonnes of sand trucked in especially for the purpose and reinforced with wood, the room gives those spending the night the unique experience of sleeping in a real-life sandcastle, and comes complete with sand-carved sculptures.
"It's crazy!" said Dutch mechanic Erwin after sleeping in the sand hotel to celebrate his "twelve-and-a-half year anniversary" with his partner.
"I wanted to do something special and it's a bit of a childhood dream of mine to sleep in a sandcastle," Erwin, who declined to give his surname, told AFP.
- Sand vs ice hotel -
"The idea came from the ice hotels in Finland and Sweden," says hotel manager Maud van Leeuwen, referring to the popular Scandinavian resorts that spring up in winter, featuring ice beds and room temperatures of around minus eight degrees Celsius.
"We have many artists who work with both sand and ice and suddenly we thought - why not build a sand hotel?" Van Leeuwen told AFP.
Conditions are less harsh at the sand hotel, with guests being welcomed by a comfortably turned-down bed and fully-equipped bathroom for an overnight stay costing 150 euros (S$239).
But like the Scandinavian ice hotels, the sand hotel is built as an ephemeral artwork and will be broken down at the end of summer.
- Luxury stay -
Two sand hotels were built in the Netherlands at venues where annual sand sculpture festivals are being held: one in Oss and the other in the northern Frisian city of Sneek.
In Oss, hotel guests can marvel at a collection of life-sized sand-sculpted dinosaurs, medieval explorers and robots while a "trip through Asia" is the theme in Sneek.
Guests need not worry about getting sand in their beds: the hotel offers a luxurious overnight stay in a 'regular' bed and the floor is lined with a plush grey carpet.
"People say: 'It's a sand hotel, it's going to be a like a muddy puddle' but in fact it's very luxurious," Van Leeuwen laughed as she prepared the room, setting out two crystal glasses and a bottle of Italian bubbly.
The decor and structure however is indeed made from sand treated with a special lime to help it bind and harden, thereby preventing the room from crumbling in on its residents.
"The room was first built with wooden panels and then covered with sand," for safety reasons, Van Leeuwen explained.
A sand-carved bust of Cleopatra stands in one corner while elsewhere in the room the city of Oss is represented by its coat-of-arms - also in sand.
"Touch the walls - you can feel it's very hard," Van Leeuwen said.
- 'Childhood fantasy' -
Sadly, a stay at the sand hotel will soon come to an end with the summer, Van Leeuwen said, saying the venue premiered to a bumper season.
"I think for some people it's a childhood fantasy to sleep in a sandcastle, while for others it's a bit like going on an adventure, or for a special occasion," she said.
The sand hotels are expected to be back at same two venues next year - and will perhaps also make an appearance in Germany and Britain.